City Letter Urges I-90 Tolling Alternatives for Mercer Island-bound Motorists

The city's law firm K&L Gates issued a letter to the Washington State Department of Transportation that urged the state to consider alternatives for motorists headed to Mercer Island

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.

Ira B. Appelman February 26, 2013 at 03:53 PM
My comments at last night's meeting, in two parts: I have now reviewed the 22-page legalese puff-piece the City submitted Feb. 22nd as its response to WSDOT’s I-90 tolling proposal. WSDOT is committed to study almost everything in the City’s fluffy letter anyway. The weak request for an Environmental Impact Statement will likely be refused because WSDOT has already announced a schedule for when tolling will begin, and agencies are given broad latitude to decide if an EIS is required. The City’s letter has been written, not to inform WSDOT, but to deceive Islanders, and is part of the Council majority’s scam to appear to oppose tolling, but to negotiate tolling behind closed doors. That is the strategy that former mayors recommended at the purposefully un-televised Saturday council meeting on February 2nd, which I attended. After all, one of the former mayors is Representative Judy Clibborn, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, who, despite previous assurances, is leading the charge to impose tolling. None of the five councilmembers present at the meeting, Bassett, Grausz, Meyer-Braum, Bertlin, or Senn, raised any objection to this deceptive strategy. The most important part of the City’s fluffy letter is what’s missing. As I pointed out last meeting, the stretch of I-90 between I-5 and I-405 is controlled by a 1976 Memorandum Agreement that, for the last 36 years, has required unanimity of the parties before any significant changes occur.
Ira B. Appelman February 26, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Part 2 of 2 Those parties include Seattle, Bellevue, King County-Metro, WSDOT, Sound Transit and, Mercer Island. The operation of the Memorandum Agreement is clear and accepted by all parties including the federal government, as shown by the 1998-2005 process conducted by WSDOT, Sound Transit, and FHWA, that approved high capacity transit for the I-90 Bridge center lanes. I attended and recorded the meetings of the MA Steering Committee. The Environmental Assessment only began in 1999 after approval from the Steering Committee, and the Steering Committee, not WSDOT, decided to proceed with an EIS. The council majority has deceptively pretended to reconvene the Steering Committee by creating a subcommittee of the council only, led by Deputy Mayor Grausz and former Mayor Merkle, both on record that Mercer Island MUST accept tolling. Many Islanders received a Grausz email in the last few days advocating tolling. If the City was really interested in an Environmental Impact Statement, it would demand that the MA Steering Committee be reconvened as I recommended last meeting, where the City would be able to force an EIS. Instead, we get fluff. Those Islanders who want to avoid tolling should demand that the Memorandum Agreement Steering Committee be reconvened and councilmembers truly opposed to tolling be appointed to represent Mercer Island on the Steering Committee.
Dwight Schaeffer February 27, 2013 at 05:13 AM
The additional funds generated by tolling a for the completion of 520 between Montlake and I-5, which currently not tolled. Why not impose tolling at the on-ramp from Montlake to 520 west and the off-ramp from 520 east to Montlake? This would have the added benefit of reducing traffic on I-90 for those going to the Montlake. This tolls could work independent of the existing tools and would prevent anyone from getting tolled twice for one trip.
Thomas Imrich February 28, 2013 at 06:59 AM
I strongly agree with Mr. Appelman's assessment. This Council majority appears to have no serious intention whatsoever to actually take the needed actions, or even more important, to take the lead, in the necessary steps to STOP tolling on our I-90 Bridges, and prevent setting a horrendously bad interstate revenue diversion precedent nationally. Starting from the recent Council appointment of a "stacked deck" I-90 subgroup, to not having appointed credible "NO TOLLING" members on a reenergized MA Steering Committee so as to truly represent the views of MI, the actions of both our Council majority and Ms. Clibborn, appear to amount to nothing more than diving for political cover. It certainly looks at this point like their agenda is to simply appear sympathetic for political reasons to voters, while they quietly sell-out MI's future, likely in back room discussions if not even deals. Terrible precedents with severe long term adverse consequences virtually always start somewhere "local", at a "stacked deck" pressure point. In this Interstate tolling revenue diversion instance, it now is starting right here, with Mercer Island in the bulls-eye. Council member Dan Grausz is simply in error in his assessment that it is not yet time to prepare for serious national litigation. It is also disingenuous for our representatives to spout political FLUFF, with weak letters from surrogates, with likely back room winks, implying they'll not seriously fight.
Dwight Schaeffer March 06, 2013 at 08:59 PM
I dislike any tolling, as the cost to collect tolls as a very large portion of the tolls goes to the collection and enforcement (I have been told over 25%); however, we need to come up with alternatives to I-90 tolling for financing the west portion of 520 construction to have a chance of eliminating I-90 tolls. I have one proposal. The unfunded construction is basically Montlake to I-5. Currently, users of just this portion of 520 are not tolled at all. I propose adding toll stations on the on-ramps and off-ramps between Montlake and I-5. These could be administered independently without tolling any trip twice and would have the added benefit of reducing I-90 traffic by reducing those using I-90, then 520 get to the UW/Montlake area. Also, the authority and responsibility for the non-transportation amenities planned for this area should be transferred to the City of Seattle I'm told this is about $30M to $40M.


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