BELLEVUE — It’s a controversial issue that could affect tens of thousands of people. State officials are examining the possibility of charging tolls on the I-90 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue.
On Thursday, the Washington State Department of Transportation kicked off the second phase of public meetings so drivers could voice concerns. Many on the Eastside are so against the tolls that they are hoping for funding alternatives, such as raising the state’s gas tax.
In Mercer Island, the anti-toll signs are as prominent as campaign signs.
It’s hard to find drivers in that zip code who are not furious about the idea to toll I-90.
“If you are on Mercer Island and you are going anywhere, you have to pay the toll,” said resident Cate Foster.
The opinions flowed in during phase one of WSDOT’s environmental impact study earlier this year.
The agency received 3,400 comments, many offering alternatives to tolling.
“We have some local option taxes, sales tax, carbon tax, other things of that nature,” said WSDOT’s Craig Stone.
But the most realistic alternative to a toll is the gas tax. Raising it by three or four cents statewide could generate the $1.4 billion needed to help pay off the 520 Bridge project.
“Tolling on that bridge will hit me harder personally than the three-cent gas tax,” said Bellevue resident Michael Pierce.
Pierce added that, to him, a gas tax is the lesser of two evils. But he is convinced the state is on a one-way track to tolling.
“I think they are looking at options, but I don’t think not tolling is an option,” said Pierce.
WSDOT says they are looking beyond the traditional toll. Certain sections from Bellevue to Seattle would require less toll money.
They are even thinking of giving Mercer Island residents a free pass, at least in one direction.
“I am glad they are exploring the option of the discount; it’s an island, you have no other option,” said Foster.
Another option that was brought up at the public meeting on Thursday is to put the issue on a ballot.
“I think that would be a great answer to the controversy about tolling,” said Bellevue resident Joe Lamonte.
I-90 is currently tolled in seven different locations across the United States from Illinois to Massachusetts. If Washington lawmakers vote in favor of tolls, the charges could go into effect by 2016.
The next meeting will be Oct. 21 at Mercer Island High School Commons from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The third meeting is on Oct. 23 at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle from 4 p.m. to 7p.m.