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Letter: Where's the Precedent to Toll I-90 to Pay for SR 520?

Resident Claus Jensen sent Mercer Island Patch a copy of a letter to the local Federal Highway Administrator for the state, asking for a legal precedent that would allow I-90 to be tolled for the SR 520 floating bridge.

(Ed. Note: The following is a letter addressed to Daniel Mathis, Division Administrator for the Washington Division of the Federal Highway Administration.)

Dear Mr. Mathis,

As I am sure you are aware, the WASDOT is considering requesting FHWA authority ( or has already requested authority) to toll I-90 between I-405 and I-5, with the resulting revenue to be used for the construction of a WA state road project.

In this connection I have been unable to find any legal precedent for tolling an Interstate Highway to pay for anything other than improvements to the Interstate Highway itself. Apart from the "Tollroads" that were grandfathered into the Interstate Highway System back in 1956 and the conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes on a few interstates, there seem to have been no tolling added to the system since then.

In view of the above, and the fact that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has testified at a public hearing that he is opposed to any tolling of the Interstate System, it seems strange that the WASDOT seems so certain that the FHWA will grant it this unprecedented authority to toll I-90 to pay for the construction of items like a "Lid" over the Montlake Cut (on a section of SR 520 that is not even tolled!).

And to permit any municipality or state to impose tolls on an Interstate highway to pay for shortfall in construction and other local budgetary problems would seem to open "Pandora's Box" for all kinds of financial shenenigans.

In closing, I ask you kindly to inform me whether you have granted or will grant this authority to WASDOT and if so on what specific legal basis this will be or is based.

As WASDOT has scheduled a public meetings on Mercer Island on January 29, time is of the essence in order for me to prepare my questions to WASDOT and make sure that I have my facts straight.

Your early reply will be appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Claus V. Jensen

dave January 22, 2013 at 07:51 PM
There's going to be a lot of economic unintended consequences of tolling to Mercer Island and beyond. There's a very real shortfall in the budget, all the money is being spent on health care and pensions, while infrastructure and education take a back seat, that's at every level of government. Tolling is not the way to go, but residents might need to rethink a state income tax.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA January 22, 2013 at 09:53 PM
Most of my fellow Mercer Islanders I know are of two minds on this issue. Putting the I-90 Tolls on again would rebalance the traffic between both bridges- at a MI cost. J-
Thomas Imrich January 23, 2013 at 04:46 AM
Claus is most correct in his important "tolling authority and shifting of revenue to other uses" shell game question. Income tax isn't the answer. The state's spending and transport policy, as well as its cost allocation and growth policy is seriously flawed to start with. Proposing I-90 Bridge tolls is simply an inappropriate state response to a flawed 520 bridge decision in the first place. Don't now fix bad state policy by asking MI to disproportionately suffer and pay for those mistakes.

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