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Letter: Mercer Island Seniors Don't Fit 'Wealthy' Stereotype in I-90 Tolling Discussion

Mercer Island resident Claus Jensen writes in a letter to the editor that Mercer Island's large senior population is economically more vulnerable than their younger counterparts when it comes to the I-90 tolling proposal.

Mercer Island has an unusually large population of seniors - at least 25 percent  over the age of 60.

As seniors everywhere - not just on Mercer Island - most of us are living on fixed incomes.

Many of us moved to Mercer Island - in my own case more than 32 years ago - when real estate prices were a fraction of what they were today. Since then the assessed value of houses on Mercer Island have of course sky-rocketed... and all that did for our long-time residents and retirees was to

1) increase our real estate taxes at a faster rate than in Seattle/King County; and

2) make us appear to be richer on paper, even though we are living in the same old houses that we bought decades ago.

So our Seniors own high-priced real estate - but live on the same kind of rapidly declining fixed income as seniors in King County.

It is from that perspective that many of my fellow senior citizens, who now find themselves as being labeled "rich and wealthy", just because we happened to move to Mercer Island years ago, are now contemplating selling our houses and moving away from the "Rock" due to the "unintended consequences" of the planned tolling of I-90.

I-90 is Mercer Island's "Lifeline" - it is the only way we can get to medical facilities in Bellevue or Seattle, visit family living outside MI, shop in Costco or Trader Joe's on the Eastside etc. etc.

We do not have the choice of going around Lake Washington in order to avoid tolls and, incidentally, we do not use the SR520 bridge nor do we understand why Seniors on fixed income will have to pay for the costs of the  1.44 billion Montlake project in Seattle. That defies common sense, to say the least.

And, while we use the excellent Sound Transit bus service to go to/fromSeattle, we can only do so when there is room in the Park&Ride facility on Mercer Island; that facilty is usually full during business hours by commuters from as far away as North Bend, since it is the last free parking before Seattle.

So the stereotype of Mercer Island being populated by rich, spoiled people is just plain wrong. If you had been at the meeting sponsored by WASDOT in the Mercer Island Community Center the other night, you would have seen a large crowd of some 800 Mercer Islanders, most of them Seniors protesting the double taxation imposed on them in the guise of "balancing" the traffic across our island.

And keep in mind that when we moved to Mercer Island, we paid tolls to finance the Lacey Murrow floating bridge - the forerunner to the I-90 bridge - so we have already paid for that bridge once.

In closing - and looking beyond Mercer Island - the issue of tolling an existing Interstate highway in order to finance an unrelated State road is not a "done deal".

Contrary to the misleading information given out by WASDOT's Craig Stone at the above mentioned public meeting on Mercer Island, there is only ONE approved project under the Federal VPPP Program. That is Pilot Project #1 in Porthsmouth, Virginia. That project is currently subject to a lawsuit filed by a citizen's group backed by their City Council and powerful business interests and if - as they (optimistically) expect, they prevail in court - then FHWA will be dealt a major setback and little Mercer Island - Pilot Project #2 - will be the main "beneficiary" of an unrelenting federal and state effort to begin tolling not just I-90, but all interstates in the state. So this is a much bigger issue than it appears to be.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the FHWA show that WASDOT, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and our very own Judy Clibborn have been working with the FHWA as "partners"  on tolling since 2009.

MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141), was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012. Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005.

The VPPP program is designed to introduce the tolling of the Interstate Highway system to pay for unrelated transportation projects - you might say "It puts the Camel's Nose Inside the Tent".

Taking to its logical conclusion, this could lead to the tolling of ALL Interstates. It serves the current administration's policy of taxing "polluters" and at the same time it opens "Pandora's (cash) Box" as a mechanism to siphon money from motorist's pockets.

Thomas Imrich February 07, 2013 at 12:40 AM
This letter is well stated. If anything it significantly understates the damage that could be done to the entire Interstate Highway system. If this ill-advised and seriously flawed I-90 tolling tax revenue diversion to the 520 west end branch schema is ever implemented, it will set a terrible new precedent for the entire region, and country.
Blah Bloggs February 07, 2013 at 01:40 AM
I'm at one of my daughter's after school classes in Seattle (which if tolling is introduced will cost me about $10 more each time) and one of the other parents has told me that a friend of theirs works for WSDOT and has said that it has already been decided (internally) that they'll 'only' be tolling the I90 west of Mercer Island, to Seattle, but not Mercer Island eastbound.
Kendall Watson February 07, 2013 at 05:06 AM
Thanks Blah Bloggs. WSDOT's Craig Stone has said that in their Environmental Assessment will offer a variety of options to the State Legislature, but he often neglects to mention that the structure of an EA includes 1) a "proposed action" and 2) a comparison of the alternatives — and one could conclude that WSDOT will also weigh in with their value judgments there. Here's the basic structure of an EA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_assessment#Structure The structure of a generic Environmental Assessment is as follows: Summary Introduction Background Purpose and Need for Action Proposed Action Decision Framework Public Involvement Issues Alternatives, including the Proposed Action Alternatives Mitigation Common to All Alternatives Comparison of Alternatives Environmental Consequences Consultation and Coordination
Fred Armstrong February 07, 2013 at 08:25 PM
The battle is already lost unless the " governed" join together to oppose this in a massive public effort. Rational behavior does not solve problems like this. Only a politician's fear of being thrown out of office will solve this problem in favor of no tolling on I-90. Politicians have to have a reason to do something and rational argument doesn't give them that reason. An organized electorate, prepared to throw them out of office, and letting them know so is the way to get this done.
Scharlach33 February 07, 2013 at 10:07 PM
I'm concerned with the additional traffic pressure caused by the 520 toll, which seems to have increased I-90 congestion. A toll would equalize the traffic somewhat. That said, I agree that it's not fair for MI residents to pay several tolls a day. Has there been any discussion of a limited MI toll, to perhaps once a day, or a monthly pass for a flat fee that mirrors what a Bellevue or Seattle commuter might pay? I'm happy to pay my fair share. But with unlimited tolls, my family would pay several times a day as we drive to and from specialists (like oral surgeons and for X-rays), specialty stores (like REI, Crate & Barrel or Trader Joes), restaurants, kids' activities, movies and the like. We support MI stores and service providers where possible, but in many cases, there is no local option. If I understand the tolls correctly, my family would spend over $500 a month on tolls. Bellevue and Seattle residents don't have this burden. Is there something in between tolls all the time, and no tolls at all, for MI residents that the government might consider?
Publius February 08, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Traffic only increased 11% on I-90 with the SR520 toll. The same % increase that Kenmore saw around the north end of the lake. What do you think will happen with the toll on 90 and they reduce lanes on I-90 at the same time? I don't think you are going to see any improvement, likely just more of the same with more traffic on the south around Renton. WSDOT wants you to think that these roads are part of the same 'corridor' but that isn't the case if you look into the details. Also, this would create a precedent to allow tolls from one road to pay for another project. This would open the door for jurisdictions across the country to charge tolls on interstates to fund other projects in their area. This is bad national policy!
patch76 February 08, 2013 at 09:24 PM
How can we stop this? I have lived in other states with tolls. In Newport beach it started with $1 and now a few years later its is up to $5.50 each way!

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