Mercer Island isn’t going to give up its special access to I-90 without a fight.
The city council voted Monday night to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation over the loss of solo access to the HOV lanes.
Mercer Island drivers — even those driving solo — were granted access to the HOV lanes in 1976 in exchange for the expansion of the freeway. That access will be taken away later this year when construction gets underway to add light rail across what is now the I-90 express lanes.
The Seattle Times reports the city council also voted to withhold building permits from Sound Transit, which is the only real leverage the city has.
“Today we stop negotiating with ourselves,” Councilmember Benson Wong told the crowded council chambers Monday night. “We need to force Sound Transit and WSDOT to comply with inter-local agreements that we’ve had since 1976.”
KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan reports there was plenty of public comment on Monday. One resident encouraged the city to fight dirty.
“Do not be shy of fighting dirty in this fight,” he said. “If we have to find insects, bacteria, flora, fauna…”
He was briefly interrupted by laughter but quickly got back on track.
“I’m deadly serious. We have to do this. It’s been done in California. San Francisco stopped a lot of development and a lot of projects and we could do the same thing here.”
Mercer Island residents aren’t necessarily opposed to light rail, they simply want the state to honor the deal — mentioned above — set in place decades ago.
According to a letter, dated Feb. 1, 2017, the state simply can’t allow that access.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
For decades now, we have actively engaged and consulted with both affected and interested parties regarding the future operation of I-90 between Mercer Island and Seattle … As we were moving forward to consider options to address Mercer Island’s access to I-90, information came from the Federal Highway Administration in an August 2016 letter that removed some options from the table.
One of those options taken off the table was the agreement with the state that allows single occupancy vehicles to access HOV ramps.
The letter from the Highway Administration read, in part:
[WSDOT] does not possess legal authority to grant either a temporary or permanent waiver to permit [single occupancy vehicle] access to [high occupancy vehicle] lanes.