Topic: Mercer Island
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November 9, 2013 at 12:06 PM
A Porsche Panamera crashed into a Mercer Island building late Friday and burst into flames after a high-speed chase by the State Patrol.
The car reached speeds of 140 mph, according to the Mercer Island Fire Department, before it exited Interstate 90 and slammed into a building in the 3000 block of Island Crest Way just before 11:30 p.m.
The driver and a passenger in the vehicle were taken to a hospital with minor injuries. The car fire did not spread to the building, which contains several medical offices, according to the Fire Department. Damage estimates were not available.
October 21, 2013 at 7:17 PM
The state will soon send 10,000 surveys to residents and businesspeople on Mercer Island, to find out when, how often, and in what direction they drive on Interstate-90 during the week of Nov. 17-23.
The forms include fill-in-the-blank questions about peak commute habits, and another about service workers, such as nannies, home-care aides, and landscapers. The back page looks like a standardized test, but easier. Mark the bubbles on a grid, for the number of trips taken in one of five time periods, for Sunday through Saturday.
Island residents continue to oppose state plans to toll I-90 to collect money to help finish the Highway 520 Bridge across Lake Washington. Citizens at a forum Monday at Mercer Island High School often expressed concern about teachers or elder-care workers who live off-island and can’t afford tolls.
John Parker, the school’s sound, video and performing arts center technician, testified at the event he was working. “Yes, I would have to quit my job if they toll,” he said later. He said he earns $47,000 a year, lives in West Seattle, and would have to spend at least $2,100 a year to keep driving to what he calls his dream job, if tolls are imposed.
Attendance at the forum peaked at about 300 people at 5:30 p.m., and the total was higher. A similar forum in January drew 800 people.
Craig Stone, tolling director for Washington State Department of Transportation, rolled out some compromise scenarios. In one, islanders might pay a half-toll. In another, they’d pay in only one direction.
Tolls would have to be authorized by the Legislature in 2015, so they might begin in late 2016 or early 2017, he said.
Unless there are more tolls, a gas-tax boost of 3 to 4 cents a gallon will be needed to pay off the 520 Bridge, he said.
Speakers at the forum cited problems on the Highway 520 Bridge — pontoon cracks and cost overruns, as a reason not to impose more tolls.
“There’s a lot of tolling fatigue,” said resident Owen Blauman, who greeted people at the front steps. He said multiple rounds of state process are wearing opponents down, and some are assuming they’ll catch a price break. “Bottom line is, why should there be tolls anyway? They [WSDOT] can’t manage the gas tax we’ve given them.”
Stone said WSDOT recognizes Mercer Island is a “unique situation” because I-90 is the only way to get there or leave it.
Mercer Island generates about one-fifth of the 160,000 daily cross lake trips on I-90, and seemingly four-fifths of the political controversy.
October 20, 2013 at 7:10 AM
Almost six years after Gov. Chris Gregoire first suggested tolling the I-90 bridge, the state government continues to study whether and how to do so — at a cost of up to $8.3 million just for the environmental studies.
State transportation staff again visit the eye of the storm from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday in a forum at Mercer Island High School, where they will take two-minute comments, and display graphics about various options. In this round of process, the public tells the state Department of Transportation what angles to examine in the environmental-impact statement.
The last session is Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. A session was held in Bellevue on Oct. 10.
I-90 tolls are alluring to some legislators as a means to help fill a $1.4 billion gap in the Highway 520 project, which lacks enough money to complete a Montlake interchange and Portage Bay Bridge near I-5. But the DOT’s “purpose and need” statement says the main purpose is to control I-90 congestion, with money for 520 secondary. Many citizens have smelled a conspiracy: Impose 520 tolls that divert traffic, then cite I-90 crowding to justify I-90 tolls. Tolls have made travel quicker for those who can afford them on 520, and are seen as a way to balance a gradual decline in gas-tax revenue, as vehicles become fuel efficient.
In January, Mercer Islanders objected that they — as well as teachers, retail workers or home-improvement contractors who commute to The Rock – have no other way off the island and face an unfair burden, approaching $2,000 a year, if tolls are imposed. The DOT is considering options:
- Toll the freeway on just the Seattle side or the east side of the island, so islanders have one free direction.
- Arrange for special toll passes that let individual islanders choose which direction is free for them.
- Toll trips only entering the island, not leaving it — in effect, creating a 50 percent discount for round-trips by islanders.
- Instead of tolling all lanes, create one high-occupancy or toll (HOT) lane each direction from Seattle to Issaquah, where solo drivers can pay to join the quicker carpool lane. But a HOT lane raises only $250 million instead of the $1 billion goal, and might hinder express buses.
The state graphics include a chart of the public’s suggestions, such as widening I-90, adding transit, or seeking a boost in the gas tax, car-tab tax, or a new tax on vehicle miles traveled. Some of these add cost, and DOT says it takes a 3-cent statewide gas-tax hike just to pay off 520. So the environmental-impact statement might merely pay lip service to the non-toll scenarios.
Of course, effects of tolling go far beyond Mercer Island, as shown in this DOT plot of I-90 users’ residences.
Environmental studies were required by acts of the Legislature in 2012 and 2013. It’s currently illegal to toll one bridge to pay for another, so another bill would be needed. Meanwhile, the studies won’t be final until early 2015.
March 23, 2013 at 12:12 PM
Seattle-area motorists will encounter some road and highway closures this weekend so plan accordingly.
The University Bridge will be closed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Sunday. Drivers can detour to either the Montlake or Interstate 5 bridges. Click here to view a detour map. The University Bridge may reopen earlier Sunday if work is finished ahead of schedule, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Work crews have closed the ramps from the West Seattle Bridge to northbound I-5 and Columbian Way until 5 a.m. Monday. The ramp from Sixth Avenue South to northbound I-5 and South Columbian Way also will be closed for expansion joint replacement and bridge support repair.
The Interstate 90 express lanes are closed until 11 a.m. Sunday so Sound Transit can survey and drill for soil samples as part of the East Link Extension light-rail project. The Seattle portion of the I-90 express lanes will reopen by 6 a.m. Sunday – eastbound to Mercer Island only – in time for the Mercer Island Half Marathon.
March 15, 2013 at 3:28 PM
The city of Mercer Island this week sent a letter asking the Federal Highway Administration to block state proposals to toll I-90.
The law firm K&L Gates argues in the city ‘s letter that I-90 tolling is meant mainly to bail out the state DOT, not serve the federal goal to improve traffic:
Moreover, tolling a federal interstate to pay for an unrelated project would set a significant and troubling national policy precedent. Allowing states to toll the federal interstate system to pay for unrelated state projects that face budget problems is not appropriate. States across the country are facing budget shortfalls, and using the VPPP [federal "value pricing pilot program"] flexibly here means there would be no practical limit to the tolls that could be imposed by other cash-strapped states, despite the general prohibition on tolling interstate highways in 23 U.S.C. § 301.
The state Department of Transportation and several state lawmakers support I-90 tolls, for the sake of solving a $1.4 billion shortfall to rebuild nearby Highway 520. House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn — a Mercer Island Democrat now drawing scorn from constituents — has called I-90 tolls inevitable.
But lawmakers have dabbled with the idea at least four years, without showing the nerve to actually impose them. Mercer Islanders, part of a burgeoning citizens’ opposition group, have said tolls will isolate them, and impose costs not only on the islanders but on the modest-income teachers, retail employees and caregivers who work there. A solo commuter’s cost might be roughly $1,700 a year, based on the existing schedule of tolls on 520. Among the state’s options are tolling either Seattle trips or Bellevue trips, but not both directions, so at least one free option exists for islanders.
In the past, officials in the Highway Administration have said they’re open to the idea of tolling I-90, under the “Value Pricing Pilot Program” (VPPP) in which variable rate tolls are imposed to control congestion, and encourage more transit use. Highway 520 won federal aid to enact tolls Dec. 29, 2011. Transit use across the 520 floating bridge has increased by one-fourth in the last two years. Toll supporters argue that tolling both bridges will balance and improve regional traffic.
The letter is part of an environmental review phase that continues until this fall.
March 6, 2013 at 1:00 AM
Police say $500,000 in jewels were stolen from a courier’s vehicle Tuesday afternoon when the courier went to lunch on Mercer Island.
Mercer Island police Detective Peter Erickson said that the New York-based courier was in the area showing diamond wedding rings to stores and wholesalers. He suspects the courier was followed by thieves, and when the man went to lunch at an Island Corporate Center deli the thieves broke into his rental car and stole “a couple of bags full” of jewelry.
“When these jewelry couriers are ripped, it’s usually after they’ve been under surveillance,” Erickson said. Police were called at 1:44 p.m.
Surveillance video from a nearby construction site showed a dark-colored minivan pulling up next to the rental car, police said. Police do not have a suspect license plate or any witnesses.
“Unless there is a witness or license plate, we don’t have a lot to go on. If this gentleman was followed, what’s typical of this these cases is that jewelry gangs will usually ship the jewelry out of the area,” Erickson said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 911.
January 30, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Tolling on Interstate 90 is perhaps three years away, but about 800 residents of Mercer Island were already alarmed enough to attend a forum Tuesday night about the state’s proposal to charge I-90 motorists for the sake of finishing the new Highway 520 bridge.
“We don’t have any choice but to pay a toll to get off our island. That’s the fundamental problem,” said Owen Blauman, holding a sign that said “Keep I-90 a FREE WAY.” He said, “It’s a little bit like Alcatraz.”
Joy Lin said she often drives on and off the island multiple times, leaving work on the Eastside to take her parents to medical appointments in Seattle. She suggests a “green pass” in which people who prove island residency, say through a utility bill, are issued a state Good to Go transponder allowing free passage.
An intriguing new option would split the corridor across Lake Washington in half, so that the toll devices are mounted on the west and east shores of the island. That way, instead of a $4 toll each way, charged across the lake, the islanders would pay a split toll of $2 each way to either drive west into Seattle or east to Bellevue.
Three meetings this week are meant to assist the state with “scoping” for what angles will be addressed in an environmental impact statement for tolling. The second is Wednesday at Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. N.E., and the third on Thursday in Seattle at Yesler Community Center, 917 E. Yesler Way, both from 4 to 7 p.m.
Another round of process is expected in November, and then the Legislature would vote in 2014 on whether and how to toll.
Here is a link to the presentation by Washington DOT, and one to the No Toll on I-90 website. KIRO newsradio’s Dave Ross, a longtime Mercer Island resident, further explores the “Alcatraz” soundbite here.
In reality, the potential tollpayers are spread far across the metro area, as this DOT map illustrates:
July 30, 2012 at 4:52 PM
The former usher of a Mercer Island church pleaded guilty last week to securities fraud for stealing more than $3 million from church members and others, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Stephen J. Klos, 86, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of securities fraud for running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded elderly victims, the prosecutor’s office said today. Prosecutors say Klos and another man, Robert Justice, paid later investors in the scheme with money from new clients, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way.
The scheme, according to the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), dated to 2004 when Klos began soliciting investments from members of his gym as well as members of the Mercer Island Covenant Church, where Klos served as an usher. The Securities Division of DFI began its investigation in 2007.
The charges, filed in April 2011, arose from losses suffered by 10 people, although charging documents indicate Klos took money from at least 23 families.
Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos told The Times in April 2011 that Klos, as head usher, was popular among elderly widows and tried to sell anyone in the 400-member congregation, including the pastor, on his scheme. Church members considered Klos a successful retired military man and real-estate investor.
One alleged victim, a 66-year-old Issaquah woman, said she lost $200,000. The woman, who asked not to be named because she doesn’t want her family to know about the loss, said she met Klos at her gym.
Klos had been barred from securities and financial dealings in 1992 for running another Ponzi scheme that raised more than $3.4 million, according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) records. No criminal charges were filed in the case, although SEC records indicate he had to pay back more than $380,000.
Justice pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of securities fraud and received a one-year sentence.
Klos faces a sentencing range of 51 to 68 months when he is sentenced in December.
July 21, 2012 at 5:10 PM
A Mercer Island man is missing after he went out on his boat to do some repairs, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s spokewoman Sgt. Cindi West said Richard Sweezey’s boat, a 1965 Chris Craft, Roamer, was found grounded in Kirkland on Friday night. The investigation began at 7 p.m. after a resident in the 300 block of Lake Ave West called police to report the boat had drifted into the shoreline.
Police boarded it, found a portable generator running and a tool in the water but didn’t find Sweezey, 67.
Fearing that Sweezey had fallen into the water, the King County Sheriff’s helicopter unit and deputies began a search with the assistance of the Coast Guard and Seattle Police Marine Patrol.
Deputies found Sweezey’s car at the Queen City Yacht Club in Portage Bay where he has a slip.
Early Saturday deputies talked to a friend of Sweezey’s at the yacht club who said he usually didn’t have life jackets on the boat but the friend had loaned him one
Deputies said a life jacket was still inside the boat.
Police searched the area between the slip and where the boat was found without success.
Deputies contacted Sweezey’s wife who had been out of town and had been trying to reach him.
Investigators ask or anyone who may have seen the boat on Lake Washington on Friday afternoon to call the King County Sheriff’s Office at 206- 296-3311.
June 27, 2012 at 11:19 PM
A male motorcyclist who crashed on the eastbound I-90 around 10 p.m. Wednesday was sent to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening injuries including head trauma, according to the Seattle Fire Department.
The helmeted man crashed near 77th Avenue on Mercer Island, where emergency personnel initially blocked off all lanes, said Sgt. Dan Atchison of the Washington State Patrol. Atchison said WSP troopers are still investigating whether another vehicle was involved.
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The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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