Martin had a fantastic post this morning about the I-90 Two Way Transit and HOV project, also known as Alternative R-8A, or just R8A. I want to add to this some history, and exactly why this is a key issue for transit.
In 1976, a Memorandum of Agreement was reached to build I-90. There are some gems in here, but I think the key is that I-90 was originally intended to be converted to rail:
2. The I-90 facility shall be designed and constructed so that conversion of all or part of the transit roadway to fixed guideway is possible.
In 2004, the same stakeholders partnered with Sound Transit to amend the 1976 Memorandum of Agreement. This amendment (and it’s really worth a read, it’s pretty short) established that:
“…all parties agree that the ultimate configuration for I-90 between Bellevue, Mercer Island and Seattle should be defined as High Capacity Transit in the center roadway and HOV lanes in the outer roadways; and further agree that High Capacity Transit for this purpose is defined as a transit system operating in dedicated right-of-way such as light rail, monorail, or a substantially equivalent system;”
Furthermore, they liked one particular alternative for reaching this configuration:
“…all parties agree that building HOV lanes on the outer roadways as identified as Alternative R-8A as set forth in the May 21, 2004 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared for the project, is an essential first step toward achieving the ultimate configuration;”
The final resolution was crystal clear, we need to put HOV lanes on the outer roadway ASAP:
1. Alternative R-8A with High Capacity Transit deployed in the center lanes is the ultimate configuration for I-90 in this segment;
2. Construction of R-8A should occur as soon as possible as a first step to the ultimate configuration;
3. Upon completion of R-8A, move as quickly as possible to construct High Capacity Transit in the center lanes;
4. Commit to the earliest possible conversion of center roadway to two-way High Capacity Transit operation based on outcome of studies and funding approvals.
WSDOT has a fantastic project page where you can see the details of R8A and the schedule WSDOT committed to – with construction ending in 2014. Martin noted that Sound Transit needs this to happen before they can build East Link – so anything the state does to alter this schedule will directly impact our ability to build light rail to the eastside.
So why am I writing this? Because the response we’ve gotten demands some scrutiny. Last time I wrote about this project, it was to point out that Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1978 (PDF), the bill to distribute transportation stimulus funds, reduced funding for R8A Stage 1 (page 42). When I pointed out that Representative Judy Clibborn’s amendment removed money for R8A, Representative Eddy commented with (in part):
I am advised that the language in question reflects an accounting change. “We revised the amount for the I-90 two-way transit stage 1 project down by $2.8 M in the 2009 supplemental budget. This is due to project savings in stage 1. These savings are being transferred to the budget item for stages 2 & 3 of the project. Unfortunately the proviso does not mention this other budget item.”
She goes on to report that the total budget for stages 2 & 3 is being increased by $3.27 M, beyonjd the $2.8 reduction in ‘09 to recognize increased inflation.
A commenter named Allison emailed Clibborn and got this response:
The I-90 two-way transit project is a three-stage project. The first stage was completed $2.8 million under budget, so the savings on stage one have been transferred to stages two and three. – Judy Clibborn
In fact, ESHB 1978 did mention R8A stages 2 and 3 – it didn’t move money from stage 1 to them, it removed another $1.8 million from them (page 47).
A staffer in Olympia tells me the Senate Transportation Committee plans to release their 2009-2011 budget tomorrow at 12:30 pm. Do keep in mind that this is just Senate Transportation, not the House, but it will give us a good idea as to whether these promises will be kept. Tomorrow I’ll look at what’s in the budget, and we’ll figure out what’s next. See you then.