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WSDOT Says I-90 Tolling Could Start as Soon as 2015

State transportation officials will seek public input in 2013. An environmental study and legislative approval would be needed for any tolls on the I-90 bridge.

Officials have been hinting at it for years, but a Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) study in the works could make tolling on Interstate 90 bridges over Lake Washington and across Mercer Island all but inevitable.

Tolling on the State Route 520 floating bridge began about a year ago and transportation officials have been closely monitoring two factors: the routes that drivers are now using and the overall tab (and deficit) for replacing the aging 520 Bridge. In response, the State Legislature last session asked for a new environmental study to review the affects of tolling on I-90 between Interstate 5 and Interstate 405.

“What we will be doing in the new year, 2013, is studying the tolling of I-90,” said Craig Stone, assistant secretary for the WSDOT Toll Division.

A WSDOT-proposed time-line of the study has planned public scoping meetings in early 2013 and a complete Environmental Impact Study by early 2014, which could then allow approval of potential tolls in 2014. The state could then begin collecting the charge in 2015 or 2016.

The overall cost of the 520 replacement project is estimated at $4.128 billion, a decline from $4.6 billion, but the state still needs to find $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, WSDOT's Stone said at a Mercer Island public meeting last month that congestion has increased on Interstate 5, Interstate 90 and State Route 522 as drivers avoid tolls on SR 520.

Traffic on I-90 has increased, on average, 13 percent over pre-520 toll levels, and I-90 travel times are three minutes longer on average during the peaks, said Stone. The state can't afford to come up with the rest of the money by asking the federal government for earmarks.

"The days of 90 percent of federal dollars coming in to finance highways in our state are basically over," he said.

WSDOT spokesperson Michell Mouton pledged that no decision has yet been made on whether or not to toll I-90. But the transportation agency must carry out the wishes of the State Legislature, which s them to perform an "environmental assessment" and engage the public in communities that border Lake Washington.

"It's not just tolling for tolling's sake," she said. "We have to look at tolling on I-90 to help with (the 520 Floating Bridge) ... one affects the other. People will have the opportunity to engage and provide input to the study. We're looking at tolling as a strategy."

Mouton also told Patch that no decision had been made on changing access to  HOV lanes to and from Mercer Island, which currently allow single-occupancy vehicle access on the I-90 express lanes.

WSDOT's Craig Stone will return to Mercer Island City Hall with more information on I-90 tolling and traffic data — in addition to presentations on WSDOT’s I-90 Two-Way Transit Project, and the Sound Transit East Link Light Rail Transit Project — for City Council's regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2013.

Jon H December 29, 2012 at 08:17 PM
How about the Eastside folks parking at the PnR closer to their house? MI PnR is the last stop before downtown and there are no alternatives for residents. Of course people don't want to waste more time on the bus. They want the convenience without the cost of living on the island. Therefore they are clowns.
Jon H December 29, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Mark we already pay gas taxes, property taxes and sales tax. Just like everyone else in the state. Unlike non residents we don't have alternatives.
Jon H December 29, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Well if they are going to toll the money should at least go to improving the thing being tolled. In this case we are being told that the money ISN'T going to the road but to pay for one that most residents never use (and whatever other use the bureaucrats decide). This is after we already pay some of the highest gas taxes in the country.
exoticdoc2 December 29, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Martinek. No, that is liberal thinking...handouts for everyone (except those they steal from). Taking what I said and twisting it does not change the fact that the bridges were already paid for by taxpayers, the maintenance is covered by taxes we already pay, and the government wastes vast quantities of taxpayer dollars every year, which means any thinking person is going to resent the government stealing even more of their hard earned money. I does not suit me to be a meek little sheep and cave to every corrupt government demand for money.
Jon H December 29, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Bob I think you need to take your meds... this isn't a Teaparty conspiracy. I-90 is an established piece of infrastructure that the entire community depends for basic services. There aren't any similar situations that I know of in the country. It is especially galling since the plan is to use the money raised to pay for infrastructure that most residents will never use and at the same time reduce service levels further by removing lanes to support an expensive train that will serve few.
exoticdoc2 December 29, 2012 at 11:37 PM
John H. I would say James is more in the category of a meek little sheep, kow-towing to government in any and every way. The corruption in government at all levels in this country is rampant as is the waste of our tax dollars. There is plenty of tax money, it is the wasteful spending that is the problem. And take a look at California as the poster child for government-union corruption. The politicians and public employee unions have successfully bankrupted the state.
Peter Landsman December 30, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Jon H, you are spreading misinformation. The toll money is not going to Sound Transit to pay for light rail. East Link was approved by voters in 2008 and raised the sales tax to pay for Sound Transit 2. East Link will not eliminate any lanes on I-90. WSDOT will complete 2 new HOV lanes (one in each direction) before light rail construction closes the 2 Express Lanes. (Again, the new HOV lanes are funded through the gas tax, not any future tolls.) East Link will serve 50,000 riders a day by 2030. It's worth noting that Mercer Islanders approved Sound Transit 2 by a higher margin - 58% - than King County voters as a whole. Most of us are excited about our future one-seat train ride from MI to Bellevue, Redmond, Downtown Seattle, UW and Northgate.
Peter Landsman December 30, 2012 at 12:27 AM
The federal government does not own I-90 (or any other interstate.) Interstate highways are owned by the states.
Peter Landsman December 30, 2012 at 12:36 AM
We had this debate in 2008, Thomas. 58 percent of Islanders voted to build light rail across I-90 in place of the express lanes. You are free to say government is doing the wrong things, but you are in the minority.
Jon H December 30, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Peter - sorry if I did not parse my comment enough... The toll funds are going to pay for 520. Most Island residents don't use 520 on a regular basis. This is being done at the same time as the light rail changes, why don't we already have the extra lanes if this was such a great idea? Maybe this will reduce the congestion on 90 to return it to pre-520 tolling levels? Regarding the light rail, If the train is installed, I am not sure where you will park since the PnR is full before 830am on most mornings. So it will likely be a 1-seat ride after you drive around for a spot and then walk 1/2 a mile from downtown to catch a train to go someplace you could have just driven to in 30 minutes. Right now transit more than doubles my commute time and my office is just a couple blocks from the bus tunnel. Even if the trains ran every 10 minutes (which they won't) it is a loss of at least 30minutes of my day every day! I'd also like to see a study on the increase in crime projected as a consequence of more low cost housing and the train. I assume this will require more police on the island. (note this is an assumption since I haven't see any information yet, but based on my personal experience in Seattle on the light rail I think it is fairly well informed).
Tom Parker December 30, 2012 at 05:34 PM
If you really lived in Pa. then you would know that I-90 is not a toll road there. Their toll road is down south, I-76 I believe. Check a map. Although, I-90 is a toll road in Ohio and Indiana and possibly others.
Jason F. December 31, 2012 at 06:59 AM
I agree!
Jason F. December 31, 2012 at 07:15 AM
I agree exoticdoc2!! I gave Seattle the big middle finger, they lost my business a long time ago! I hope that Seattle businesses feel the serious crunch of nobody buying of visiting them....Bellevue's way better anyways.
Jason F. December 31, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Never going to visit MI or Seattle ever again should this toll go into place.
Lisa Thomas December 31, 2012 at 04:18 PM
J-Rod, we'll miss you! Others, The most salient point in all this discussion is Peter Landsman's -- the voters voted for this 4 years ago. The question is, given that, what if anything can be done now anyway, regardless of how you feel about tolls on I-90? Also, am I the only one who has had to add at least 10 minutes to every trip since the 520 tolls went into effect? The traffic here is awful.
exoticdoc2 December 31, 2012 at 04:54 PM
J-Rod. And Bellevue parking it far superior to Seattle anyway. It's less crowded and dirty, better parking, closer to those already over here anyway, many advantages. I doubt I'll miss Seattle much if at all.
Kendall Watson December 31, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Lisa, great on-point comments again. There are three I-90 toll "scoping" meetings coming up on Mercer Island, Bellevue and in Seattle — I believe they're Jan 29 at the MICEC, Jan 30 at Bellevue City Hall and Jan 31 at the Yesler Center in Seattle. This is one way the public can guide the plan to place tolls on I-90. They have no idea, for example, on where exactly to place the Toll Gantry, or whether or not there should be two of them, or whether or not Mercer Island residents could get some sort of discount based on how the gantries are placed. Think about this: Do you commute to Seattle every day for work? Well, if they place the gantry on I-90 just to the west of the Lid Park tunnel, you're going to pay this while Islanders working on the Eastside won't. So should it be a one-way toll? Is having only one gantry unfair? This is some of the feedback WSDOT will want to hear.
Keith Garner December 31, 2012 at 05:06 PM
+1 - Great idea David. The problem here is that tolls on 520 are artificially forcing drivers to pick I-90 when going across the lake. Finding a way to address the needs of Mercer Island residents and business while at the same time making the trip across the lake equitable for all drivers is what we should be focusing on.
Kendall Watson December 31, 2012 at 05:11 PM
I'll try to get more information out there today on what citizens can do to shape the potential outcome here (late Friday interview didn't leave me enought time to write it up).
John Vidale December 31, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Let's just get on with tolling the very expensive bridges, for I-90 as well as 520. These arguments about who paid for what, when, and who gets charged in the future are so NIMBY and cheap. All the bridges depreciate, the tolls just pay a small part of the depreciation. These posts that, due to arcane and self-interested arguments, entire classes of drivers should be immune to having to pay their fair share come across as ignorant to demented. Of course, if one chooses to live in a place separated by bridges from one's work, schools, and activities, one should pay for the required bridges. I moved to Seattle from Bellevue partly to reduce my commute, which is now a short (free) off-road bike ride.
Kendall Watson December 31, 2012 at 06:26 PM
This is, in essence, the position of local legislators in the area who support the concept of a "user fee".
Kendall Watson December 31, 2012 at 07:58 PM
WSDOT will also present on the I-90 Two-Way Transit Project, and the Sound Transit East Link Light Rail Transit Project at the Jan. 7 meeting at Mercer Island City Hall.
Kim Hilliker December 31, 2012 at 07:59 PM
How about giving the Mercer Island residents 2 free passes a day. They can leave for work and come home. Anything else is personal errands. They could have a special pass or the state could comp everyone in that zipcode. Plus, doesn't Mercer Island have all the stores they need to not have to leave the island much. Just a thought
Paul Calderon December 31, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Mr. Vidale: insulting those of us who don't chose to live in Seattle and ride our bikes to work is even more small minded, so please keep those opinions to yourself, as they add nothing to the discussion.
John Vidale January 01, 2013 at 12:11 AM
My main point is that having bridges costs a ton of money, the proposed tolls are only a small part of the cost of the bridges, and the many posts about why people who live on MI, work on MI, and have to cross MI should not have to contribute to the cost of the bridges make little sense. My point about riding my bike is that if one doesn't want to pay for the bridge, the simplest way is to avoid using the bridge, which I've done wrt the 520 bridge.
Beary January 29, 2013 at 07:02 AM
Why not increase bus fares? Why is the burden only placed on the drivers whether we are individuals or carpoolers. I feel bus riders put wear and tear on the roads and they should help pay their fair share. Take a look at SR520. The DOT took away the carpool lane and turned it into a bus only lane. Not sure if they raised bus fares to help fund the bridge (I doubt it) but it really sucks for the drivers and really benefits the bus riders. Drivers funds these roads with tab fees, gas taxes and now more tolls. Bus riders fund it by...not really participating in it. They pay bus fares which I am sure pays for some of the roads and stuff, but they get the benefit of carpooling, a service (driven to their general area) an not having to pay for gas or tab fees. I don think it is asking too much to raise the fares to help fund these tolls. If ridership drops on i90 and the revenue stream still falls below the state's projections will they toll I5 and 405? I think so. It is the only logical next step and I would be naive to believe otherwise. I wish the state had figured out all the details before they decided to jump in head first.
Thomas Imrich January 29, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Commenter Beary is correct in that busses do not come even close to paying their fully allocated costs. That is also true for trains and trollies which also get heavy subsidy. Efficient environmentally friendly POVs/SOVs, which are the 100 year to 1000 year better environmental and fiscal solution are inappropriately getting crushed by this ill-advised bus/train/toll social engineering. @ Lisa Thomas (still hiding behind his/her anonymity, and fronting for the Council) is dead wrong. MI Voters DID NOT VOTE FOR THIS MESS. See commenter Ira Appelman's earlier explanation in a related article for the real truth.
Kindra February 13, 2013 at 03:04 PM
What about moving the tolling point to access into Seattle only, in other words, between MI and Seattle? Wouldn’t this retain most of the predicted revenue generation and move the commute patterns back to how they were before 520 tolling? But it would also allow both Islanders and off-Islanders who need to access MI to/from all points east to do so without burden.
Publius February 13, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Only if you buy into the WSDOT's false 'corridor' narrative. This will push more towards Renton and other side roads. It would also turn the north end of Mercer Island into a large park and ride being the last 'park free' option before Seattle.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA February 13, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Tom Emrich has it right- as he usually does. JG-

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