City says fight against tolling on I-90 is yielding results

The city believes that it has made positive steps toward stopping tolling on I-90.

After the City Council agreed to a comprehensive work plan earlier this year with a $150,000 budget, the city began working on blocking the tolling proposal on several fronts.

The city hired outside attorneys and lobbyists to work with government officials to insist that a hard look must be taken regarding the impacts of tolls on Islanders and to demand that other sources of revenue for finishing SR-520 be fully explored before turning to tolls.

City officials are pleased to report that a full EIS will now be part of the process.

A bill initiated by Sen. Steve Litzow and supported by Rep. Judy Clibborn, which requires a full Environmental Impact Statement on the tolling proposal, passed the Legislature prior to the end of the regular session.

The city has also reached out to other cities that will be affected by tolling.

To that regard, the city produced a ‘Regional Tolling Study’ letter sent to Seattle, Bellevue and other communities, as well as three states and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), asking that tolling be studied in a systemwide manner and alternative funding options be explored.

Via email, City Councilman Dan Grausz updated Islanders recently about the progress of the Island effort.

“There have been many encouraging developments that you should be aware of in the city’s efforts to prevent unfair tolls on Interstate 90,”  he said. “We are in a very different place now than we were only a few months ago.”

One effect of the new law that will require a comprehensive EIS is that such a study will likely not be completed until the end of 2014 or even 2015.

“Until that EIS is completed, there cannot be any decision to implement tolling,” Grausz wrote.

Another positive development is the banding together of other communities that will be affected by I-90 tolling, Grausz said.

“We have been able to get the public support of almost every Puget Sound local government for a comprehensive study that will look at options to I-90 tolling as part of an analysis of regional transportation projects and needs,” the Councilman wrote.

“While some of these governments do support tolling, they all recognize that the state’s proposal is not the way forward and that funding for regional transportation needs cannot be done on a piecemeal basis,” Grausz said.

The city also continues to work with the Federal Highway Administration through legal consultants and a lobbyist.

It will be expensive. Treat acknowledged that the original $150,000 set aside for the work plan has now been spent.

But Grausz remains optimistic.

“What this shows is that with the right policies, with dedicated, professional and qualified people, with a willingness to talk with others and not at them, with a policy of always seeking to find common ground with our regional partners, and with the conviction of our beliefs, we can make progress to ensure that people living and working on Mercer Island are not the victims of unfair tolling,” he said.



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