EDITORIAL | Island mentality bad for transit

Maybe we’re biased, living here in Seattle and having seen the benefits of light rail service for years now. The spike in ridership with the start of U-Link only solidified that assuredness that this is the future we need.

Seattle might exist within a liberal bubble, but at least its residents don’t choose to live on an island and try make everyone else pay for it.

Yes, the city of Mercer Island is ready to sue to essentially stop Sound Transit from constructing its East Link light rail line in the center lanes of I-90 across Lake Washington, at least for now. 

This would be surprising, if it wasn’t so characteristically Mercer Island. 

It’s not even light rail that Mercer Island folks oppose; it’s the loss of single-occupancy lanes, an on-ramp going to high-occupancy vehicles and quick access to HOV on I-90, as well as a feeling that they should be the exception. Unfortunately for these islanders, the Federal Highway Administration doesn’t see it that way.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has offered to build a new ramp, among other things, but there’s no surer way to make sure your concerns are addressed quickly and efficiently than to file a lawsuit. 

East Link had been a done deal for a long time, and those center lanes had always been intended for public transit; the region just had to wait for funding and enough sensible voters to approve it.

Anyone who has ever attempted to get from Seattle to Bellevue or vice versa during a busy commute is aware of how bad it can be. Make no mistake, not everyone who works in Bellevue lives in Bellevue, and the same can be said for Seattle residents.

Mercer Island may see congestion increase as a result of the changes in transportation dynamics on I-90 caused by East Link, but it will also eventually have the benefits that come with it.

As for concerns about congestion around Mercer Island’s Town Center, well, it’s very hard for Seattleites to feel sorry for people living on an island who are seemingly only just now coming to grips with the effects of an ever increasing population in the Emerald City and Eastside.

Many municipalities facing such challenges as coexisting with a new mode of transportation and changes to the former usually respond well in advance by making infrastructure improvements. If Mercer Island worries about these changes pushing motorists onto side streets, maybe the well-to-do could have looked into improving those streets well in advance of East Link. 

But no, Mercer Island made a poor mistake in assuming it could just rely on WSDOT to make everything better, when there was that pesky federal government looming in the background.

Like it or not, there are a lot of loud voices in the Puget Sound region that are calling for moving away from single-occupany vehicles. East Link will provide people with that option.

A city withholding permits and filing a lawsuit against agencies that have spent years working with it to find solutions may give it an upperhand in negotiating, but it also sends a message that its people will never be a part of the greater community a fully complete light rail system will provide.