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City Council Votes to Take Legal Action to Preserve Mobility for Residents

Feb 13, 2017 - 9:45pm - Citing serious traffic safety and economic-impact concerns for its own residents and the region at large, the Mercer Island City Council today voted unanimously, 7-0, to take legal actions that would seek to temporarily halt the closure of the I-90 center roadway to provide the City, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Sound Transit the ability to continue their ongoing negotiations about preserving mobility and safety for Mercer Island residents.
Under longstanding regional agreements WSDOT and Sound Transit committed that, prior to the June 2017 closure of the I-90 center roadway, they would take steps to preserve and mitigate any impacts to mobility to Mercer Islander residents. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) used to evaluate the impacts of the East Link Light Rail project assumed that Mercer Island Single Occupant and High Occupancy Vehicle (SOV & HOV) traffic would continue to have full access to westbound I-90 via the Island Crest Way on-ramp, a crucial element of safe and efficient traffic flow. But WSDOT intends to close this ramp to SOV traffic citing guidance it received from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in August 2016.
The Council appreciates a recently-scheduled meeting requested by Congressman Adam Smith and hosted by Governor Inslee, and also attended by Senator Lisa Wellman, and Representatives Judy Clibborn and Tana Senn.  The meeting offered the prospect of a last‑minute solution, but the City’s legal team believes time has run out.
“After two years of negotiation, we still have not reached a satisfactory agreement with Sound Transit and WSDOT that would avoid the diversion of heavy commuter traffic to local neighborhood streets and school zones. No community would accept that. With the June closure approaching, we had no other choice but to exercise our available legal options,” said Mayor Bruce Bassett.
In order to secure sufficient time to amend its code, the City Council adopted both a Transportation Concurrency and Essential Public Facilities Moratorium, and a Public Institution Zoning Moratorium, for up to six months each. These will preserve the status quo and ensure that the expected impacts from diverted traffic will be adequately mitigated and not cause a decline in the City’s transportation level of service (LOS) standards for local streets.

“Since 1976, we’ve had agreements for I-90 access that protect public safety and the viability of living and working on Mercer Island. These agreements, which also impact residents and businesses region-wide, were affirmed in writing and in meetings multiple times, for decades. We believe these longstanding agreements are legally binding, and we will ask the courts to enforce them if we are unsuccessful in our ongoing negotiations with Sound Transit and WSDOT.”
“The financial impacts of traffic congestion will be significant,” said Terry Moreman, Executive Director of the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce. “While our residents are very supportive of the local economy, our small businesses cannot survive without their customers who come from off the Island.”
Within the month, the City will file a complaint with the King County Superior Court that would request the Court delay Sound Transit and WSDOT from closing the I-90 Center Roadway and Island Crest Way until the parties reach an agreement about mobility and access issues for Mercer Island.
Mayor Bassett affirmed Islanders’ support for light rail as a whole, in addition to the Council’s continued interest in having a solutions-oriented dialogue with Sound Transit and WSDOT focused on preserving access to westbound I-90 via Island Crest Way as well as loss of mobility mitigation for the long-term.
“Islanders approved the East Link Light Rail Project by a conclusive margin, and as a community, we still believe in the benefits the Project will provide to the region and to us,” said Bassett.  “But even the best public works projects bring consequences that must be taken seriously and mitigated effectively. So far, negotiations with Sound Transit and WSDOT haven’t yielded results, but we remain hopeful this issue can be resolved favorably and swiftly.” 

To learn more about the details of this Council action, view (new material posted Tuesday, February 14)

Read the Transportation Concurrency and Essential Public Facilities Moratorium Ordinance
Read the Public Institution Zoning Moratorium Ordinance

Media inquiries should be directed to Ross Freeman, Communications Manager: (206) 275-7662

About the City of Mercer Island
At five miles long and two miles wide, Mercer Island is a family-oriented community consisting mostly of quiet residential neighborhoods, along with 475 acres of parks and open space, developed shoreline, and a commercial business district at the northern end with multi-family living options. Home to 24,000 residents, Mercer Island enjoys excellent schools, active citizen engagement, and views of Seattle, Bellevue, Mount Rainier and Lake Washington.

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