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9611 SE 36th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Phone: 206.275.7600
Fax: 206.276.7663
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FAQ for R8A Lanes and Light Rail Issues

Click here for the August 22, 2016 FAQ

Click here for the September 16, 2016 FAQ

Click here for the November 18, 2016 FAQ

Click here for the December 28, 2016 FAQ

Download a simple 2-page overview (Oct 2016) about I-90 access and light rail mitigation issues

NOTE: Beginning in 2017, FAQ's are broken down by category and posted directly on the page below, rather than in summary pdf documents...
Last Update: 22 March 2017
Answers are updated with the newest information possible.

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.
What happens next?
There are currently 3 separate lawsuits underway:
1)   The City vs. WSDOT and ST on breach of contract and other claims. No hearing date is yet set.
2)   ST's counter claim asking the Court to compel the City to withdraw its suspension of the Shoreline Permit. This is the only lawsuit that has so far held hearings. See Shoreline Permits section below.
3)   ST and WSDOT's writ to strike down the City's land use moratoria. A hearing is set for April 13. See moratoria description below.

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.

After a hearing on March 10, Judge Beth Andrus ordered a follow-up hearing on March 31 (now moved to April 7) allowing both parties additional time to make their case. A decision on this first piece of litigation is expected shortly.
Does litigation mean all other discussion ends?
Mercer Island still supports light rail, and our residents voted for East Link.  So far, negotiations with Sound Transit and WSDOT haven’t yielded results, but we anticipate a continued dialogue with WSDOT and Sound Transit. This litigation is not designed to halt the expansion of regional light rail.
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. is 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.
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 is planning 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.

Currently (early March), the City Council asks that interested residents send a letter of concern to several regional elected officials. Information, contact addresses, and key points are available here.

The City also believes 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

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 will address resident concerns further with a listening session focused on this issue.

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.

Why can't there be a test closure of I-90 ramps now? 
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.  It must and will be completed before the Center Roadway Express Lanes can be closed for light rail construction in June 2017.
What’s happening with the proposed lane addition at the 76th Ave westbound on-ramp? 
Sound Transit had originally planned to add a bus-only lane on this ramp, but is now exploring and evaluating other potential uses of a second on-ramp 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?
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 under study?
The November 2016 version of that document is in the document archive.

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.
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 has been scheduled for March 6, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. at Mercer Island City Hall to hear and consider the comments and testimony of those wishing to speak regarding the moratoria being adopted.

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 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 sometime this spring, 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.
Where can I find the latest information on MI Park-and-Ride usage?
Sound Transit’s latest (2015) license-plate study can be viewed here.

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: 
  • 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"
Why does ST need 6 years to do construction work that might normally take 2-3 years?
"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 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.

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.
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.
Will all of the 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 at this time, it is not anticipated that the mitigation measures will be completed and operational before the I-90 Center Roadway is scheduled to close in June of 2017.  Long-standing, regional agreements require the traffic mitigation to 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 before the closure of the I-90 Center Roadway.




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