22 Aug 2014
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City Council I-90 Tolling LiveBlog

Approximately 100 citizens and representatives are at City Hall for City Council's Jan. 7 meeting on a presentation by WSDOT possible I-90 tolling between I-405 and I-5.

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7 pm

Mayor Bruce Bassett opens the meeting and asks the over 100 peeople in City Council chamber

John Fox, speaking on behalf of his wife Anne, who lives across the street from the so-called First Hill lot, a city owned property that the city plans to sell (2976 74th Ave. SE).

He asks that the city consider the ecclectic nature of the neighborhood and place covenants on the property, to restrict it to only 2 houses on the property.

"A cul-de-sac design would change the idiosyncratic nature of the area," he said.

Carol Boatswain also makes similar comments following Mr. Fox.

7:10 pm

Ira Appelman speaks concerning the annual performance review of City Manager Rich Conrad. Appelman runs through a series of "injustices" of retaining Conrad.

7:12 pm

Mayor Bassett closes the public comment period. Minutes for past meetings are approved. The consent calendar is unanimously approved.

Deputy City Manager Noel Treat introduces AB 4792, I-90 Issues Status Report.

"We are just at the beginning of the process," said Craig Stone, WSDOT Toll Division Asst. Secretary.

7:23 pm

Stone moves through the rationale for imposing tolls on I-90 between I-405 and I-5, calling the SR 520 bridge and I-90 the "Lake Washington Cross-Lake Corridor"

"They clearly have interaction with each other," Stone said.

The 520 floating bridge replacement remains unfunded by about $1.4 billion.

Tolling on 520 after a few initial hiccups, Stone says, is "working" and about 3 million toll transactions are processed a month. The state is now looking at how to harmonize the tolling program across all toll roads and bridges in the state.

7:28 pm

Stone says travel times have increased on I-90 by 11 percent (15,000) since tolls were introduced to SR 520, adding an estimated 4 minutes of travel time to the Issaquah-to-Seattle commute. Growth in traffic on westbound I-90 has been primarily in mid-day traffic.

"We have clearly seen most of the trip increases have come in the middle of the day," Stone said. Average traffic times on westbound I-90 between Issaquah and Seattle before tolling could take anywhere between "free-flow" speed and 45-to-49 minutes between 5 to 6 pm. After tolling, the slowdowns would take place earlier and last longer.

7:34 pm

An environmental assessment will look into a number of areas, and Stone reminds the audience of the three public scoping meetings scheduled for Mercer Island on Jan. 29, Bellevue on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 in Seattle.

7:37 pm

Stone closes with a review of six WSDOT facilities authorized by the State Legislature and three other faciliites that are being studied, including the I-90 crosslake corridor.

7:38 pm

Russ East, WSDOT Asst. Regional Manager begins his presentation on the I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations project, which is now moving into Stage 3: East says this will enable the placement of EastLink on the center roadway, or I-90 Express lanes.

The changes on Mercer Island will be the Island Crest Way onramp to the center roadway will be closed, and the Bellevue Way on and off ramp will be modified.

"We really want people to understand the elements being considered here, the elements that go into tolling," Stone said.

East says Stage 3 should be complete by Sept. 2016, when the I-90 express lanes would then be closed to traffic.

"By Sept. 2016 we open the road to construction to Sound Transit and they place."

Councilman Mike Cero asks for the presentation to pause and requests the opportunity to ask a question.

Cero challenges the benefit that the community will derive from the change and asks if there will be 5 general purpose lanes each way available to the public.

"You're going to be looking at two empty center lanes for 7, 8 years?" asks Cero.

"That's correct." East said.

"Will the SOV lane remain?" asks Cero.

"That decision, that policy decision, has not been made," said East.

Cero goes on to ask if the SOV access that Mercer Island residents enjoy will become "Hot-Lane" HOV access.

"That is very important for the public to understand," Cero said.

7:53 pm

East also describes that the Homer Hadley floating bridge shoulder will be virtually eliminated (down to 2 feet) and lanes will be reduced from 12 feet to 11 fett in width.

"When there's a car break down, there will be congestion," East said.

7:57 pm

Sound Transit East Link Executive Project Director Ron Lewis presents information on the EastLink project to link Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond to Seattle via the I-90 center lanes. Hewitt Archtiects will be designing the Mercer Island light rail station and the link is divided into two projects. The track alignment, station finishes and materials and landscaping is now being selected and permitting will soon begin.

Sound Trasit says they will soon begin outreach on how the station should be designed and what art should be placed there. The station will be accessed from 77th Ave. SE and 80th Ave. SE and stairs and elevators will be available at each access point. Ticket machines will also be placed at the street level.

Sound Transit will also work with the city on traffic mitigation and helping to build another parking facility on the Island.

8:06 pm

Service on the East Link light rail line is projected to begin in 2023. Civil construction is projected to begin in 2015 and end in 2020, and systems construction will finish in 2021, and then a year of testing will begin.

In Sept. 2016, the I-90 express lanes will be available for construction. Sound Transit is projecting 54 months of construction for the entire I-90 segment. Sound Transit says the Bellevue segment is the "critical path".

Deputy Mayor Grausz reiterates Cero's question with a little more relish.

"Why does it take seven years for construction on I-90 center lanes?" asks Grausz. "We keep asking that question and we never get an answer."

The Sound Transit representative says he'd be happy to go into more detail at another time to explain why the project will take seven years when he can return with a more detailed presentation.

"We want to deliver it in the most cost-effective way," Ron Lewis said. "But we also want to deliver it in away where it has the least impact on the community.

Schedule will be baselined in 2014. The final timeline is not set.

8:21 pm

Mercer Island's legislative delegation is here as well. State House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn goes first.

Clibborn reviews some of the history for how and why the State Legislature is now considering tolling I-90. State Route 520 would first be paid for by tolls, then the state would look for more state and federal funding, and savings elsewhere.

"We have easied our way into tolling to complete a regional package," Clibborn said. "The reason we are going to toll is because we could not raise enough revenue."

Clibborn says that "it was decided" in 2009 that tolling I-90 would be used as a "backstop" for fully funding the SR 520 floating bridge replacement as the bond packages to pay for it were being sold to the bond market. But Islanders can determine how and where the toll gantries would be placed.

"You will always have a way to get off the Island for free" siad Clibborn. "I don't think the state has to decide that ... If you want to toll the East Channel Bridge, and charge all of those people who use the Park and Ride lot, that would be interesting."

"I think the Island is just about split. I am a little concerned about when we start. 2016 is the date that has been set and I'm going to hold firm on that."

8:31 pm

Sen. Steve Litzow is next, reviewing all of the transportation projects that the State Legislature is approving and must pay for.

"You cannot raise the gas tax fast enough to make up for the declining revenues," Litzow said. "We're playing catch-up in our ability to keep the freigh moving and keep our economy going."

8:33 pm

Rep. Marcie Maxwell, who lives in Renton, says she understands the impact these decisions will have on Mercer Island and the region as a whole.

"East King County has enjoyed good times when compared with the rest of the county, the region and the country as a whole," she said. "And transportation is a big part of that."

Maxwell compliments Rep. Clibborn's leadership and said that it puts Mercer Island in a strong position moving forward.

The Council takes a short break.

7:47 pm

Mayor Bassett resumes the meeting, with a few comments on the ground rules of how to take part in the meeting.

"We as a council intend to be representative of you ... but now is your opportunity to speak to them."

Baron Dickey goes first. Dickey says the I-90 bridge is Mercer Island's only access route, affect the Port of Seattle, hinder Mercer Island businesses and cause additional burdens on the state. 

Lisa Belden organized a petition with over 3,300 signatures so far of residents on Mercer Island. She criticized elected officials and directed several of her comments toward Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn — who was sitting in the audience — for failing to make good on "promises" she said were made in public forums and in newspaper stories.

"She said 'I'l make sure that SOV lanes stay if light rail comes'," Belden said, quoting Clibborn from a Seattle Times story. "This whole thing, the way this really came up was through lots of lies from Sound Transit and WSDOT," she said.

Her time alloted to speak — three minutes — now expired, Belden won't yield the podium.

"This our chance to speak," she said. "We don't have to stand for this, people."

Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes escorts Belden from the podium.

Stowe Sprague reviews how this would personally affect her and her family. She estimated that her family makes 23 trips a week off the Island, and 20 of her trips went to Bellevue. She estimated it would cost her about $92 a week and nearly $5,000 per year."

I would love to see more families write up their own profile and send them to Judy."

Sprague advocates a residential cap and splitting the tolls between two toll gantries.

John Hamlin says he objects to the level of surveilance that a toll would bring to Mercer Island.

"Mercer Island residents do not want to submit themselves to an involuntary search everytime they leave the Island."

9:06 pm

Joy Matsuura said she dislikes the toll and the Sound Transit's handling of the Park and Ride system. She also objects to tolling because it will hurt residents locally and regionally.

Steve Shepherd, who said he used to live in Seattle, urged residents to raise their voices to affect the scoping of the tolling project.

"Represent us more forcefully, this is going to be crucial," he said.

Tom Imrich said Islanders are being asked an unfare share if they're asked to pay tolling on I-90

John Emeritt, asks a rhetorical question of the WSDOT and Sound Transit representatives and criticizes the elected representatives and officials.

Suzanne Davis said she was very disappointed that the representatives from WSDOT and Sound Transit will not

"The measure does not call for tolling I-90" Davis said, quoting Clibborn.

Davis said that tolling on I-90 would pay for 520

John Sievekin said he moved to Mercer Island for the community, but feared that tolling would have a heavy impact on local businesses, starting with his child's day care.

"This is not something that should happen to Mercer Island," he said. "It's vitally important to have that commerce and vitality brought to Mercer Island ... where does it stop?"

Michael Finn: A new twist on what tolling uis going to do. Volunteering, charity, food and clothing donations by Islanders may be severely curtailed as a result.

Claus Jensen: The idea of spending $5,000 per year on a fixed income is a nightmare. It's an interstate highway that's being tolled for a state highway.

Denise Joffe: Resident since 2006. I can honestly say that if I was considering moving here at a time tolling was considered ... I honestly wouldn't consider moving here."

Larry McWilliams: "I don't know if you can say no. If you told them to stick it in their ear, I don't know what it would do."

Fred Weiss: We've paid for I-90 twice.

Steve Marshall: People are looking for a choice. Lake Washington urban partnership agreement. The biggest reason they're talking about this is revenue. PSRC is talking about tolling in the whole region by 2040. We ought to be looking at the whole region.

"Maybe we should look at RTID again (a transportation bond which failed in a 2007 vote)," he said. "But looking at Mercer Island, and asking families to pay $5,000 a year, just doesn't make a lot of sense."

Joe Murphy: A resident at 77 Central, Murphy saw the hearing on MI-TV 21 and threw on his suit and shirt and tie and drove to City Hall to speak during the meeting. He moved away from Gig Harbor to Mercer Island for work opportunities and is an Iraq War military veteran.

"Please don't charge me any more money, my rent is already pretty high."

Mayor Bassett thanks all members of the audience who spoke during the hearing.

"We hear you and these folks in the front row hear you and I'm sure we'll continue the conversation in the coming months," he said.

9:38 pm

Bertlin asks about why the state has decided to integrate a "user fee" into state transportation policy. Clibborn says it's because there's a scarcity of revenue and other states in the East have taken up this policy, and to Washington state residents it's "new."

Bertlin also asks what can be done to reduce the amount of time the center lanes would be closed.

Lewis says it's because of weather and sensitivity of construction on the bridge  that the length of time is seven years. Lewis says he can return in the spring to brief the council on a more detailed look at the timeline.

Senn asks if this is a done deal.

Clibborn: "I don't have another choice ... We are now at a point where the only other option is by tolling." "I think we need to look at it as how do we get the rest of the region working, too."

Grausz asks why the state never responded to a letter sent to WSDOT attesting to keeping Mercer Island's SOV/HOV access lanes.

Conrad weighs in: Mercer Island traffic would have access to HOV lanes when they open and would not be toll lanes, until the lanes could be turned into HOT lanes.

Stone responds and says he thinks Mercer Island access to HOV lanes is something that could be included in scoping of the study and moving forward.

Grausz also asked if Mercer Islanders could see a reduced toll rate.

"There's probably no other community in the state that has that distinction, that half the community might have to pay a toll and the other half won't," Grausz said.

Clibborn weighs in: "If you went to Gig Harbor when they were the first to be tolled, they felt the same way ... everytime we touch a community that has a unique place, we go through this process. That's why we don't do that ... I don't see how you do that politically."

Stone says Staten Island pays a different rate in New York City. He says WSDOT is looking at the Columbia River as a pilot.

Brahm: "For Mercer Island, this is a bitter pill," she said. It sounds like it is a done deal, so now the question is, what can we do to mitigate this?"

10:05 pm

WSDOT's East says there's a number of policy and cost decisions that are in place that put the state and Sound Transit on schedule to close the I-90 express lanes in 2016.

Conrad says there may be a period of time, from May 2016 to September 2016, when construction hasn't yet begun, but the R8A project will be finished — effectively leaving Mercer Island with three all-purpose lanes of traffic, an HOV lane and the express lanes.

East says there's an additional, unbudgeted cost to run the interstate in this configuration.

"Do you mean to tell me, there was never a plan to operate the R8A as five lanes?" asked Grausz.

East confirms there was no plan for this.

Stone clarifies that R8A is to turn the center lanes into high-capacity transit.

Clibborn says because the project timeline has slipped, a gap has appeared.

Cero asks why 520s capacity isn't being fully used, while I-90 will be tolled.

"It's part of a master plan to get funding," said Clibborn."(The toll) will not go up over a long period of time. It will at least stay flat"

10:20 pm

Mayor Bassett asked how long the I-90 tolls could be on place.

"These tolls won't go away," Clibborn said. "They will then be used to maintain and operate the system."

Bassett: You're looking for a lot of input on what to study for the coming months. It's up to us to present he ideas?

Stone: Yes, that would work best.

Bassett: Are there boundaries to what we propose?

Stone: Is it relevant to what we're trying to study, how do we go about doing this?

Mayor Bassett lays out his concept fot a tolling system that in his view would be a "win-win" for the state and for Mercer Island. He accepts the idea that I-90 is part of a cross-lake corridor and that tolling would be part of an effort to reduce travel times and maintain improvements on the SR 520 and I-90 bridges, but challenges the notion that Mercer Island residents must pay.

Bassett proposes two toll gantries on either side of the Island motorists who pass through both would then pay the toll.

"It would make cross-lake trips tolled trips, and wouldn't charge local residents and workers," he said. "This is an idea that's been floated ... and Mercer Island residents like it a lot."

Stone answers: We call it trip building. In fact I-405 will be tolled based on distance. We're also looking at doing something similar with SR 99/Alaskan Way.

This is a concept of operations. So the question is, how will we go about doing that? This is a three-step dance. We could study it as an alternative. But ultimately that concept would be a policy question. Who ultimately makes the decision? That would be the legislators and the State Tolling Commission.

Clibborn: We need to get the revenue.

Bassett: People say "Don't toll I-90". I'm looking for a "win-win," and this clearly does that.

Conrad: Is it legal to toll an interstate highway to pay for state roads?

Stone: There's a number of federal programs that allow this. This would be permitted under a "Value-Pricing Program." Is it legal to toll I-90 for a different facility, such as SR 520.

The Federal Highway Administration has said we can, but it was to be used for transportation purposes — but even then, we can shift the money, if necessary, to transportation related projects.

Clibborn: I don't think politically we would just take that tolling money and spend it on something else like transit.

Bertlin: I'm feeling sadness that a philanthropic effort that tolling could curtail that. The issue of privacy also concerns me. The burden seems very unfair. The issue of where the gantires are are very important. But this also hits other entities.

Senn: Focusing on Town Center, there are many concerned that are from off-Island and there's a worry they will seek to avoid the toll.

Clibborn: Light rail, you'll have more choices of how to get here and there.

Grausz: A lot of discussion imposing fees on the Park and Ride, based on distance. Is that going anywhere?

Ron Lewis: The board has taken up parking policy systemwide.

Brahm: We need to find out what bridge most people are using. Will you be tracking origin and desitnation?

Stone: Yes, we'll be tracking origin and destination.

Mayor Bruce Bassett thanks the  "Coming up with options that will be included in the study in the coming months," said Bassett. "There's power in number on this."

10:50 pm

Mayor Bassett adjourns the meeting.

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