We held off on writing about yesterday’s East Link news to get some more information and more fully understand the process – and I’m glad we did, because there’s more to it.

The term sheet (.doc) referred to in pieces published yesterday is positive, but it’s not the final agreement – it’s more of a mutually agreed upon starting place for building an agreement. WSDOT and Sound Transit are agreeing that these terms are good enough to use when crafting a more lengthy, complex “umbrella agreement” later in the year. This umbrella agreement will be much more detailed, potentially covering exact dates for project delivery, particular responsibilities assigned to each agency, and more.

The term sheet, though, lets us in the public know that WSDOT has pretty much accepted that they’re not going to get actual cash from Sound Transit for the reversible express lanes, despite Speaker Chopp’s earlier demands. This is in line with what we predicted before – the R8A work Sound Transit is doing to add HOV lanes to I-90 constitutes a benefit to the state, a benefit, it turns out, that outweighs the reversible lanes’ value!

Aside from that, there are two things I find really interesting about this term sheet.

First, it’s temporary. It will last 40 years after the start of East Link revenue service, but the umbrella agreement will provide for a renewal contract extending that for an additional 35 years. This ensures the agreement won’t have to be renegotiated until 2095. Hopefully light rail will have its own bridge by then, otherwise I’m going to have to live to 114 so I can write about it.

Second, this removes all responsibility from WSDOT for additional R8A funding past their already spent or programmed money. That bodes well for East Link’s schedule, as Sound Transit is pretty good about funding things when they say they will. Sound Transit just moved forward with the next step of R8A, as well.

This should be representative of the final agreement, but don’t throw a party yet. There are a lot of costs here, from the airspace lease to bridge maintenance, and they could go up before the umbrella agreement is complete and signed – that said, this is good news.

26 Replies to “I-90 Term Sheet is a Good Step Forward”

  1. Slight OT, but has there been an discussion of East Link is going to opened incrementally or all at once (Except SeaTac) like Link? December 2020 seems SO far off.

    1. No, I don’t think that can happen. R8A won’t be done until 2014, and then you’ll need a couple of years for conversion of the bridge, plus testing. If you tried to open Mercer Island early, you’d probably delay Bellevue by doing it, plus you’d pay for running empty trains for a couple of years.

      1. I also think that it is too early to tell what part of the project is going to be the critical path.

  2. What’s going to happen when the Blue Angels are in town? will they delay all service on East Link? or just run trains from Redmond to Mercer Island and make you wait there until the show/practice is over?

    1. One of two things will happen. Either,

      1) They will hold the trains while the shows are in progress, or

      2) They will allow the trains to go through while the shows are in progress.

      I suspect the answer is number 1, which means Link will be impacted the same as all other modes (SOVs, HOVs, Metro, etc).

      1. 3) After the Canadian Snowbirds disaster of 2018 which kills scores in North Vancouver, the Seattle area will finally wake up to the risks involved in holding an air show over a densely-settled urban area and will tell the US Navy to move their dangerous recruiting excercise to McChord AFB.

        4) The cost of Jet-A having risen to $20 per gallon, forces all unnecessary uses of military aircraft to be greatly curtailed and thus both the Blue Angels and the Boat races are cancelled. Our Beijing overlords, having just filled both the House and Senate with their subsidary-corporate-sponsered lackeys, smile.

      1. I think that the only reason traffic is stopped now during the shows it because of the distraction to drivers caused by the low flying planes. If the light-rail transit drivers can be trained to pay attention (they’re unlikely to veer out of their lane…) why not continue service?

        The pilots are not distracted by traffic over the bridge, any more than they are by the multitude of other ground clutter. If they were, wouldn’t we see the surface streets to the south of their show envelope closed to traffic too?

      2. Yeah this was always my understanding but I do remember hearing about more stringent air show regulations a few years ago.

      3. Ya, the WSDOT comment refers to “drivers”, but the FAA has an exclusion box and I think that if anything is inside the exclusion box then it needs to be vacated.

        Adjustments to the display box location are possible however, so it’s not *impossible* that continued Link operation couldn’t be accomidated, but I’d think it is probably unlikely.

    1. The state owns the lanes East Link will be built in on the bridge. They have to lease, literally, the airspace over I-90 to exclusively operate rail there.

      1. This is confusing. The Federal Highway Administration (and only the FHWA) decides if the Interstate lanes can be surrendered for light rail. The Lake is a navigable waterway so again the ROW is federally juristiction. As the FHWA made clear in their comments on the DEIS, the Memorandum of Understanding regarding use of the lanes isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

      2. I think your belief about the FHWA’s role is *why* it’s confusing!

        The feds paid for most of it, but the state actually owns it (and is responsible for maintenance). The feds say (and you can see reference to this in the term sheet) that they don’t need any of their contribution back for the conversion – they’re saying the MoA holds in that they spent money that can be used for transit.

        The airspace doesn’t affect the lake as a waterway – the space under the bridge (at the ends) isn’t affected.

      3. WSDOT is certainly the lead agency and the full amount of funding for maintenance is budgeted for by the State but the amount of Federal money that pours into the State’s coffers for transportation is directly related to the Interstate highway miles we have to maintain. The State can’t decide it cost too much to plow I-90 and close it for the winter like they do North Cascades and Chinook Pass. I don’t think the State can add lanes or even change an exit without FHWA approval. The Feds certainly control all aspects of tolling. It seems like air rights leasing would be the same as tolls.

  3. I hope that in 2095 WSDOT isn’t in dire financial straits, desperate to milk some money off of the lucrative Sound Transit (with its 300 miles of rail) to keep its dream of private vehicles alive in a world without oil.

  4. Assuming the I-90 upgrades are completed on schedule in 2014, why can’t we plan to get East Link open as far as Mercer Island in conjunction with the opening of University Link in 2016? Then run shuttle buses from Overlake, Bellevue TC and maybe Issaquah to feed Link. Get a six year jump on ridership. Could be a prudent move if wrangling over the Bellevue alignment options delays East Link beyond 2020. Just a thought.

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