Mercer Island employees of Island businesses, city and schools and the city's seniors would be hurt by a toll on Interstate 90, according to a city of Mercer Island letter to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
"Employees might have to pay just to get to work, while employees of Seattle and Eastside businesses have the option of diverting to I-405 and SR-522," the letter explains to Washington State Department of Transportation officials.
That's part of what the city's law firm K&L Gates wrote in a 16-page letter issued last week to the Washington State Department of Transportation, as part of an environmental impact study that the state is conducting on a possible toll for I-90. You can view the letter on the city of Mercer Island's website.
While the law firm emphasizes that the city has opposed tolling since a resolution passed in 2008, the state should consider tolling alternatives for drivers bound for the Island, the letter reads.
The letter urges the state to think about ways that drivers bound for Mercer Island -- including residents and empoyees of local businesses, city and the school district -- would not be overly penalized by a toll along the only highway that leads to the Island:
To the extent that WSDOT and FHWA proceed with tolling, the agencies should carefully consider options that balance the burden between Mercer Island residents and employees and those who directly benefit from replacement of the SR-520 bridge. As WSDOT knows, there are many potential refinements — or subalternatives — within the tolling alternative that should also be examined carefully:
1. Segmented Tolls
2. Only pay the toll if you drive the entire bridge (e.g., placement of gantries at east and west ends of bridge; no charge unless a car passes both gantries)
3. Only pay the toll if you drive in a designated direction
4. Pay no more than one toll per day
5. Pay tolls only when returning to Mercer Island
6. Provide an annual pass (cap) for tolls paid by Mercer Island residents and employees 7. Reduced toll for trips only to/from Mercer Island
According to the letter, 218 of 225 city employees live off the Island and those employees may have to assume more than $1,700 per year just to get to work, according to the letter. It would cost the city $375,000 per year if it wanted to make up the difference to its employees. Service-oriented businesses, such as coffee shops, would be hit especially hard.
Local businesses that rely on off-Island customers, such as restaurants and entertainment venues like the Youth Theatre Northwest and the Stroum Jewish Community Center would also suffer, the city writes.
Mercer Island's seniors would also have to pay to see their doctors, which are mainly on the Eastside or in Seattle, the city writes.
, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation officials. Congestion also has increased on Interstate 5, Interstate 90 and State Route 522 as drivers avoid tolls on SR 520, according to state officials.
If the state legislature approves the change, tolls on Interstate 90 could start as soon as 2015, according to Washington State Department of Transportation officials.
The Mercer Island School District was among those who submitted a letter to the state about the impact of the tolls on local district employees and residents.