Meet Julie Thuy Underwood, Mercer Island City Manager [Video]

January 29, 2017 | by Erin Sirianni

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On January 3, 2017, Mercer Island got a new city manager, Julie Thuy Underwood. Since our City’s incorporation in 1960, Mercer Island has only had six permanent city managers, and Julie is the first woman and person of color to serve in this position on Mercer Island.

Julie has about two decades of experience in city management roles. Previously, she was assistant city manager for Daly City, California, a suburb of California, and before that, she was City Manager for Shoreline, Washington.

We’re thrilled to introduce Julie to you – our readers, friends, and neighbors – in this debut episode of our new My MI “Community Conversations” series.

In this video, Julie talks about her new position, living on Mercer Island, and – the hot topic on everyone’s minds – the City’s ongoing negotiations with Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), regarding impacts to our mobility with the East Link light rail expansion.

Our conversation was especially timely given the City’s recent update on a Principal’s Meeting on January 23rd. Julie along with Mayor Bruce Bassett and Deputy Mayor Debbie Bertlin met with the leaders of Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in Olympia, hosted by State Representative Judy Clibborn.

While many issues are on the table, the one that was central to that meeting and most pressing to our community is the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s decision not to allow Mercer Island Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOVs) in the R8A lanes (HOV lanes) after the I-90 center roadways close in June of this year.

That decision is problematic given that SOVs will no longer be allowed to use the highly traveled Island Crest Way ramp heading westbound on I-90, since that ramp will directly feed into the new R8A lanes to be added to the outer I-90 roadways.

Accordingly, the City presented the following message at the meeting:

Honor historical agreements and WSDOT’s long-standing commitments to Island mobility, specifically the need to maintain access to I-90 for SOV traffic via Island Crest Way and future use of the new R8A lanes. Any plan to divert traffic from Island Crest Way to alternate routes to I-90 is a public safety danger that overloads secondary streets, passes schools and stresses the Island’s infrastructure.

The alternative routes presented by Sound Transit and WSDOT are illustrated in the image below. Yet as any Mercer Island resident knows, re-routing traffic on 40th to West Mercer Way through a school zone and residential area will significantly impact safety and quality of life.

Additionally, traffic that diverts through downtown will result in long back-ups and congestion, as projected by a traffic impacts study commissioned by the City following the FHWA decision.

Image credit: Sound Transit

The meeting, unfortunately, was not constructive for Mercer Island, and the City’s statement sums up the outcome here:

Based on the Principals’ Meeting, attendees unfortunately have every reason to believe that WSDOT plans to deny SOV access at the Island Crest Way westbound on-ramp and use of R8A lanes.

There are still alternative “tracks” of conflict-resolution, as Julie mentions in our conversation.  The City is now waiting for a letter from WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar detailing what short-term access to I-90 will look like, and the City Council will discuss the letter and current state of negotiations at its next Council meeting, on February 6th.

Mercer Island has a historic precedent of achieving transportation solutions that benefit our community and the greater region, beginning in the 1920s when Mercer Island got its first bridge and more recently with the I-90 corridor expansion, when Mercer Island negotiated for SOV access to I-90 and the installment of the Park on the Lid (also known as Aubrey Davis Park). While it’s difficult to be optimistic following false starts at collaboration, it’s also necessary to keep up the tradition of fierce advocacy surrounding Mercer Island’s mobility challenges.

The City welcomes your input, which you can share directly at, or during the public comments period of an upcoming City Council meeting.

Learn more about the East Link Light Rail project on the here; learn more about Julie here; and we also invite you to join us to meet Julie and her family in person at our upcoming welcome party on Sunday, February 12th, from 4 to 7 pm, at the Mercer Island Beach Club. Please RSVP. We hope to see you there!