Story Summary

Tolls on I-90?

A proposal to toll Interstate 90 to raise funds to help pay for the bridge replacement on SR 520 — and perhaps the new Alaska Way Viaduct/SR 99 — have many residents up in arms. If approved, the I-90 tolls could start late 2015 or early 2016.

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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.

i90Campaign signs urging people to oppose the I-90 toll are everywhere on Mercer Island. It seems nobody wants to get hit with a toll just to go home at night.

“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.

Local News
10/21/13

State looks for input on I-90 toll proposal

I90

Courtesy WSDOT

SEATTLE – Representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation will hold a public input meeting Monday afternoon to hear feedback from drivers and residents about the potential of adding toll lanes to Interstate 90’s floating bridge.

The meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. at Mercer Island High School and is scheduled to last until 8:30 p.m.

The state is looking for nearly $1.5 billion to help complete the Interstate 5 to Medina section of State Road 520.

Traffic on I-90 has increased by 15,000 vehicles a day since tolling began on SR 520 back in 2011. State officials hope to move some of that traffic back onto SR 520 by installing tolls on I-90.

Local News
10/10/13

Who’s in favor of I-90 tolls? Hardly anyone

I90

Courtesy WSDOT

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.

notollOLYMPIA — Hundreds of people recently spoke out against possible tolling on the Interstate 90 bridge.

Now, a handful of interested individuals are trying gather enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would stop I-90 tolling before it starts.

The group Democracy Workshop is trying to gather 350,000 signatures from those opposed to I-90 tolling in order to get the issue on the ballot next year.  Those signing the petition, including Mercer Island resident Owen Blauman, said the tolls will do everything from hurting fixed-income seniors to restricting neighborhood tourism.

“The state is out doing all the projects like there is endless money but there isn’t,” Blauman said.

WSDOT needs to plug a $1.4 billion dollar shortfall to finish paying for the 520 bridge replacement. But those with the Democracy Workshop argue it should be voters, not state officials that determine the fate of tolling on I-90.

“It’s tolling here on I-90, it’s a little bit of tolling and Vancouver. Soon it will expand to Eastern Washington,” Blauman said.

Officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation wouldn’t comment on the petition drive. However, they recently encouraged residents to voice their concern.

“We are also on the web,” said WSDOT Tolling Director Craig Stone. “People have until Feb. 22 to give us their comments.”

Democracy Workshop has until July 5 to turn in the number of signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot.

bellevueBELLEVUE — The possibility that drivers on Interstate 90 will have to pay tolls between Seattle and Bellevue has created uproar.

The Washington State Department of Transportation held its second of three public forums on the issue Wednesday night.  The first one was at Mercer Island on Tuesday night. Wednesday’s was at Bellevue City Hall.

An average driver on the State Route 520 Bridge pays more than $7 round-trip during rush hour.

The high tolls drove 15,000 drivers daily to take I-90. And now there’s a proposal to toll the I-90 bridge, too.

“The Legislature has asked us to look at the question of if you were to toll I-90, how would you do it,” WSDOT official Craig Stone told the crowd in Bellevue.

And it’s that question that has left hundreds feeling trapped, with nowhere to go.

“I won’t be able to leave the house. I’m sorry. I am against; it’s a no no,” said Bellevue resident Susie Ollis.

It was a smaller crowd at Bellevue City Hall compared with the hundreds who showed up at Mercer Island Tuesday night, but it didn’t mean the group was any less angry.

“It’s being rammed down our throats by petulant politicians,” said Robert Shay.

Shay said all the toll talk is enough to make him relocate.

“I will probably move because you are not allowing me to get out of state without paying a toll,” said Shay.

“Move,” said Redmond resident Andrew Acker in response. He is one of the few who spoke in favor of the idea. “We need to make money and make better bridges and roads,” he said.

Acker supports tolls, saying it is better than raising the state’s gas tax.

“I think they should toll both bridges, but a dollar each way,” said Acker.

Acker’s suggestion of a $1 toll was posed to WSDOT.

“A dollar won’t meet our needs. We have a gap from 520 (Bridge) of $1.4 billion,” said Stone.

WSDOT said if the money isn’t raised somehow, the west end of the 520 Bridge replacement project is in jeopardy.

“It is ludicrous to fund one corridor to support another financial corridor’s misstep,” said Woodinville resident Paul Cowles.

“You are going to drive more drivers to take other routes and create congestion in other places,” expressed one man.

It wasn’t an open mic forum but many still expressed their frustrations at lawmakers in Olympia.

“I will say it to your face: You’re gutless,” said Shay.

“I expected it to be an input meeting but it was more of an information meeting,” said Bellevue resident Kelly Erhlich.

WSDOT says nothing is a done deal and they are urging people to attend Thursday’s meeting at Yesler Community Center from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. If not, make a comment online — Click here to comment  – so lawmakers will get your opinion

Another round of hearings will be held in November. WSDOT will submit its environmental study by the end of the year. Lawmakers could vote in 2014 and, if approved, I-90 tolls will start late 2015 or early 2016.

Local News
01/29/13

State agency gets an earful over I-90 tolling idea

i-90MERCER ISLAND — Opposition to placing tolls on the Interstate 90 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue was in clear evidence Tuesday night at the Washington State Department of Transportation’s first public meeting on the idea.

The meeting was held from 4-7 p.m. at the Mercer Island Community Center. WSDOT said state lawmakers have asked the agency to study the environmental, financial and other impacts of tolling I-90.

More than 100 people packed the community center to try to voice their opposition and their anger.

They came with signs, petitions and even cash to help finance a grass-roots movement against the proposal.

“I live on Mercer Island. It is terribly unfair. There has got to be another way to fund the highway system,” said Beth Brenner.

Tolling on I-90 would raise more than $1 billion. But many of the Mercer Island residents at the meeting expressed disbelief that tolling would even be considered on the span.  Many were also angry at how Tuesday night’s event was set up; people thought they would be able to voice their concerns, but instead they were asked to write down their comments.

Many residents, like Terry Coe, were expecting an open mic forum. Coe said it was a violation of his First Amendment rights. He pulled down from one wall a paper WSDOT sign asking people not to distribute materials at the event.

“It’s offensive,” said Coe.

And many told WSDOT exactly how they felt during a limited question and answer session.

“The whole system was no toll, but bit by bit by bit you lied to the population,” yelled one man.

Another, Mercer Island resident Fred Weiss, said that “95 percent thinks it should not be tolled. We’ve been told for the last 40 years it wouldn’t be tolled.”

“It sounds like we need to get to our legislators now, and it is not too early,” said one woman.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh Mercer Island, there is a lot of wealth there.’ But there is a lot of retired people here; look in this room,” said resident Marilyn Wellnatz.

“I’m really upset; I am ready to march,” said Brenner.

A grass-roots movement is in full swing against any attempt to place tolls on the Interstate 90 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue.  It is called No Toll on I-90.

“Clearly there are effects on the economy, and so I appreciate the concerns; that is why we are going through the process,” said WSDOT official Craig Stone.

Additional public meetings will be held at Bellevue City Hall Jan. 30 from 4-7 p.m. and at the Yesler Community Center in Seattle on Jan. 31 from 4-7 p.m.

There is also an online open house for public comment. Click here to comment on I-90 tolling.

WSDOT will turn in its final report by end of this year in time for the Legislature to consider in 2014. If approved by lawmakers, tolling on I-90 could begin as early as late 2015.

I-90bridgeSEATTLE — Drivers who might be affected by a proposal to impose tolls on the Interstate 90 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue can provide comments until Feb. 22 for  a state study assessing the issue.

Last Tuesday marked the beginning of a 30-day comment period for proposed tolling on I-90. The public comment period ends at midnight Feb. 22.

During the 30-day period, the Washington State Department of Transportation will also host three public meetings to take comments:

– Tuesday, Jan. 29, 4-7 p.m., Mercer Island Community Center, 8236 SE 24th St., Mercer Island.

– Wednesday, Jan. 30, 4-7 p.m., Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. NE, Bellevue.

– Thursday, Jan. 31, Yesler Community Center, 917 E. Yesler Way, Seattle.

An online open house for public comment is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/tolling/i90/onlinescoping

Those interested may also submit comments by email I90EAcomments@wsdot.wa.gov

Or by traditional mail to:

Angela Angove

999 Third Ave., Suite 2200,

Seattle, WA 98104

Mailed comments must be postmarked by Feb. 22.

I90

Courtesy WSDOT

SEATTLE — The Washington State Department of Transportation is asking the public to comment about possible tolling on Interstate-90 in a public comment period open between Jan. 22 and Feb. 22.

The state is studying the environmental effects of adding tolls to I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue as a method to help balance traffic across Lake Washington while generating revenue to help complete SR 520 construction, state officials said. The state DOT is asking the public to comment on a range of issues, including traffic impact.

The State Legislature will use the study and comments to decide on whether or not to authorize the project.

Interested individuals can comment online by emailing I90EAComments@wsdot.wa.gov, or in person at one of meetings for public comments will be held later this month:

  • Jan. 29 - Mercer Island Community Center, 8236 SE 24th St, Mercer Island  Get directions
  • Jan. 30 - Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave NE, Bellevue  Get directions
  • Jan. 31 -  Yesler Community Center, 917 E. Yesler Way, Seattle  Get directions 

i90SEATTLE — The I-90 bridge is one of two major arteries across Lake Washington and it’s the only free option. Now the Washington State Department of Transportation is asking if there should be a toll there, too.

“We’re just beginning a study,” said Craig Stone, the WSDOT’s assistant secretary for tolling. “The Legislature asked us to start this process. We’ll look at it. There’s no predetermined decision here.”

WSDOT has two issues to consider. Tolling on the State Route 520 Bridge diverted 15,000 more cars onto the I-90 bridge, something the agency says needs to be balanced. The bigger bump in the road is finding funds to close the $1.2 billion gap to finish the new 520 Bridge. Tolling might be a necessary evil.

“We’re not getting more funds from Washington, D.C., from the federal government to complete our projects,” Stone said. “So, really the state of Washington, either through traditional sources, such as a gas tax or looking at tolls as a direct user fee, (may be needed) to help pay for that bridge.”

Tara Craig is one of 10,000 people who received a survey from WSDOT asking their opinion about future tolls. She was shocked when she opened her mailbox to find the letter.

“That is frustrating,” Craig said. “Yes, it’s a lot of money. I know I’ve talked with a few friends and people are contemplating moving one way or another based on the tolls, and I know people have already started doing that.”

She’s not the only concerned commuter who has to cross the lake.

Mercer Island resident Ash Hawkey said, “We can’t not drive on them. There’s no alternative option. I don’t have a plane or a boat.”

Zachary Price is a Seattle resident who drives to Bellevue every day for work. He said, “I take I-90 and on days traffic is really heavy, I take 520 because it seems like there’s less traffic.”

This survey is only the beginning. More questions must be answered before WSDOT makes a recommendation to the 2014 Legislature.

To take part in this public comment session between Jan. 22 and Feb. 22, visit http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/tolling/i90

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