Toll protections are a must for Mercer Island community
I have called Mercer Island my home for more than 40 years. Before joining the legislature, I served for years as a city councilmember and mayor. I am so proud to represent my fellow Islanders in Olympia, and I wear my community on my sleeve every day as a legislator.
That is why I have introduced legislation that will help protect Islanders from the impact of tolling on I-90.
There is no question that tolling will disproportionately affect those of us who live on Mercer Island. Left unaccompanied by safeguards for residents, this could fundamentally change the character of our community. I believe, like you, that something must be done to mitigate the impact of these tolls.
The current tolling plan only involves the floating bridge section of I-90, which would ensure a free exit eastward towards Bellevue. More needs to be done to expand this freedom of mobility for Mercer Islanders.
The bill I am sponsoring compels the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to consider measures to protect residents of Mercer Island when implementing tolls on I-90. It also lays out three specific recommendations for how to achieve that protection.
The first would allow Washington citizens to cross one tolled section without having to pay the fee. This straightforward approach is the most basic, but would still ensure that we have at least one way to leave the island without being hit with toll fees.
The second would let Islanders select one direction of the bridge to be exempt from paying a toll. This would protect those living on Mercer Island who have to leave every day to go to Seattle or Bellevue to work or get children to school. It would also provide each of us with the flexibility to choose which direction is best for us personally.
The final option would be to only charge drivers the toll if they crossed the full span of the I-90 Bridge from Bellevue to Seattle. This would protect daily commuters on and off Mercer Island while at the same time reducing through traffic
WSDOT would also be empowered to consider other methods of mitigating the impacts of tolling. This would include many of the positive ideas that have come from the Mercer Island community, such as a maximum monthly or annual amount regardless of how often we leave the island.
With proper mitigation for Mercer Island residents, tolling could actually have a positive impact on our community. All of the other drivers that have been using I-90 as a way to avoid 520 tolls will return to using the best route for them – meaning significantly less traffic running through our community every day.
The decision to toll I-90 was set in motion in 2009, and reversing course at this stage is unlikely to occur at the legislative level. Approval will still need to be sought out from the federal government, and – at least currently – implementation is in the hands of WSDOT, but the discussion is all but settled in Olympia.
The legislature will pass an authorization for tolls on I-90, either with my amendments or over my objections. I will, however, do everything within my power to protect my fellow Islanders from the impacts of these tolls – starting with this legislation and continuing with whatever needs to be done.
Representative Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is the Chair of the House Transportation Committee and has represented the 41st legislative district since 2003.