What Islanders have feared and fretted about for some time looks like it might become come true. Tolling. It won’t be in place until 2015, giving all parties plenty of time to hash out the details both large and small. To be sure, there will be lots of discussion and angst, much of it centering around what Islanders believe is their special status as Island dwellers.
For Islanders, I-90 is both a lifeline and a conduit to prosperity; a nuisance and a benefit. In some ways, Islanders have already paid their fair share by giving up a huge swath of the Island to the interstate. Yet that was some 75 years ago. Now, without the access to Seattle and Bellevue that I-90 provides, it would certainly be less attractive to live here.
There are many questions to answer. First, of course, what will Islanders pay, if anything, to cross the bridge? But details like the placement of the tolls will be key. What about parking? Will even more drivers come from the east to park here and get on the bus to avoid tolls?
And what about the Island economy? What about employees who commute to the Island to work for the city, our schools and businesses? What will tolls do to businesses that wish to attract others to come and shop or dine on Mercer Island — from Island Books to Bennett’s, to medical offices and even the Thrift Shop? Will potential shoppers be willing to pay a toll to drive to the Island and back? What about the cost to employers? Will they need to compensate for those tolls in higher paychecks and higher prices? For property owners, tolling could affect vacancy rates. What will happen to the large commercial buildings along S.E. 36th Street that have been empty for some time? Will potential tenants be discouraged from moving a business here? Such impacts will need to be part of the tolling equation.
Alternatively, there will be benefits from tolling. More people will take transit, or make fewer trips, cutting down on pollution. Tolling here should ease traffic diverted from SR-520. Many will perhaps choose to live here and fill apartments and condos. More residents and commuters will hopefully linger in the Town Center to shop and dine.
One thing is certain. Affixing a little sticker to an Islander car windshield will be anything but easy.