November 1st 2004 update:

Mercer Corridor Update:  Review of Monday Nov. 1st 2:00PM Council Chambers Final Vote


    - City Council votes to release $1.8 million in city funds to fast track study of the Mayor's $200 million 2-Way Mercer "Non-Fix"  Another $600,000 in 2005 City General Funds may also be released!


    - Only Licata (and to a degree Conlin) spoke for neighborhoods/Licata will present motion Monday to redirect funds for critical bridge repairs and other real needs in our city


Steinbrueck and Drago take lead in promoting the Mayor's $200 million "non-fix" - Council votes Monday to release initial funding for study of Mayor's 2-way Non-Fix


At a full council briefing session two days ago, the City Council overwhelmingly agreed to fast track release of $1.8 million so the Mayor can move forward with an EIS and planning for his $200 million 2-way Mercer "Non-Fix".  The final vote in full Council on Nov 1st, 2:00PM at City Hall, made it a "done deal". Only Councilmember Licata (and to a lesser degree Richard Conlin) have been representing neighborhoods and airing concerns about this extraordinary waste of limited city resources.  The Mayor and now the City Council have chosen to move forward anyway with study of an alternative that, according to the City's own analysis, does absolutely nothing to relieve congestion in that area and is actually worse than a "no action" alternative.  After consensus was reached to release the $1.8 million, the Mayor's staff then made it known they'll need another $600,000 in city funds to complete the study.   The Council left open the possibility of releasing those funds later, drawn from the 2005 city budget, if the Mayor's staff can demonstrate they're needed.


Council's ordinance won't require study of less expensive and more effective options

        Thanks to Councilmembers Steinbrueck and Drago, language was taken out of the ordinance drafted a week earlier so that it no longer requires even a study in the EIS of alternatives to the Mayor's $200 million 2-way "non-fix". Rather than spelling out and requiring study of viable and far less expensive substitutes to the Mayor's "non-fix", the ordinance merely requires study of additional "improvements" that could be tacked on to the 2-way (narrowed Valley) Mercer plan. No guess as to how much these little additional measures would add to the cost should the City eventually decide to proceed with them as well. And it's definitely not clear how the Mayor's office will be able to successfully avoid a full study of other viable alternatives since such analysis is required through the State Environmental Policy Act or SEPA process, but the Council has effectively given them free rein to at least make that attempt.


Mayor's staff will seek to avoid doing federal NEPA EIS:

        To top it off, the Mayor's office a week before the Nov 1st vote told Councilmembers they do not intend to complete a federally mandated EIS  or "NEPA" EIS that normally would follow a State SEPA process when federal funds are being sought for a project.  The City would instead undertake the less rigorous EA or "Environmental Assessment" of the 2-way Mercer Plan.  When asked by Licata how they could justify this... Grace Crunican of the Mayor's Transportation staff sluffed the question off saying "this plan just involves a few blocks of street improvements".  Suddenly, a $200 million major re-working of the grid that they've already invested millions in planning for and billed as key to enhancing the area now does not rise to a threshold of significance necessitating a NEPA EIS.  Conveniently, doing the EA as opposed to the full NEPA EIS requires only minimul assessment of impacts, there are fewer opportunities for input, and little study of alternatives is required.


 After saying their study would cost a measly $1.8 million, now the Mayor says he needs another $600,000

- Take a look at what Jean Godden said when Conlin wanted to condition release of the extra dollars

        In addition, the Mayor's office, after months of telling councilmembers they could complete their SEPA EIS for $1.8 million, now say they likely will need another $600,000 (which if the Council later agrees would be pulled directly out of the City's 2005 general fund). Councilmember Conlin expressed surprise at this additional funding request saying that at no time had the Mayor's staff given the Council any indication of a need for more dollars.  Conlin appears to have gotten agreement from enough councilmembers to make release of the additional $600,000 conditional, provided the Mayor's staff can prove its needed later.  Jean Godden couldn't understand what the problem was..."why can't we just give 'em the additional money now".  Well Jean, as Conlin tried to tell her, city funding doesn't grow on trees, "there are limited city resources, were facing cuts in basic services, and the Mayor's office said they could get it done for $1.8 million.  I think that's more than enough".  Throughout the Council's review of the Mayor's South Lake Union Agenda Godden's shameless support of all things Paul

Allen has been breathtakingly childlike - Pollyannaesque.  She has carried the freight for them at times when it was clear she had little or no clue what she was doing.


Licata seeks to redirect Mercer funding to meet real neighborhood needs... Doesn’t Even Get A Second Vote!

         This coming Monday, Councilmember Licata will bring an alternative resolution to the full Council aimed at diverting all Mercer funding to help address critical repairs to two bridges out in our neighborhoods - long needed safety improvements that are part of the $500 million dollar backlog of identified neighborhood transportation needs largely ignored during the Nickels regime. It's not clear whether even one other councilmember will support his measure.  Conlin now has largely relented and will simply follow the crowd calling for immediate release of the $1.8 million to study the Mayor's 2-way Mercer Non-Fix as the "preferred alternative."


What happened to Conlin - after seeking more time and further study of less costly and real alternatives - he now seems to be going along with the flow:

Just two weeks ago, Conlin as head of the Transportation Committee chose to delay his committee's review of the Mercer issue until after the budget and indicated he did not want a vote on release of the funding until other options were more fully examined in his Committee - options that might really do something to relieve congestion at a heck of a lot less in cost. Now, he too supports the Steinbrueck- Drago aproach releasing the funding now and explicitly calling for evaluation of the Mayor's 2-way $200 million non-fix as the preferred option.  Steinbrueck and Drago essentially forced Conlin to take up this matter immediately in his Transportation Committee by walking on a resolution to the full Council and pre-empting his authority as committee chair.  (Can you imagine what Steinbrueck and Drago would do if another councilmember sought to pre-empt the work of their committees?)  Seeing a solid majority behind the Steinbrueck-Drago fast track approach, Conlin appears to have conceded on all the important points except on the matter of releasing now another $600,000 to complete the EIS.


Drago openly hostile to Licata while Della seems..... Well....lost:

      When Licata introduced his proposal last week to divert Mercer funding to critical bridge repairs, Councilmember Drago was openly hostile towards him, interrupted him at least twice and quickly "called for the question" to pre-empt further discussion. Councilmember Della still managed to get in a question, naively asking Nick "can't we fund those two bridge projects anyway and separate funding for that from our decision to release funds for Mercer?”  Looking somewhat bemused, Licata had to remind Della it's a zero-sum game "there ain't no money for those safety repairs David if we pour it all into South Lake Union."  Della still blindly cast his lot with the Paul Allen crowd and seems quite literally lost when it comes to understanding what's at stake here.  He's captivated by the Vulcan mantra of jobs jobs jobs.  Of course, if we took only a fraction of the public dollars the Mayor wants to pour into South Lake Union and used them in Southeast Seattle, the ID, Capitol Hill, SW Seattle and other low income and minority neighborhoods, it could generate far more in tax revenues and jobs for our city - and especially jobs tailored to the needs, interests and skills of longtime inner-city low income and minority residents that Mr. Della says he represents.


McIver says he wants more for SE Seattle, and then votes to give away the farm to Vulcan:

       Councilmember McIver says he understands this issue and wonders why "SE Seattle always is second in line for economic development", but he too is caving on all things South Lake Union (SLU).  In his case it looks like he has contented himself exchanging his support for the Mayor/Vulcan SLU agenda in exchange for a few dollars in the budget for Coleman School Black History Museum, a study of possibly extending the waterfront trolley into the Central Area, and $70,000 for a SE Seattle economic development study.  Contrast that with what the Mayor already has spent simply studying and making plans for South Lake Union - well over $9 million in city funds and climbing.  And compare that with over one-half billion in public dollars the Mayor wants to spend for new infrastructure South Lake Union.  While areas of SE Seattle, and West Seattle go without so much as a sidewalk, McIver appears willing to hand over the farm for a $70,000 study and a few other minor concessions.


Rasmussen lays low but still follows the herd:

      During these deliberations on the Mercer Corridor and earlier the SLU trolley, Councilmember Rasmussen has remained largely silent although present at all of the proceedings. I got the sense he wanted to keep low, out of the line of fire, in hopes of staying off the radar screen even though to date, he has signed off on everything the Mayor and Vulcan have asked the Council to do.


Then there's Compton:

       Regarding Jim Compton's performance, in keeping with a settlement arrived at with the City's Ethics Commission over a year ago, he has abstained from voting on matters involving Vulcan's interests in South Lake Union at least to date. You may recall, Compton took an airplane ride on Vulcan's dollar and failed to disclose that fact before casting votes on SLU matters. The Ethics Commission required him to abstain from voting on SLU matters - at least all quasi-judicial decisions affecting Vulcan' interests for at least one year. Additional language in that settlement requires him to use discretion even beyond that one year period when future votes are taken directly affecting Vulcan's interests.  Since that settlement, we know that Vulcan, its staff, and consultants have given thousands to Compton's re-election and continue to donate to him.  Given that and

Compton's record on behalf of Vulcan prior to his ethics penalties, there will no doubt be a continuing and real conflict of interest should he decide that he now is free to once again cast votes in favor of Vulcan's SLU agenda.  There may also be further violations of the City's conflict of interest rules and his agreement with the Ethics Commission.


Why has Steinbrueck gone over to Vulcan and Mayor's side on this - my take on this?

           It remains a mystery to many folks why Steinbrueck went over to the Vulcan camp on this critical matter.  More than one person asked me "has he been taken over by the pod people?".  Steinbrueck stated in Committee that he took the lead on this because the ordinance preferencing the Mayor's Mercer 2-way Plan contains language committing the city to doing a Transportation Demand Management Study (TDM) and a plan to promote mass transit, ride sharing other stuff to get people out of their cars.   Mind you, 90 percent of the 200 million Mayor's Mercer non-fix is for pavement.  How can anyone characterize that as a strategy that helps get people out of their cars? By contrast, in 2001, Steinbrueck, Jan Drago (and in fact 6 of the 9 current councilmembers) supported recommendations in the neighborhood's plan which called for only small fixes at key intersections primarily at Fairview and Mercer.  That plan would cost less than $10 million - one-twentieth of the Mayor's grand scheme.  It's also a plan that actually could do something to relieve congestion in the area.  That leaves $190 million to add sidewalks embossed in gold, add bikeways and promote car pools, ridesharing, and mass transit 'till were blue in the face, and do 10 or 20 TDM studies - still leaving millions for what should be our first priority - using these dollars to meet our backlog of neighborhood needs. Thanks to Steinbrueck and Drago now, the Council won't even require the Mayor to study this 10 million dollar alternative in the EIS process. When the briefing session came to a conclusion last Monday Steinbrueck offered the following closing words to his colleagues (all of whom were present) "Congratulations...great job...great piece of work".  With his actions on this issue - perhaps more than any other action he's taken - he's moved himself significantly away from a progressive and neighborhood base that originally gave him support.  He's becoming less and less distinguishable from most of his colleagues and the lines even between himself and the Mayor are blurring.


Call or e-mail and let your favorite councilmember know what you think of their decisions on this matter:  And stay tuned - we haven't given up.  Call us if you'd like to help to at 632-0668:











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(Update on Mercer Decision - November 3, 2004

Council votes to fast-track and limit environmental assessment while SDOT also has revoked earlier decision to require an EIS! 


- There will be no comprehensive or complete environmental impact statement for this $200 million megaproject and mega waste of city funds


- Ordinance and Resolutions releasing the Mercer Corridor funds Re-Crafted to Guarantee there will be NO state or federal EIS review nor study of less costly options that might really do something to relieve traffic congestion in the area.


- What is the City Council doing releasing $1.8 million in limited city funds for study and environmental review when we already know they're going to conclude No EIS is necessary?


Today, by an 8-1 vote (Only Licata opposing it), the City Council has not only indicated its preference for the Mayor's $200 million 2-way Mercer "non-fix", they've re-written their ordinance and the Steinbrueck resolution to absolutely guarantee that there will be no EIS completed at all for this project - not a federal EIS and not even a State required SEPA EIS.  Even though this is a mega-project involving a major re-working of several dozen blocks at a cost of over $200 million - all language was taken out of earlier drafts referencing or authorizing completion of a EIS.  Now the ordinance and resolutions release funds only for a very limited "environmental review" under SEPA and NEPA. Further, all language has been expunged from the ordinance that would have explicitly required study of much less expensive and more effective alternatives to the 2-way Mercer plan.


But it gets worse, in an action I have not seen before in my 25 years of involvement in land use issues here in Seattle, the City's Department of Transportation (SDOT) has gone ahead and revoked its DS (Declaration of Significance) for the Mayor's 2-way Mercer Plan issued last March.  Once a DS is issued, it absolutely kicks-in, i.e, absolutely requires completion of a full State or SEPA EIS.  In other words, after first stating that the impacts of the 2-way Mercer Plan rise to a level of significance requiring completion of a state SEPA EIS, they are saying now "never mind".  Further, SDOT has inverted the normal sequence in the process. Instead of starting with the state environmenal review and them moving to the federal review, they've reversed the order. They've obviously done both these things to lay the groundwork for issuance first of a determination that impacts on not significant enough to warrant a federal EIS, and then they'll follow up that with a State DNS (Declaration of Non-Significance) precluding completion of even a state-mandated SEPA EIS. 


SDOT, the Mayor, and now the Council are playing fast and loose with our state and federal environmental laws and they've done so in order to fast track the Mayor's giveaway of $200 million for the Mercer "non-fix".  By avoiding the EIS process, they cut 6-9 months off the normal process of reviewing a mega-project like this.  They also avoid even looking at other less costly options that might really help us relieve congestion and they avoid "nasty" opportunities for citizens to even comment.  The only problem for them - they've likely violated state and federal environmental law and given the community a very good opportunity to challenge their actions in court.


It also raises another interesting question - since they've set it up to guarantee no full EIS or comprehensive environmental review will occur and there will be no look at alternatives- just what then will SDOT be doing with the $1.8 million in funding just authorized by this ordinance.  It's supposed to be going to the environmental review of the "preferred alternative"... but they've set it up to end with declarations of no-significant impact (DNS's)...  eliminating any real extensive analysis of anything.... Is $1.8 million and possibly another $600,000 being issued by the Council simply for SDOT to issue DNS's and pump up the Mayor's 2-way plan.


For more information, contact us at 632-0668,


City Council Staff Analysis of the Mayor's 2-Way Mercer Plan - Does not reduce travel times any more than a "do nothing" approach - $300 million waste of limited transportation dollars

"The Executive has not made the case that any of the Mercer Corridor Improvement alternatives alone or some combination of them is worth their cost"

Bill Alves, City Council Staffer provides the following analysis and concludes that the "Executive has not made the case that any of the Mercer Corridor Improvement alternatives alone or some combination of them is worth their cost." (Note his '04 figures for the cost of the project are now out-of-date. Actual costs of the project now exceed $300 million as of '07)

Alves Memo begins here:

SDOT Issue - Proposed Mercer Corridor Improvements  -  Retreat Notebook Tab 4

Bill Alves



Background:  SDOT has been working with consultants over a period of years to develop and evaluate improvements to the arterials in the South Lake Union neighborhood, especially Mercer Street, Fairview Avenue and Valley Street. They have now identified 3 alternatives and propose to start work soon on an EIS expected to cost $2.3 million and take up to two years.  The alternatives are:

1)      broadening and making Mercer two-way from I-5 to Dexter Ave/narrowing Valley;

2)      broadening and making Mercer two-way from I-5 to Ninth Ave-Broad St./narrowing Valley; and

3)      straightening the Valley-Fairview intersection and connecting Roy Street across Aurora Ave. 

No preferred alternative has been selected although it appears that alternative 1 is the current front-runner.  Its price tag is $80 to $150 million, depending on how much of the work is covered under the Alaskan Way Viaduct-Aurora Project.  The 2004-9 Proposed CIP has [funds?] the project at $98.1 million.  The 2004 appropriation is only about $0.6 million but SDOT plans to spend several million that has been appropriately previously.


At the time of approving the 2001 sale of City surplus properties in South Lake Union to City Investors (the real estate arm of Vulcan), the Council, in section 6 of Resolution 30334, earmarked at least $9 million of the sale proceeds for South Lake Union Transportation projects.  The resolution states “Authority to expend revenues for transportation is contingent on ultimate Council approval of individual projects.  In approving projects, the Council will consider each project’s cost-effectiveness, consistency with the public policy goals in Resolution 30080, the benefits to both the neighborhood and the broader region, consistency with neighborhood plans, and leveraging of outside funds.”


The Issue:  Is the Council confident that the alternatives that have been developed and will be analyzed in the EIS, or some combination of them, are worth undertaking?  If not, it may want to ask for further analysis and information before appropriating funding for the commencement of a multi-million dollar EIS process.


Synopsis of the Benefits of Executive’s Candidate Mercer Corridor Improvements:

SDOT’s consultant has now modeled South Lake Union traffic flows in the year 2030 assuming 20,000 new jobs and 10,000 new housing units in South Lake Union, with and without the traffic improvements.  For each of 16 high use routes to and through the South Lake Union area, the analysis shows how long the trip would take at rush hours.  For each alternative project, including the no-build case, an average time for trips during peak traffic flow is computed.  Trip time is separated into two components – the time trips would take with no congestions and the “delay time” or how much congestions adds to the total trip time.  Today the delay time for the average South Lake Union trip is 3.7 minutes.  This constitutes probably two-thirds of the total time to complete these trips. 


Regarding transit, SDOT notes that a two-way Mercer “would provide improved opportunities for east-west transit service through SLU” and “transit service on [a] two-way street is more intuitive for transit users.”  However, any future transit riders on this corridor (there is no service now) may find that the intuitive benefits don’t compensate for the much greater congestion and, consequently much longer trip times the Executive is forecasting in the future.


Pedestrian benefits listed include wider sidewalks on Mercer and Valley Streets, and more signalized crossing of them.  But it would seem that more signalized crossings could be provided as part of a much less expensive project than a $100 million rebuild of the entire rights-of-way.  The Executive makes no mention of the Valley Street pedestrian overpasses they studied a few years ago as a perhaps more cost-effective way to get people safely across Valley Street ($1 million {basic} to $5 million {large, elaborate and artistic}).  Finally, although the City couldn’t widen the sidewalks along Mercer Street without reconfiguring the right of way – a major and expensive undertaking – the City should be able to provide a wider sidewalk on the South Lake Union Park side of Valley at a modest cost without changing either Mercer or Valley Streets.  The City own most of the property now. 


The main vehicular safety benefit claimed for the two-way Mercer alternatives is that westbound traffic from I-5 will have a more direct route with better sightlines and less weaving required.  This seems credible but Staff wonders about the safety implications of converting a heavily trafficked one-way street to two-way.  Even with a median, unless left turns are prohibited, the accident rate may increase.  As for the two-way, partway to Dexter Ave. Mercer option, the transition from the two-way Mercer to the one-way Mercer at the 5 legged intersection of Mercer, Broad and Valley may create a real mess and, as recognized by the Executive, “increase accident risks for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles.”  This alternative seems quite unattractive. 


Questions and Concerns:  In light of the information above, the Council may want to consider the following –



Central Staff Conclusion and Recommendation:  The Executive has not made the case that any of the Mercer Corridor Improvement alternatives alone or some combination of them is worth their cost.  For 2004, the Council should limit by proviso spending on this project to the minimum reasonably necessary to develop information that could demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of one or more alternatives.  SDOT’s ability to spend further 2004 funds on the project beyond this initial allocation, including funding for preparation of an EIS, should be conditioned on Council approval of at least one alternative to be included in the EIS as cost-effective.  If the Council adopts this approach, the Transportation Committee Chair should work with SDOT to agree in advance regarding what information would be required to support Council approval of an alternative.


Memo ends here:


Parsons Brinkerhoff's Second Study of impacts associated with the Mercer "Improvements" entitled "July 2004 South Lake Union Transportation Study"

reiterating results of its earlier study identifying  increased travel times through 2030 when compared to the "do nothing" option   -   Table 8.2 page 141 from study







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