Seattle City Council
7/14/2003 12:17:00 PM
Josh Belzman (206)684-8808
Council to Weigh in on I-90 Transit Plan
mass-transit first in plan to improve I-90
between Seattle and Eastside
SEATTLE - Delivering a message that regional transportation efforts must focus on safety and improved public transit solutions, the Seattle City Council today will consider endorsing a plan to convert I-90's center bridge lanes to two-way operation by buses and carpools until construction begins on light rail across Lake Washington.
The Council will vote on the resolution at its 2 p.m. meeting in Council Chambers.
As the Sound Transit I-90 Steering Committee prepares to vote Tuesday on a preferred alternative for the I-90 Two-Way Transit and High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Operations Project, Council members have indicated support for a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Heidi Wills that backs transit-oriented Alternative R-2B. Of the plans being considered for improving transit operations on I-90 between Seattle and the Eastside, the Council says R-2B is the safest and most cost effective option, and the one that would best facilitate the future addition of light rail.
Under R-2B, I-90's two reversible center lanes across Lake Washington would be converted to dedicated two-way use (one lane each direction) by buses and high occupancy vehicles until light rail comes on line. The plan, which carries an estimated cost of $28-30 million, would provide additional access ramps on Mercer Island.
"Sound Transit's core mission, as approved by Sound Move voters in 1996, is to provide high-capacity transit solutions for our region," said Wills, vice-chair of the Council's Transportation Committee. "The transit improvement plan endorsed by the Council is consistent with that vision and will address our transportation needs in a safer and more cost-effective manner than competing options. It will provide immediate benefits to commuters while paving the way for a smooth transition to light rail."
The Council has expressed concerns with another design under consideration, R-8A, saying it carries unacceptable safety risks and costs. The $90-100 million plan would maintain the current reversible configuration of I-90's center lanes and create new carpool and transit lanes on the outer roadways by reducing the width of existing lanes and shoulders. State environmental reviews show the plan would increase the likelihood of accidents for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, and force vehicles carrying flammable materials onto alternate routes. Critics also charge that R-8A would lead to greater traffic congestion by effectively increasing single-occupancy vehicle capacity without expanding capacity at either end of I-90, on I-5 and I-405.
"The I-90 Safety Coalition is pleased that the Seattle City Council is standing up for public safety by supporting all-day, two-way transit in the I-90 center lanes," said Peter Hurley, executive director of member group Transportation Choices Coalition. "Alternative R-2B would prevent 50-100 deaths and injuries a year while saving time for eastbound and westbound bus riders, carpoolers and vanpoolers. The other alternative is dangerous and would worsen traffic congestion."
The Council believes a variation of R-8A might be appropriate once light rail is implemented in the center roadway, but that safety and high-capacity transit, not increased general traffic flow, should guide design decisions. Council members are urging Mayor Nickels to work with regional stakeholders to speed development of light rail across Lake Washington and to uphold long-standing transportation planning policies. A 1976 agreement among Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, King County, Metro, and the Washington State Highway Commission called for two-way use of I-90's center lanes by transit and carpools.
The Sound Transit I-90 Steering Committee will meet to discuss and vote on a preferred alternative at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 15, at Union Station, Sound Transit Board Room, 401 S. Jackson St.
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