The East Link Project is in its final design stages for a light rail system that connects Mercer Island to Seattle and its surrounding communities. Population and business have risen rapidly on Mercer Island creating long commutes for drivers traveling to and from Mercer Island to Seattle. The East Link Light Rail will provide another avenue for commuters and reduce traffic time. The project has been approved and work will start in early 2015, however the project is not expected to be completed until 2023. There are mostly positive effects in regards to light rail for the housing and renting prospects on Mercer Island but there is also some dissent from locals.
The light rail is projected to run 20 hours per day and the city estimates it will transport 50,000 commuters per week day. As per United States Census Bureau, the average National commute time is 26 minutes, where the average current commute time for Mercer Island residences is 25 minutes, with most commuters either traveling to Seattle, Bellevue, or Redmond. The East Link Project will connect Mercer Island to all of these important destinations. Light rail is run by electric power and will greatly reduce the harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere due to commuting traffic. There will be direct routes from Mercer Island to Sea-Tac airport, the University of Washington, Hospitals, and all Seattle businesses. The East Link Project will also connect Mercer Island to Redmond, Bellevue, and the surrounding areas. This will provide for another route of transportation for the many daytime work commuters traveling to and from Seattle to the East-side, especially workers commuting to Microsoft. The East-side has one of the United States highest daytime rises in population due to the many commuters from Seattle to local businesses, causing major traffic issues both from and to Seattle from the East-side.
Developers will be more apt to build both single family homes as well as apartment and condo complexes on Mercer Island when the Light Rail is completed due to more commuting options and less concerns for traffic issues caused by population increases due to new construction projects. Mercer Island currently has a population count of 22,720 people. Mercer Island holds the unique distinction of being the most populated island within a lake in the United States. Per the United States Census Bureau, Mercer Island has a total land area of 13.11 square miles with 6.79 miles of waterfront property, one of the reasons for high demand and high prices of Mercer Island real estate. Due to the affluence of the area, and the fact its an island, Mercer Islands cost of living is approximated at 110.8% higher than that of the United States average. Another statistic that shows stability in Mercer Islands economy and is a positive sign for the real estate market is that the unemployment rate in Mercer Island is a very low 7.6%. The National average is 1% higher, at 8.6%.
Some locals are concerned about the cost of the light rail as well as the long term construction noise and hassles. Construction will take approximately 8 years to complete and inherently cause some detours and challenges to local traffic routes. The government has assured the Mercer Island community that it will take all precautions and efforts to reduce the hassles and issues for locals during the construction phase. The cost of the East Link part of the light rail will be $2.8 billion, payed by the government as well as taxpayers. The I-90 corridor is also a major transportation corridor for commercial trucks and some say this will cause longer commutes for those trucks and cause products being carried by those trucks to cost more in the long run. Even though the East Link project will take up the middle carpool lanes, most commercial trucks can’t currently use those lanes and the reduced traffic due to light rail might make any changes to truck routes insignificant.
Looking past the construction hassles, the light rail can only add value to housing and rental properties as well as make the area more appealing to developers looking to build new communities. The median household income on Mercer Island is a robust $190,830 and the median home sales price is $1,001,405. This number is ranked at #209 in a list of most expensive median home zip codes in the United States. This includes the sale of a lakeside mansion that sold for $26.9 million in 2011. Light rail will provide for shorter commutes and more walkable communities which will lead to improved public health and pedestrian mobility. Mercer Island locals should try and look past the short term hassles the construction of the light rail will cause and realize the long term benefits will greatly enhance their daily way of life as well as increase their property values.