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Island Crest Way Road-Diet Scheduled for 2012-2014

The three-year project to re-stripe and repave the roadway, and install repair sidewalks — among other fixes — is phased in two parts with a major water utility project in-between.

Mercer Island City Council directed to move forward with the Island Crest Way overlay and resurfacing project in two phases, removing the final roadblocks holding up a redesign of one of the Island's most important roadways.

After nearly a year in funding delays, the City Council voted 5-2 to allow the city to call for bids on the work, proposed to begin next June or July. Councilmembers Mike Cero and El Jahncke voted against the authorization.

"We're making a major change to our main arterial, and it's risky," Jahncke said. "Even to those who are supporters of this project, they admit that it's an experiment."

The project will eventually reduce the Island's primary north-south arterial to one lane each way with a center turning lane from SE 53rd Street near all the way up to SE 40th Street near the by the end of 2014. Planners estimate the project will cost $3,122,200 for the work to be divided into two phases scheduled for the summers of 2012 (SE 53rd Place to 86 Ave. SE) and 2014 (86th Ave SE to SE 40th Street). A related major water utility construction project will occur in 2013, also tying up parts of Island Crest Way. The improvements are intended to improve traffic flow while also dedicating bike lanes, bus zones out of the traffic lanes and numerous pedestrian improvements. 

The Council with the project in January at a planning session, but balked at the extended timeline and cost at their last meeting, deadlocking over the proposal 3-3.

Several councilmembers, before casting their votes, voiced disapproval with the length of time it had taken to finally implement the reconfiguration of Island Crest Way, saying that an issue could be "talked to death".

"It's the Northwest way," Bassett wryly observed.

Councilmember Jane Brahm said she was voting purely on the merits of what was presented before her, not on settled policy that she couldn't vote on.

"The three-lane or four-lane question was already decided," she said. "I looked back through some old newspapers from 2007 and it was being discussed back then."

The proposal was also amended on a 6-1 vote to allow bidding on phase one to include resurfacing of Island Crest Way all the way up to Merrimount Drive as an option.

Mayor Jim Pearman said he supported the public process and appreciated the input he received from the various neighborhoods consulted, especially areas in the Mid-Island that expressed concerns about speeding and safety.

"This community is sensitive to change that's put forward — And this is a change," he said. "With respect to those neighbors and their safety, it's well worth the change."

Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 12, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Kendall- Mercer Island isn't West Seattle by any comparison. We have to deal w/ our own special local situation and how we live & how we get around our island.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 12, 2011 at 09:48 PM
So MI Newcomers will know- Jim Horn has served eight years in the Senate, eight years as state representative, and 16 years on the Mercer Island City Council, two years as mayor. A retired Boeing engineer and Korean War veteran, Jim is married with two children and three grandchildren.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 12, 2011 at 10:40 PM
Ken- Your "how does "choking" a major artery help traffic flow?" cuts through it all. When I first started doing custom home design on MI, ICW was two lanes from 40th Southward. It's nonsensical to regress to those times after all the SouthEnd growth we've had, will have. J-
Jim Horn's comments are right on target. The "diet" is by no means the answer. Any ideas on getting the council to back off? It seems to be a foregone conclusion that once "they" decide to do it - it happens (aka. PEAK).
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 12, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Jody- It's been known to happen. Homestead Field would be more DownTown if a number of us hadn't pressured the City Council to reconsider a bad plan they had already pretty well approved.
L. Burbank April 12, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Wider roads are a barrier for Mercer Island residents and make quality of life worse, not better. Rather than "diminishing" ICW this project will make it safer for everyone and allow for free turning movements. Jerry, I'd consult you to design a house but I'll trust professional engineers who advised a three-lane section for this section of Island Crest.
L. Burbank April 12, 2011 at 11:41 PM
Mr. Horn, you should know that two through lanes and a center turn lane have the capacity to carry thousands more vehicles than travel on ICW south of 40th. This is not a risky experiment; cities all over the country are doing this type of safety project. Get with the 21st century!
L. Burbank April 12, 2011 at 11:44 PM
An argument for keeping them open is that the street grid is already so fragmented on MI. Your proposal would divert more people miles out of their way in order to reach their destinations. Let's make our intersections safer instead of cutting people off from their homes and their destinations.
Mike Hartmann April 13, 2011 at 12:07 AM
That isn't a particularly strong argument. It is not "miles out of the way" to go from 44th to 40th and then access ICW at the light at 40th. Closing access would make the intersection safer and move those travelers up to the light at 40th. That sounds safer to me. You are correct that MI does have a fragmented street grid and Merrimount/44th is a good example. It's a poorly designed intersection from the start and trying to fix it by destroying ICW throughput doesn't strike me as very smart.
Kendall Watson April 13, 2011 at 12:13 AM
Well, it's already happened once before when the City Council in 2010 "defunded" the plan before City Hall could attract an acceptable bid. The staff had put out the project to bid last March but the lowest bid failed to include the cost of a subcontractor — drawing a letter of protest from the losing bids — so the city asked the council on June 21 to reject all the bids. They did that, then pulled the money from the project. I guess they could reject all the bids again, but that seems very, very unlikely.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 13, 2011 at 12:27 AM
L. Burbank says we should trust the Engineers- all well and good but we have to instruct them- not them instruct us- as to how we want to live and what we want to pay for. In any case, the road would remain as wide as it is now and be just as hard to get across widthwise.
Kendall Watson April 13, 2011 at 12:32 AM
The Cascade Bicycle Club seems pretty happy about the changes over on our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/MercerIslandPatch — check it out!
Scott Milburn April 13, 2011 at 01:17 AM
L. Burbank, that is untrue. I was on the Citizens' Committee and have read all the studies about road diets. EVERY study concluded that the upper limit of peak hour traffic at which a road diet is recommended is significantly below the peak volume of ICW. Thus, the fact that it works in other places is irrelevant, or perhaps we should try a road diet on I-90? It is clear what happened here. We had an aberration in 2005 with an unusually high number of accidents at Merrimount, which made Council think something had to be done. As subsequent history has shown, the old, unfettered ICW/Merimount intersection was actually safer than the current configuration. Second, the intersection was remodeled. Then staff and some Council members decided a road diet would encourage south enders to get out of cars and ride bikes to the north end. This is an admirable goal, but it is totally unsupported by any study, and it directly contradicts the opinion of EVERY south ender with whom I’ve raised the issue. Finally, Council voted for the road diet, and when there was a citizens’ uprising, the staff manipulated the Citizen’s Committee process so the committee would arrive at the same conclusion, thus giving Council coverto continue with the original plan. Council has solved the pedestrian issue with crosswalk lights and improvements. The road should be returned to its original configuration, not shrunk to something that will significantly impede rush hour traffic.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 13, 2011 at 02:22 AM
As former Mayor Jim Horn said earlier- "Too bad our City Council doesn't learn from the past but insists on costly risky experiments that will probably get reversed by a future City Council sometime in the future. Taxpayers will be taxed to both tear it up and then to rebuild it. What a shame when our limited tax money could be put to a much better use."- that's wisdom that shouldn't be ignored by today's Council.
Eva Zemplenyi April 13, 2011 at 03:57 AM
Amazing!! I too was on the Citizen Panel dealing with this issue. One of the reasons that the option of a signal at the Merrimount intersection was rejected was its excessive cost at around $1.5 million dollars. We were urged to develop a solution that was "fiscally responsible." Decreasing Island Crest Way from a 4-lane roadway south of Merrimount to a 3-lane roadway was estimated at $500,000 and now we escalate to $3.1 million with a solution looking for a problem. Maybe a referendum on this issue would be warranted to assess the opinion of the people whose tax dollars will actually be funding this project.
Kendall Watson April 13, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Outstanding point, Ray. You might have missed our story taking a close look at how Island voters decided the 2010 Elections (http://patch.com/A-cvJ4) which gets at your basic point that elections have consequences. This was made elegantly clear by Sen. Litzow and Reps Clibborn and Maxwell last month at MIHS when several speakers expressed serious reservations about cuts to the school district. In response, all three tied Mercer Island's overwhelming support for I-1053 to their refusal to discuss raising taxes to offset our decreased resources. And that, they said, means BIG cuts.
Scott Milburn April 13, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Ray and Kendall - voters choose their candidates based on a variety of factors about the candidates themselves, their stands on various issues, the merits of their opponent, etc. Most people are not single issue voters. Thus, you cannot extrapolate from Ira's loss that the majority of MI voters favor the road diet. More importantly, it is the job of a legislature, City Council in this case, to make tough decisions based on what they believe is best for the community, rather than simply following the wishes of the "majority." Otherwise, all governments would continue to cut taxes and increase spending, because the majority wants to pay less taxes and at the same time get more government services.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 13, 2011 at 05:42 PM
Nobody is happy with the Mickey Mouse "solution" at Merrimount and ICW. That is the problem that needs fixing, not the road Southward from there on.
Kendall Watson April 13, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Good points, Scott. That's why it's important, in my opinion, that voters prioritize their decisions. Most voters might not be "single-issue" voters, but I'd bet there are certain issues that weigh more heavily than others. And sometimes, candidates change their minds when they get in the driver's seat. It's the voter's job to rectify that situation in our representative democracy by voting for the candidate that best fits your priorities* (*this statement does not apply to Tim Eyeman :->). I disagree with your thought that everyone wants to cut taxes - just the ones that apply to them. Otherwise, Grover Norquist would have been elected president a decade ago, don't you think?
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 14, 2011 at 12:57 AM
As to Scott's above: "Thus, you cannot extrapolate from Ira's loss that the majority of MI voters favor the road diet."- Many voters perceived Ira to be a "loose cannon"- who they'd rather not see on the Mercer Island Council.
SteveF April 14, 2011 at 08:37 PM
I've been a resident of MI since a young child in 1969. Most of the changes I have seen over the years have been good. Of course, a few changes have been less than good. The Merrimount intersection at ICW (Yikes!!), the lifting of the ban on vertical construction in downtown (Yuck!!), etc. I can't help but think this is a major step in the wrong direction. All these arguments citing engineering studies say this and that are not necessarily reliable, because studies will often show what we want them to show. If we instill bias in the planning stage, the engineering firm will find a way to document what you want the world to see. When we talk numbers, all we have to do is mix them up to show a completely different story. As stated earlier, we don't vote our candidates in based on a single issue. We vote them in because they tend to represent our ideals. We don't expect our elected officials to make significant decisions affecting our lives, our quality of life, and our health without our input. If we send a school levy out for vote, why can't we do the same here? If the council is so confident this is the right thing to do, why not put this out on the next ballot for ALL Mercer Island residents to have a say? After all, it is OUR tax dollars, OUR roads, and OUR quality of life affected by this decision. Yes, my vote would be to shoot this proposal down. But I am a single voter. Put this out to the residents and let the people decide!!
Kendall Watson April 14, 2011 at 08:52 PM
It may seem like the City Council has finished with plans to move ahead with Island Crest Way (and for all intents and purposes, as far as I can tell, they are), but it's not a 100% done deal yet. There's pretty much three ways to try and change the Council's mind on this between now and when the bids to do the work are accepted and the city's signed a contract: #1: Contact a City Council member and tell them what's on your mind about the project that just went out to bid; #2: Weigh in on the city's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) http://patch.com/A-g9cM ; and #3: Make a public comment at a city council meeting when they consider the bid for the ICW work and bring LOTS of friends with you who feel the same way.
Lisa Belden April 14, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Kendall Watson and Bruce Bassett are incorrect regarding road diets. I personally drove to all but one of the road diets in Seattle and West Seattle that were referenced by Bruce Bassett and the ICW road diet supporters on their website as good examples. NONE WERE SIMILAR TO MERCER ISLAND. All had numerous traffic signals installed on the arterial to stop and break up the lines of traffic using the through lanes, and to help vehicles enter the arterial or to make turns from the center turning lane. Almost all had, in addition, parking lanes on both sides of the road providing room for service or delivery trucks, vans, cars, school buses, police, etc., to stop or park so those vehicles didn't block the through-traffic lanes. NEITHER IS THE CASE FOR ICW. The ICW road diet does not add traffic signals to break up what will be long lines of single-file traffic streaming north and south during our three heavy commute periods (morning, evening, end of school day). With existing traffic volumes, there will be long wait times for vehicles entering ICW, or making left turns or crossing ICW. Even right turns onto ICW will involve longer waits. Long wait times lead to aggressive/risker driving behavior, and negatively impact drivers prone to "behave" someone honking at them from behind. Insufficient shoulder space for stops/parking by delivery, service, utility, postal, garbage, moving vans or police will interfere with, or block, the single ICW through- lane and bikes.
Kendall Watson April 14, 2011 at 09:15 PM
Not entirely sure how I'm wrong, I was merely repeating what Councilmember Bassett said as a counterpoint to comments that the ICW road diet will "probably get reversed by a future City Council sometime in the future".
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 14, 2011 at 10:44 PM
SteveF's: "Put this out to the residents and let the people decide!!" This is the right idea, the City Council has done the wrong thing
Ira B. Appelman April 15, 2011 at 03:49 PM
I ran my 2009 campaign advocating "open and honest government." For 14 years, I have been very publicly advocating that and public votes on controversial issues. One issue, as shown in one of my six different campaign signs, was opposing the road diet. I also opposed tolling on I-90 and our loss of SOV center lane access, which is also going to happen. My opponent said he hadn't decided yet on the road diet; the Council scheduled a September vote on the road diet, which was pushed to after the election so the voters would not know where the candidates stood. Whenever the City asked for comments on the road diet, a clear majority opposed it. I showed how the so-called "citizen's committee" was rigged with those who had advocated the road diet at council meetings and in the newspaper. Historically, the City Council has only put two controversial issues on the ballot -- the golf course in Pioneer Park and City Hall at Mercerdale Park. In both cases, voters rejected the council majority's position. I am a scholar by training and temperament. As a junior at MIHS, I began using the UW research libraries and have a research Ph.D. from Stanford. I have been opposing the City Council based on documentary evidence gained from attending every council meeting and record requests. If the Jerry Gropp's of the Island believe that is being a "loose cannon," then they should stop naysaying and whining in the newspaper and accept what the wise guys at the City Council decide. Ira
Charon Gooding April 16, 2011 at 05:12 PM
The word "improvement" when applied to the Merrimount mess, is a misnomer. The 'road diet' plan should be shelved once and for all. Most of the residents travel to work in their cars, not bicycles. I live mid-island and avoid E.Mercer Way as often as possible during the summer months as the cyclists definitely slow traffic. (I'm not advocating changing EMW). Let's not re-invent ICW -- we can see how well Merrimount worked out. There are other places we can use the tax dollars -- or, here's a novel idea, don't spend any more money until we have a surplus. Charon Gooding
Patrick Daugherty April 18, 2011 at 03:49 AM
Thank goodness we're finally moving forward on this sensible and safe improvement to Island Crest Way!
Harry A. Dingwall D.V.M. July 21, 2012 at 12:09 AM
I sure would like to know more about this since I am probably THE MOST effected by it! Dr. Harry A. Dingwall
Kendall Watson July 21, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Harry, the roadwork project has already started on Island Crest Way. Here's the latest update: http://patch.com/A-wkXz

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