The Sound Transit Board approved a $10 million settlement agreement with Mercer Island after residents lost special access to Interstate 90 due to the expansion of light rail. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a Sound Transit board member, cast the only dissenting vote during the board’s June 22 meeting.
“As a fiduciary of this organization I’m not going to be able to support this today,” Strickland said. “We have to look at things such as equity and fairness.”
“Some of this agreement does include the mitigations we would make, but it’s not a $2 million settlement, it’s not a $4 million settlement, it’s not a $6 million settlement, it’s a $10 million settlement,” she added. “In the world of Sound Transit maybe that’s budget dust, but we are setting a precedent. It’s not about the amount, it’s about setting a precedent, despite the fact that we, Sound Transit, keep winning in court.”
In February the Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) after the town lost special access to I-90’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to make room for light rail. Mercer Island drivers would now have to abide by the HOV-2 standards. Mercer Island argued that a 1976 agreement provided them with lasting rights to HOV lanes, while WSDOT said that single-occupant vehicle (SOV) access to HOV lanes was intended to be temporary, and allowing continued SOV use of HOV lanes would violate federal law and jeopardize funding agreements.
Bellevue Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci defended the settlement, calling it fair, reasonable, and the board’s responsibility after conditions changed and Mercer Island was no longer able to retain the same access to I-90.
“There were no guarantees that the HOV access would continue forever, and I don’t think anyone expected that it could,” Balducci said. “But with the settlement, I think we are doing things that are reasonable, that are within our authorization and it’s our responsibility to try and retain our mobility in a unique situation within a unique agreement that was uniquely repudiated right towards the end.”
The agreement reached at the end of May with Mercer Island, which still needed Sound Transit board approval, ended legal disputes between Sound Transit and the island’s government. John Marchione, Redmond Mayor and Sound Transit Board member, was part of the negotiating team for the settlement. He described the meetings with Mercer Island as “tense” but with “well-meaning conversation.”
The agreement includes:
- An additional 100 parking stalls during the temporary closure of the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, leased by Sound Transit, either within a third of a mile from the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride or served by transit.
- $4.4m from Sound Transit to build up to 200 permanent park-and-ride spaces on Mercer Island.
- $5.1m from Sound Transit for improvements related to traffic congestion and bike/pedestrian safety.
- Sound Transit-supported bus-rail intercept at 77th Avenue SE, with strict rules for non-Mercer Island buses.
- A last-mile pilot program launched by Sound Transit, King County Metro and Mercer Island to improve transit access.