The Mercer Island City Council sharpened its tone in its plan for a response to the proposed tolling of Interstate 90 -- and included language that made it clear that city would be ready for a possible lawsuit if the state pursues tolling.
The plan, called the I-90 Tolling Work Plan, outlines the city's strategy for responding to the Washington State Department of Transportation's proposal to toll Interstate 90 -- which Mercer Island residents largely and vocally have opposed.
The strategy includes the city setting up mechanisms for public input and information, coordinating outreach to residents and businesses, other Interstate 90 cities throughout the state that also would be affected by tolling, federal and state lobbying against tolls and more.
You can watch the meeting online on the city of Mercer Island's website or on cable channel 21. You can get a full copy of the work plan here: www.mercergov.org/files/FinalI-90TollingWorkPlan.pdf
The council approved $150,000 from the city's contingency fund for legal and consultant services to implement the plan, which was approved unanimously.
At the Feb. 25 Mercer Island City Council meeting, Cero and Grady criticized the city's initial draft plan as not specific enough in outlining its legal steps to prepare for a possible lawsuit and not specific enough in how the city would incorporate lawyers in its strategic response to the Interstate 90 proposal.
At the March 4 meeting, Grady also criticized any implication that tolling Interstate 90 may be inevitable and that the city should be open to exploring alternatives to tolling for Mercer Island residents, such as a double gantry, reduced rates, monthly maximums, and other possible ways to reduce the impact to people who live and work on Mercer Island.
"If we were to go in front of the legislature today and ask for a special deal, what are the likelihoods that we're going to get that?," Grady said. "There's not a whole lot of sympathy down in in Olympia for people who go down there and say, 'Gosh, I'd really like a special deal for Mercer Island.' "
The plan now includes new pointed language against the tolling proposal and more examples of how it would affect detrimentally organizations and residents of Mercer Island.
"Tolling I-90 is a short-sighted option that could have unintended consequences on the communities in the region," is among the newest language included.
It also includes an exploration of filing a "friend of the court" brief in a lawsuit that the city of Portsmouth, VA, has filed against the Virginia Department of Transportation related to the tolling of two tunnels, and makes clear that the city is open to exploring its legal options against a toll.
The latest version of the work plan includes "Challenge Federal Approval of Tolling," which would be through lobbying efforts at the state and federal levels, and "Legal Remedies," which outlines the following:
In addressing the significant impacts tolling will have on the region, it is important to ensure that legal requirements are followed and legal rights fully protected. Many aspects of the State’s tolling proposal (including, but not limited to, environmental review, consultation under the 1976 Memorandum of Agreement, federal approval of tolling, etc.) involve legal issues and the possibility that only through litigation will legal compliance and protection of the City’s legal rights be assured. To this end, the City will:
i. Retain litigation counsel, when appropriate, to review these issues and, if necessary, pursue legal remedies including litigation.
ii. Follow the pending Portsmouth, Virginia lawsuit and explore joining an amicus brief with other cities or civic organizations.
What do you think of the work plan? Tell us in the comments.