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Plan to fight tolls will cost big bucks

By MARY L. GRADY
Mercer Island Reporter Editor
March 5, 2013 · 10:34 AM
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The City of Mercer Island is planning to fight the possible tolling of Interstate 90 with a combination of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants.

The Council has already declared that it believes tolling of I-90 is unfair for Islanders, and possibly illegal.

The city sent a 22-page letter to the Washington state Department of Transportation, largely written by attorney Bill Chapman of K&L Gates, who has been hired by the city to help in the effort.

The city argues that WSDOT must go beyond the abbreviated environmental assessment process (EA) to a full environmental impact statement (EIS) to clearly evaluate the impacts of tolling and explore other options available to fund the State Route 520 Evergreen Point bridge.

However, the letter is just a first step in a process that the city proposes to defeat tolling here.

Beyond the cost and impact of tolls, Councilmembers and others question if tolling of an interstate highway can be used to pay for a state highway corridor.

Assistant City Manager Noel Treat presented a initial work plan that was discussed by the Council at its Feb. 25 meeting. However, the Council did not reach an agreement on a final plan and city staff was directed to work as had been discussed so far. The discussion was to continue Monday night, March 4, after Reporter deadline.

What is certain, however, is that the city is looking to hire outside expertise to deal with I-90 tolling on at least three fronts.

The council authorized the hiring of Chapman, an environmental law attorney, to represent the city in WSDOT’s EA process.

In addition to environmental law counsel, the Work Plan calls for the city to hire “additional experts necessary to best advocate Mercer Island citizens’ interests.”

These experts would include:

• Technical experts in economic impact and traffic analysis to advise the city during the WSDOT environmental impact process. Treat said the process will likely involve two separate firms.

• A federal transportation law and/or lobbying expert to address federal approval of tolling.

• A state lobbyist to advocate the city’s interests with the state Legislature.

• A communication/government affairs expert to assist in developing strategy, outreach, messaging and coalition building.

Treat placed a preliminary estimate for this work in 2013 at $150,000. But, he allowed, it is difficult to be precise.

People who attended the meeting felt the need for money, too. Eva Zemplenyi and Lisa Belden, both associated with notolloni90.org, asked for help for their organization in its campaign to prevent tolls on the interstate.

Islander Dennis Foehl asked the Council why there was such an effort to defeat tolling when he said that he had heard government officials say that “tolling I-90 was a done deal.”

Adam Smith said tolling was going through and Judy Clibborn said it was going through, he said.

“Why all of this? Why do I know this and you don’t know this?” he asked. “

The Council did not vote on the work plan, but delayed other items on the agenda to talk more about it instead.

City submits 22-page comment letter on I-90 to WSDOT

The city is advocating for its citizens’ interests in the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tolling study. You can learn more about the WSDOT study at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Tolling/I90.

The city has hired the law firm of K&L Gates to represent it in the study and filed a comment letter with WSDOT on Feb. 22. In that letter, the city advocates for completion of a full Environmental Impact Statement and discusses the significant impacts tolling will cause to Mercer Island and the region.

To view the letter, go to www.mercergov.org. For more about tolling I-90, go to www.mercergov.org.

How do tolls on I-90 and SR-520 decades ago compare to now

The recent tolling on SR-520 and consideration of tolling I-90 is not the first time either bridge has been tolled.

Here’s a look at what it used to cost to cross Lake Washington.

• From 1963 to 1979 on SR-520, the original toll  = $0.70 (collected in only one direction)

• $0.70 toll in 1963 = $5.23 in 2012

• From 1940 to 1949, the original (U.S. Highway 10)  I-90 Toll = $0.50

• $0.50 toll in 1940 = $8.17 in 2012

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis CPI calculator, www.minneapolisfed.org.


 

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