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Mercer Island, express lanes
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Sound Transit CEO calls Mercer Island lawsuit ‘regrettable’

The first two days without the I-90 express lanes across Lake Washington are, at least anecdotally, causing delays. (AP)

The CEO of Sound Transit is, not surprisingly, upset over the City of Mercer Island deciding to sue the agency and state department of transportation over plans that will result in the loss of special I-90 access for island residents.

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“Legal agreements dating back to before the I-90 floating bridge was even built dedicated the center lanes for public transit,” CEO Peter Rogoff said in a statement. “More than eight years ago, regional voters approved the funding to build the East Link light rail project on those lanes.”

“It is highly regrettable that the City of Mercer Island is now attempting to delay the project in mid-construction.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation was told in a 2016 letter from the Federal Highway Administration that the department cannot “grant either temporary or permanent waiver to permit solo drivers to access 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.

Rogoff notes that neither the state or Sound Transit have the power to reverse a decision by the highway administration.

The new HOV lanes in question are scheduled to open in June. That, according to Sound Transit, will help the agency stay on schedule to construct light rail across Lake Washington.

The East Link light rail will connect Seattle to the Eastside, providing trips from downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle in less than 30 minutes, according to Sound Transit. The trains will travel across Lake Washington in what is currently the center reversible lanes of I-90.

A lawsuit could delay that work, as the city council reportedly also voted to withhold building permits from Sound Transit.

“While Sound Transit remains ready to reach solutions through negotiations, the agency will take all legal actions necessary to avoid delays or increased costs to taxpayers in fulfilling our promise to voters to complete East Link,” Rogoff said.

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