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Friday, August 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Sound Transit OKs I-90 lane changes

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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Sound Transit's board yesterday approved a compromise plan that would alter the configuration of the Interstate 90 bridge lanes and begin the pursuit of high-capacity transit for the crossing.

The vote was unanimous, but it was not, as had been expected, the last local obstacle the plan will face before it heads to the state Transportation Commission for final approval.

Because of slight changes made to the regional agreement by Mercer Island leaders when they approved it last week, the Metropolitan King County Council will likely re-vote on the proposal. It approved the earlier version last month.

That vote could come as early as Monday, King County Councilman Dwight Pelz said. The state Transportation Commission is to vote on the plan Thursday, but that would be delayed if King County hasn't approved the newly worded version in time.

King County, Seattle, Bellevue, Mercer Island and Sound Transit must all agree on changes to the bridge before a plan can be implemented.

The $128 million proposal under consideration is a regional compromise that took years to craft. It would squeeze two new car-pool lanes onto the bridge as soon as money is available and begin a long-term effort to turn the reversible center lanes into high-capacity transit lanes, which could accommodate rail or express buses.

The bridge's two center lanes now carry buses and car pools to Seattle in the morning and to the Eastside in the evening, leaving all "reverse" commuters stuck in regular traffic.

Some Mercer Island leaders and residents have been concerned about the high-capacity-transit component of the deal, which could one day kick Mercer Island drivers out of the center car-pool lanes. Islanders now are allowed in those lanes to Seattle even if they're driving solo.

To that end, island leaders approved some additional wording last week in an effort to better protect islanders' interests.

Among those protections is the assurance that any loss of mobility to islanders will be identified and addressed before the center lanes could be converted to high-capacity transit.

Bellevue and Seattle have decided they probably won't have to re-vote because of those changes, Sound Transit's interim chief administrative officer, Agnes Govern, told the board yesterday.
Sound Transit board members added some tweaks of their own to the proposal yesterday, including an authorization to analyze noise-reducing pavement — an option not included in the project's environmental-impact study but one that residents living near the bridge have sought.

"It's incumbent upon us to look at new technology and materials," said King County Executive Ron Sims, who proposed the pavement research. "All [the community] is asking for is for us to do this work."

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or

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