In her recent Mercer Island Reporter piece, Representative Judy Clibborn claims concern about the effects that I-90 tolling will have on Mercer Island residents, businesses and employees. However, her expressed concern about the deleterious effects of I-90 tolling on Mercer Island is seriously undercut by her roll-out of a $10 billion transportation funding package that allocates not a single dime towards SR-520 construction. Instead, a $1.4 billion funding shortfall will be borne entirely by those travelling on I-90.
To decrease that burden, Rep. Clibborn has sponsored HB 1945, outlining possible I-90 toll protection for MI residents. Yet, the bill only directs WSDOT to “explore options to mitigate any disproportionate impact” of tolling. Presently unknown are where this exploration will lead and whether or not that mitigation will be permanent. Once tolling is established, the same gantries that offer free passage one year can be easily reprogrammed, at the drop of a budgetary shortfall the next year, to collect full fare from all travelers.
Furthermore, by appearing to mitigate Mercer Islanders’ I-90 tolling concerns, HB 1945 undermines the need for a full environmental impact study to comprehensively analyze the impacts of tolling I-90 on the entire Puget Sound region and I-90 corridor.
Additionally, Rep. Clibborn’s claim that the current tolling plan involves tolling only the floating section of I-90 is contradicted by a WSDOT presentation in the 2008 SR-520 Tolling Implementation Committee Report, in which segmented tolls, both on the east and west approaches of MI, are offered as alternatives 3 and 4 (www.wsdot.wa.gov/Partners/Build520/documents/FINALOpenHousePresentation_Nov08.pdf). Indeed, the current WSDOT website (www.wsdot.wa.gov/Tolling/I90/I90EALocation.htm) shows three potential gantry sites, including the East Channel Bridge. At the Jan. 7, 2013, Mercer Island City Council meeting, WSDOT’s tolling director, Craig Stone, and Judy Clibborn offered no clarification on the final plans.
Unfortunately, users of I-90 do not know what to believe. In her recent MIR article (March 6, 2013), Rep. Clibborn states, “The decision to toll I-90 was set in motion in 2009…” Yet, in early 2008, Rep. Clibborn sponsored ESHB 3096, which required WSDOT to work with FHWA “to determine what steps would be needed to toll the Interstate 90 bridge,” not the floating bridge. Then, in the Seattle Times on March 13, 2009, she declares that tolling I-90 “…isn’t on the table and it won’t be,” since it would be unfair to force drivers using one bridge to pay for something they are not using (http://o.seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008739571_520bridge13m.html).
Mercer Island employees, students, residents and all who use I-90, from Seattle to Spokane, are owed the truth. Judy Clibborn’s mitigation proposal is no solution for Mercer Island, just as tolling I-90 is neither an answer for a pervasive shortage of transportation funding or for traffic congestion. Funneling of funds from an existing interstate to fund another project sets no limit on expenditures, establishing a flawed precedent for the entire country. Piecemeal tolling, adding portions of roads to the tolling menu, will increase congestion as drivers shift routes seeking less expensive options. A better solution would be state and regional transportation funding packages that spread costs more broadly, accompanied by trimming unnecessary expenditures.
I-90 users must not resign themselves to the unprecedented tolling of an existing interstate highway to fund another project. The decision to toll I-90 may have been set into motion, but we must let our legislators hear that such a precedent is unacceptable.
Eva Zemplenyi is the co-chair of NotollI90.org.