MERCER ISLAND — The Washington State Deptartment of Transportation wants to add a toll on the Interstate 90 bridge across Lake Washington to help pay for the new State Route 520 Bridge.
But that’s not going to happen without a fight — and with the stiff tolls already being charged to commuters on 520, no one wants to pay to cross I-90, too.
State officials held a public hearing at Mercer Island High School on Monday to answer questions from the community.
“I don’t travel as frequently on 520 after the toll,” commuter Christy Fields said. “I’ll take I-90 as an alternative.”
But state officials said that’s the problem: Since 520 became a toll bridge, 15,000 additional drivers have moved to I-90, and that’s taking a toll on traffic.
“It’s really backed up,” driver Roger Carr said. “My mom was commuting into Seattle each day and once they started (the toll) her commute raised 30 minutes each way.”
The state needs another $1.4 billion to finish the west side of the 520 project and they are hoping to pay for it with an I-90 toll. But that plan isn’t set in stone and the state says there are alternatives.
“Statewide gas tax being one of those at the state level,” Craig Stone with WSDOT said. “A state gas tax would be 3-4 cents over a very long time to make up that number.”
“We can’t go anywhere without crossing the bridge,” Maretta Holden, who’s lived on Mercer Island for decades, said. “If you’re going to charge us every time, that’s infringing on what we’re able to do.”
The state said it doesn’t want to lock residents like Holden on to the island.
“We’re looking at a lot of options making sure Mercer Island has a free trip to the east or to the west, potentially a trip either way,” Stone said.
But drivers throughout the Puget Sound are clearly getting tired of paying more just to get where they want to go.
There is still got a long way to go before the state gives the thumbs up for a tolling plan, and officials are asking for the public’s input at Monday’s meeting at Mercer Island High School.
WSDOT is also hosting another meeting Wednesday at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle at 4 p.m.