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.