9611 SE 36th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
FAQ for Light Rail, I-90 HOV Lanes, I-90 Access, Litigation
Download a simple 2-page overview (Oct 2016) about I-90 access and light rail mitigation issues
Click here for historic FAQ (pdf): August 22, 2016; Sept 16, 2016; Nov 18, 2016; Dec 28, 2016
Last Update: 28 June 2017 -- Answers updated with newest information possible
COMMUTER RESOURCES -
On June 3, the Center Roadway Express Lanes Closed Permanently for Light Rail Construction. In Addition, the Westbound I-90 On-Ramp at Island Crest Way Is Now Restricted to HOVs Only...
Westbound SOV Drivers will be significantly impacted, and are advised to explore the following resources:
Why can’t some spaces at the Park-and-Ride be reserved for Mercer Island residents?
Because the Park-and-Ride was funded with federal and regional taxpayer dollars, all of the 447 spaces must be available to all regional users on a “first come, first serve” basis.
Will the closure of the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride put more pressure on the MI Park-and-Ride?
Sound Transit has located and advertised alternative parking options, but when the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride closes on May 30, 2017, we do expect greater pressure on the MI Park-and-Ride from off-Island commuters. The City is monitoring the percentage of off-Island users of the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride and has requested that Sound Transit be prepared to provide solutions for Islanders to have access to transit. Carpooling by all possible users will become even more important.
Learn more about Sound Transit Park & Rides.
Where can I find the latest information on MI Park-and-Ride usage?
Sound Transit’s most recent license-plate studies are available here: 2015 and 2016.
What are other parking options exist for MI commuters?
As many bus riders already know, the existing Sound Transit Park & Ride already fills up by 7:30am on most weekday mornings. The City is working on identifying other parking stalls in the area that may be available. Commuters are also advised to check the following resources:
What are the City's quiet hours and noise ordinance rules?
The City's quiet hours for construction are typically 10pm-7am Monday-Friday, and 10pm-9am Saturday and Sunday. Light Rail work will be required to follow these rules, but there may occasionally be unavoidable overnight work, or periods of noisier than usual work -- in these cases Sound Transit must apply for exceptions with the City Engineer. In general, Sound Transit has stated it intends to conduct most work 7:00am-5:30pm Mon-Sat.
How do I reach Sound Transit with construction concerns?
The contact number for Sound Transit during regular office hours is: (206) 398-5465
For concerns that need immediate attention, the 24-hour number is: 1-888-298-2395
How can I sign up for construction alerts?
We recommend all residents subscribe to the ST alerts here: www.soundtransit.org/subscribe
What is all the work happening along North Mercer Way?
This area is where Sound Transit is installing most of its temporary traffic control measures to handle the altered travel patterns expected when the Center Roadway Express Lanes close June 3, 2017. View a summary map of the most significant work items.
Measures include: temporary traffic signals along North Mercer Way at the intersections of 76th Avenue SE and 77th Ave SE. Three additional WSDOT traffic cameras to help adjust traffic/ramp signals. More left-turn queueing space will potentially be striped on northbound and southbound Island Crest Way (ICW) at N Mercer Way, but in the meantime, WSDOT has added a left-turn arrow from ICW onto westbound NMW.
A bus-only bypass will be striped at the 76th Ave SE westbound on-ramp, and the I-90 trail entrance slightly modified in that location (see graphic). WSDOT will also do some lane prep work for a possible future alternating, 2-lane metered entrance at W Mercer Way (i.e. this would remove today's HOV bypass).
Which ramps to I-90 are closing in the Town Center area?
See overview graphic here
NEW: On May 31, 2017, the City Council accepted a tentative settlement offer of $10.1million in mitigation payments from Sound Transit, and the City's lawsuit is currently suspended.
How does the Sound Transit settlement with Mercer Island compare to other ST settlements?
For an overview of the scope of other recent settlements, see this comparison document.
Would the City's lawsuit delay the I-90 Center Roadway closure?
Although the City is pursuing various litigation strategies, these are unlikely to be fully and finally resolved before June 3, 2017. On that day, the Center Roadway will close and the westbound I-90 on-ramp at Island Crest Way (ICW) will be restricted to HOVs only.
Why did it take so long to make the decision to litigate?
For some time, especially since August 2016, the City has carefully considered litigation as a possible option and received advice from outside counsel on potential legal strategies. It was important that we first fully exhaust all opportunities and venues for reaching negotiated solutions with Sound Transit and WSDOT before resorting to litigation. The City still believes both agencies are bound by long-standing, regional agreements that require that loss of mobility impacts be addressed prior to closure of the I-90 Center Roadway.
The City filed a complaint on 16 Feb 2017 with the King County Superior Court. The complaint asks the Court to 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. We remain hopeful this issue can be resolved favorably and swiftly.
What happens next?
There are currently 3 separate lawsuits underway:
1) The City vs. WSDOT and ST on breach of contract and other claims - a hearing date was set for June 1.
2) ST's counter claim asking the Court to compel the City to withdraw its suspension of the Shoreline Permit. The City received a written ruling on April 7, and plans to appeal that to the State Supreme Court. See also Shoreline Permits section below.
3) ST and WSDOT's writ to strike down the City's land use moratoria related to light rail construction. The City received a written ruling on April 21 and plans to appeal. See also Moratoria section below.
NEW: On May 31, 2017, the City Council accepted a tentative settlement offer of $10.1million in mitigation payments from Sound Transit, and the lawsuit is currently suspended.
Does the City support light rail?
Yes, the City of Mercer Island still supports light rail, and our residents voted in 2008 for East Link's expansion (58% to 42%).
Which law firms are providing legal counsel to the City?
The City has retained Harrigan, Leyh, Farmer & Thomsen.
What other consultants is the City using?
KPG Inc. and Transpo Group are performing traffic studies. Berk Consulting is studying future demand for commuter parking for MI residents. Great Work Strategic Communications is supporting City communications. W2A is handling government relations regionally in Olympia, and also in Washington, D.C.
What does litigation cost and how is the City going to pay for it?
Total litigation-related costs will reach approximately $2 million.
On May 1, 2017 the City Council adopted Ordinance 17C-11 which temporarily increases the utility tax on water, sewer, and storm water from 5.3% to 8%. The additional tax was put in place to generate $700,000 for I-90 litigation and related costs over and above the $1.0 million already budgeted for this purpose. It will be in effect from July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018; the impact to an average single-family home is $78 over the 18-month period. The funds raised will reimburse the City's "Rainy Day" Fund.
GENERAL OUTREACH & ENGAGEMENT
When does the I-90 Center Roadway close permanently to vehicles?
This occurred over the weekend of June 3, 2017
When are the next community meetings to learn more?
The City Council covers updates to this topic at almost every Council Meeting (see schedule). In addition, the City has held additional community meetings and listening sessions with various stakeholders in early 2017 (check the “What’s Happening Now” section of this light rail page)
Is the City aware of the citizens’ petition?
Yes. City officials (including the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and City Manager) delivered the petition to WSDOT at a January 23rd meeting with WSDOT and ST (the “Principals’ Meeting”). At that time, approx 2,600 people had signed on.
What else can concerned residents do to help?
We are researching the best ways to harness citizen engagement. This may take the form of letters to electeds, meetings with citizen stakeholders and groups, or other means, and is likely to evolve over time.
For example, in early March 2017, the City Council asked that interested residents to send a letter of concern to several regional elected officials. Information, contact addresses, and key points are available here.
Litigation will cost a significant amount, and a number of residents have already asked to contribute to a litigation funding pool. Residents interested in making a tax-deductible donation should contact Chip Corder, City Finance Director, at Chip.Corder@mercergov.org. The City also implemented a temporary 18-month Utility Tax increase, that will cost the average homeowner a total of $78.
What about emergency services access to the floating bridge in gridlocked traffic?
Similar to today’s response plans, when MIFD or any other fire department vehicles respond to an incident, state law requires traffic to move over as much as possible to allow access. Although the shoulders of the westbound roadway will be narrowed to six-feet and two-feet, there will still be some space for cars to move aside. This has the potential to impact response times, but at this time we do not know what those impacts will be. There are numerous locations in the region, such as much of I-5 through downtown Seattle, where there is either no shoulder, or not one wide enough for driving emergency vehicles. Despite this, emergency vehicles have still demonstrated they are able to access incidents in these areas.
In the rare case of an incident fully-blocking traffic on all 4 future lanes of the westbound floating bridge, Police and Fire first responders from Seattle can access the scene by driving the “wrong way” along the westbound roadway, as has occurred in emergencies in downtown Seattle occasionally. (This would only be used after consultation and agreement through the State Patrol and WSDOT, and after it was determined the initial units could not access the location because of traffic).
The eastbound roadway of the floating bridge will have one 8-foot shoulder and one 4-foot shoulder and is less space-constrained. View a graphic of future lane alignment.
The City held a listening session focused on this issue in the spring of 2017.
Will the City need its own ladder truck for tall building evacuations?
The City has agreements with Seattle Fire and Eastside Fire Departments so that the closest available unit could assist the Island if the other direction were blocked by I-90 traffic. MIFD already has pre-determined response plans that include a ladder truck being dispatched initially based upon call type.
I-90 RAMPS & USAGE
Why can't there be a test closure of I-90 ramps before June 3?
A closure now would not replicate the future conditions after rail construction begins because ramp changes and the addition of the new R8A lanes are not complete.
Is there a mandated “Trial Run” of the R8A lanes and ramp closures before construction starts?
No, this is not listed as a requirement in any official project document.
When will the new R8A Eastbound I-90 exit ramp through the tunnel onto Island Crest Way be completed?
WSDOT is leading this construction process and intends for the ramp to be open shortly after the Center Roadway Express Lanes are closed in June 2017 -- probably mid-July 2017.
What’s happening with the proposed lane addition at the 76th Ave westbound on-ramp?
Sound Transit plans to add a bus-only bypass lane on this ramp, using the existing paved shoulder. This ramp may someday be converted to a general purpose lane.
If SOV access to the Westbound I-90 on-ramp at Island Crest Way is no longer permitted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), could another ramp be built instead at 77th Ave?
Yes, this may be possible. The City is pursuing State legislation to fund a study of this potential alternative.
Where can I find a clear list of projected I-90 ramp closures and restrictions?
That list can be viewed here.
Where can I find maps/images of projected ramp closures?
The major changes to Town Center ramps are depicted here.
Where can I find a list of the I-90 Access Alternatives that were studied?
The November 2016 version of that document is in the document archive. This explores the various ways that Island drivers could access and use I-90, with and without westbound SOV on-ramp access at Island Crest Way.
NEGOTIATIONS & PERMITS
What is the Shoreline Permit issued to ST and where can I read it?
SHL15-023 is a “Shoreline Substantial Development Permit to construct light rail transit facilities within the City’s shoreline jurisdiction (areas within the lake and extending 200 feet landward from the ordinary high water mark of Lake Washington). The proposed work includes structural retrofits to the I-90 bridges entering the City; installation of light rail tracks on the I-90 deck, including associated overhead wires, special track bridge sections, utilities and safety barriers; and additional anode cables added to the floating bridge pontoons. Additional work includes installation of a traction power substation under the east approach bridge.” The permit is in the light rail document archive (150 pages, 10 Mb)
Will the City suspend the Shoreline Permit it issued to Sound Transit last summer?
This is not within the purview of the City Council, and is a staff administrative action overseen by the City Manager. On February 16, 2017, the City's Director of Development notified Sound Transit that the permit has been suspended.
After issuance of the original Shoreline Permit (July 2016), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) concluded that Mercer Island SOV traffic would not be allowed to use future I-90 HOV lanes -- See August 2016 Letter. However, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) conducted by Sound Transit in 2011 does not analyze the adverse impacts caused by Mercer Island SOV traffic being unable to use the HOV lanes.
In the absence of a Supplemental EIS that addresses those potential impacts, any development of a light rail facility on I-90, including the work permitted by the Shoreline Permit, is unlawful under state and local law and the City is required to suspend its approval. After review of the new SEIS, the City will reevaluate the project in light of the changed conditions and determine whether the permit can be revised or must be rescinded.
UPDATE: on March 17, 2017, the City withdrew the suspension of the shoreline substantial development permit (SSDP) based on Sound Transit’s commitments in open court at the preliminary hearing (March 10) that: (1) Sound Transit intends to release, in approximately one week, an Addendum to its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the East Link light rail project to address the adverse environmental impacts, if any, of the change from the assumption regarding Mercer Island SOV use of the R8A lanes contained in the original environmental analysis; and (2) Sound Transit will do no work under the SSDP until June 2017 at the earliest.
The Addendum was released on April 5, 2017, and can be viewed here.
How can a Shoreline Permit be suspended?
A Shoreline Permit can be suspended for a variety of reasons, including a material change of the conditions on which the permit originally was issued, or if the permit itself was deficient or not properly issued under state or local law.
What is a moratorium, and why did the City Council enact them?
A moratorium is an interim land use control that temporarily suspends the right of property owners and developers to submit development applications and obtain development approvals while the local legislative body considers, drafts and adopts land use comprehensive plans and/or development regulations (or amendments) to respond to new or changing circumstances not addressed in current laws. The purpose of the moratorium is to preserve the status quo while that planning process occurs – it is not designed to stop the expansion of regional light rail.
UPDATE: on April 17, 2017, the City passed an emergency amendment to its zoning code to expressly authorize light rail as a permissible use in the I-90 right-of-way, allowing the City to resume processing the building permit applicaton for the light rail station.
What is the effect of the moratorium that addresses “transportation concurrency” and “essential public facilities?”
The moratorium addresses two issues under the Washington Growth Management Act (chapter 36.70A RCW), referred to as “transportation concurrency” and “essential public facilities.” The moratorium’s intent is to temporarily bar the development while the City prepares, considers, and adopts development regulations that address aspects provided for by the Growth Management Act.
To comply with the Growth Management Act, specifically RCW 36.70A.070(6)(b), the City must adopt a transportation concurrency ordinance to ensure that the City does not approve of development permits when the proposed development would cause any locally-owned intersections to decline below the City’s adopted level of service (“LOS”) standards, unless the impacts are adequately mitigated concurrently with the development. This moratorium suspends for up to six months the approval of any development application that may cause a decline in the City’s adopted LOS standards until a transportation concurrency ordinance can be prepared, considered and adopted to satisfactorily address the concerns of the City while also conforming to legal requirements.
The moratorium also addresses “essential public facilities” (or “EPF”). Under the Growth Management Act, essential public facilities are those types of facilities that are typically difficult to site. Facilities considered difficult to site include state or regional intersections, state education facilities, state and local correctional facilities, and mental health facilities. The Growth Management Act allows the City to impose reasonable permitting requirements and require mitigation of the essential public facility’s adverse effects. The moratorium applies for up to six months to bar any development of essential public facilities to provide the ability for the City review and ultimately adopt amendments to the City’s development code that would allow the City to impose permitting requirements and other conditions. The City may not prohibit the expansion of light rail or preclude the siting of light rail facilities on Mercer Island.
What is the effect of the so-called “Public Institution zoning moratorium”?
The Public Institution (or “P” zone) moratorium applies for up to six months to any and all development and applications for development within that portion of the Public Institution zone referred to as the Mercer Island I-90 Right of Way. The moratorium provides time to the City to review and ultimately adopt amendments to the City’s existing zoning code to regulate and potentially mitigate, as appropriate, the use of the Mercer Island I-90 Right of Way for any purposes that may differ from the existing use as a public highway. The purpose of the moratorium is to bar any changes to that right of way while the City considers changes to its zoning code that would allow for other uses.
Why are the enacted moratoria limited to only six months?
State law (RCW 35A.63.220 and RCW 36.70A.390) limits moratoria to a maximum of six months, unless a work plan is developed for related studies providing for a longer period of up to one year. The moratoria may be renewed prior to the expiration of the initial six months.
Why is the City holding a public hearing regarding the moratoria?
State law (RCW 35A.63.220 and RCW 36.70A.390) requires the City to hold a public hearing within 60 days of adopting a moratorium. A public hearing was held at the March 6, 2017, City Council meeting at City Hall to hear and consider the comments and testimony of those wishing to speak regarding the moratoria being adopted.
UPDATE: on April 17, 2017, the City passed an emergency amendment to its zoning code to expressly authorize light rail as a permissible use in the I-90 right-of-way, allowing the City to resume processing the building permit applicaton for the light rail station.
NOTE: All Rail Operations questions were referred to Sound Transit, which provided the following answers on Feb 1, 2017.
Will East Link trains have to wait to enter Seattle’s downtown rail tunnel: 1 opening every 8 mins?
"King County Metro and Sound Transit buses will no longer use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel prior to East Link operation. East Link trains will share the tunnel with Link trains exclusively when service begins in 2023. There is no waiting for tunnel access as trains are timed to alternate between East/West (East Link) and North/South (Link) service. East Link is anticipated to have 8-minute headways – meaning, trains will arrive at the Mercer Island station every eight minutes during peak times to provide frequent and reliable service for up to 20 hours daily."
How was the leasing fee arrived at for ST’s use of the WSDOT-owned Center Roadway… is that truly “full and fair value”?
"Sound Transit has worked with WSDOT to secure leases to the property needed for East Link construction and operation. The lease is based upon a current appraisal which was reviewed by the State Attorney General, WSDOT’s real estate office and the Federal Highway Administration. These leases were challenged by the Eastside Transportation Association in 2013. The state Supreme Court ruled in Sound Transit’s favor and the decision is available here."
Will ST publish its engineering studies? E.g. Is there a 20mph limit across bridge expansion joints? Does the load-bearing limit of the floating bridge mean it can support only 1 train at a time?
"Light rail trains are expected to travel across the I-90 floating bridge at 55mph and can operate two trains simultaneously. Engineering studies are available by submitting a request for records from Sound Transit."
Has ST studied the actual net gain from rail if most buses in the future will terminate at the MI station and not go into Seattle?
"Yes. Sound Transit has studied a net gain in passenger travel times, which results from the bus-rail integration at the Mercer Island station. This was first reported in the Sound Transit East Link: Bus / LRT System Integration Study, completed in 2014."
Has ST studied future driverless cars/buses options?
"No. Driverless cars and buses were not studied in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). That being said, driverless cars and buses have the same operational characteristics of cars with drivers and therefore are unlikely to affect traffic analysis."
Why close the Center Roadway so early (btw MI and Seattle) in the construction process?
"When East Link construction begins in mid-2017, work will occur throughout the 14-mile alignment – including along the I-90 center roadway and floating bridge. Construction on the I-90 floating bridge is more complex than building a new bridge as it will be retrofitted to accommodate light rail transit. Some construction activities include:
Why does ST need 6 years to do construction work that might normally take 2-3 years?
- Adding seismic retrofits to the floating bridge and approaches
- Additional post-tensioning to the pontoons and bridge structures
- Adding a transit track bridge to transfer light rail vehicles to / from the floating bridge
- Adding track, overhead catenary systems, and operational systems to I-90 and the floating bridge, and building stations at Judkins Park and Mercer Island"
"Six years is the estimated time to complete all construction activities, including approximately a year of pre-revenue testing. Sound Transit has already compressed the construction schedule and has shared the schedule with the City. There is no additional room to further reduce the construction schedule. However, if work is completed early, light rail service can begin sooner."
What happens to trains in a lengthy power outage?
"Separate power sources from the regional grid supply each of the two traction power substations (TPSS) on Mercer Island, making a complete outage unlikely. But if necessary, power from elsewhere in the light rail system (e.g. Seattle or Bellevue) can be routed to the Mercer Island section.
All stations are equipped with battery backup and generators to keep other systems operating."
STATION & LANDSCAPING
What does the final station design look like?
Sound Transit released its final design to the public on 6 Dec 2016 via a narrated presentation.
Is Sound Transit planning to build sound walls around the light rail station?
Sound Transit assessed future rail-related sound levels in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and no wayside noise impacts from light rail operations were identified, thus meeting the Federal Transit Agency’s noise impact criteria. Today’s existing noise levels are dominated by vehicle traffic noise from highway use. Sound Transit will be constructing sound walls to protect passengers at platform-level from vehicle noise originating on I-90.
How tall are the future light rail station buildings?
Most of the station and platform will be out of sight down at highway-level, however two “headhouses” containing elevators, stairwells, ventilation, etc., will be located up at street level. According to Sound Transit, each headhouse, one on 77th Ave and one on 80th Ave SE, will be 20-25 feet tall, i.e. approx. 2 stories.
Who will maintain the landscaping around the future light rail station?
According to Sound Transit, the plantings along the station platform will be maintained by Sound Transit while the plantings along the 77th and 80th Avenue areas will be maintained jointly by the City of Mercer Island and WSDOT as they are today.
Will there be restrooms and would they be ADA-compliant?
According to Sound Transit, maintaining the safety of restrooms is the most significant challenge. Due to this issue, no ST stations currently have them, and none are planned for the Mercer Island station.
Will there be accessible load/unload temporary parking for wheelchair vans?
Currently, there is a drop-off area planned for the 77th Avenue SE entrance where vehicles will be able to pull in and unload passengers. The final design for the 80th Avenue SE sidewalk, landscape and roadway lanes is still under negotiation between the City of Mercer Island and Sound Transit.
What is the plan for preventing cut-through traffic when I-90 is backed up?
This is a problem for many Eastside communities bordering I-90, and it does not have a simple solution because the streets involved are public, not private. Generally, any driver is entitled to travel on public streets. However, this issue is of great concern to the Council and the City will be monitoring usage before and after the I-90 Express Lanes closure.
Are plans for a bus turnaround/bus depot terminated?
There are no plans for a bus depot, but regional buses will be dropping passengers off at the curb near the future light rail station, once it is operational. A design is still under negotiation between the City and ST.
Will all of the temporary Town Center traffic mitigation (new signals, turn lanes, etc) be complete before the closure of the I-90 Center Roadway?
Sound Transit is leading this work, and is applying for permits, with the intention of completing temporary traffic control measures before the I-90 Center Roadway is scheduled to close in June of 2017. See map of the measures here.
Long-standing, regional agreements require that permanent traffic mitigation measures be complete prior to light rail opening, which is scheduled for 2023 currently. The City does not agree that this timing is adequate and is pushing for traffic mitigation to be complete sooner.