I expect very few Mercer Islanders to agree with the following.
I-90 should be tolled and Mercer Islanders should set an example of good citizenship by working with WSDOT on the issue.
This is why.
Reason #1: Our political philosophy for the last 30 years has been to reduce the size of government, reduce taxes and have people pay for the parts of government they use. For example, the state and federal support for higher education in the state of Washington fell by 14.5 percent from the 2010-11 to 2011-12 school years.
When we elected people who espoused this way of thinking, we heard, “More money in our pockets” or “Government is bad,” not “Tuition is going up; bridges are falling down; there is no money.” It is now, “You use it; you pay for it.”
That is the way it is, and it’s time to deal with our choices.
Reason #2: Let us suppose that funds for the SR-520 bridge were not found and the state chose not to rebuild it. If we think traffic across the I-90 bridge is congested now, what would it be like if all the traffic between Seattle and Bellevue used only that bridge? Would we really prefer a “one bridge solution?”
Reason #3: Mercer Islanders are very wealthy compared to the rest of the state. Look at the statistics:
Governmental Entity Estimated Median Household Income for 2010:
• State of Washington – $54,8882
• King County – $65,3832
• Mercer Island – $145,7743
It is very difficult for taxpayers outside the City of Mercer Island to support helping us pay for bridges they don’t use when we are so well off.
Other Washington residents are paying for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge via tolls. There are plans to toll the SR-99 tunnel through Seattle and discussions to toll I-5. Why should we get special treatment?
Reason #4: We could spend a lot of time, money and energy fighting the tolls either in the courts or through the political process. But is this a wise use of our money? I don’t know our chances in court, but considering the current political climate, the chances of changing the minds of state legislators are slim.
Might our tax monies and energies be better spent on negotiating a tolling system that takes into account that we must go off Island for many services and that local businesses may be affected negatively?
Would we rather spend Mercer Island tax dollars on litigation, lawyers and consultants or on bicycle paths, parks and emergency response equipment?
Good things can come from tolling. The first positive result of tolling would be fewer people coming from Bellevue to use the Mercer Island park-and-ride.
Traffic congestion on the I-90 bridge would decrease as some commuters return to using SR-520.
Other positive results might be the strengthening and diversifying of our businesses as Islanders choose to use on-Island resources instead of paying tolls.
We could develop sophisticated carpooling systems and discover ways to increase bus ridership. We could save the tolls and the environment at the same time.
We might be motivated to find the means to create affordable housing for school district and city employees so they can actually be a part of our community.
These are just a few ideas, but with all the talent on the Island, we could come up with many more.
Best of all, we could be a model for the rest of the state in how to be responsible for the choices we have made and demonstrate how to come together to as a community to create something positive out of a challenging situation.