The most disappointing thing about the PSRC stimulus list is the failure to include any funds for the completion of the I-90 two-way HOV project. Under current state budget plans, the last tranche of funding ($24m) is programmed for the 2017-2019 biennium. Since it will take approximately 5 years from the completion of this to opening day of the Seattle-Bellevue segment, this could potentially delay its opening from 2020 to 2024.
The project consists of three stages:
Stage 1 extended the westbound HOV lane from Bellevue to mid-Mercer Island and was completed last October.
Stage 2 would upgrade the same stretch in the eastbound direction, and it’s here that the state’s contribution of $24m is required.
Stage 3 is to complete the HOV lane into Seattle in both directions, and was fully funded by Proposition 1 last year.
Of the $188m total cost for all three stages, the state and ST agreed that the split would be $51m and $138m, respectively. Until 2007, the last chunk of state funding was scheduled for 2009 (pdf, page 20), so that Stage 2 could be complete by 2012. In early 2007, however, ESHB 1094, implemented a “LEAP” plan that pushed back the $24m (pdf, page 15) to beyond 2017.
ESHB 1094 was sponsored in the House by Rep. Judy Clibborn* (D-Mercer Island), Rep. Fred Jarrett (D-Mercer Island), and Rep. Al O’Brien (D-Bothell). O’Brien was probably interested in an interchange in Bothell, but it’s clear what the big impact in Clibborn and Jarrett’s district was.
Rep. Jarrett, incidentally, is running for King County Executive this year.
It seems ridiculous to hold up a $4 billion project for want of $24 million, so one has to hope that the relevant parties will find a way. It may be that this delay is an opening bid by the state, since there’s a pending negotiation over whether or not WSDOT will charge Sound Transit rent for the express lanes.
On the other hand, that assumes good faith on the part of both parties. If the legislature wants to, it can certainly create enough obstacles to prevent Sound Transit from ever using the I-90 right of way.
As the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel put it in their report:
Very significant schedule and budget risks continue for the I-90 Two-Way Transit Stages 2 and 3 projects. Sound Transit has funded its share of the projects as well as the entire current estimate for Stage 3, contingent on WSDOT’s commitment to work collaboratively to manage scope. But WSDOT’s $24 million contribution to Stage 2 is currently budgeted for the 2017-2019 biennium. Funding authorization by the state is urgently needed to be moved to the current biennium as these projects are on the critical path for East Link over the I-90 bridge and they are essential to provide needed capacity during the 520 bridge reconstruction. Also, we want to highlight that WSDOT and Sound Transit must work earnestly and cooperatively over the next year to resolve the terms of the agreement for the conversion of the I-90 center roadway for use by East Link to avoid further significant risks to the I-90 Stage 2 and 3 projects and East Link light rail.
*UPDATE: A source in Olympia points out to me via email that as Transportation Chair, it’s customary for Rep. Clibborn to sponsor the transportation budget. That isn’t to say that she was unaware, opposed, or somehow not responsible for the fate of a project in her district.