Opinion

City of Mercer Island I-90 tolling update | Island Forum

Although Mercer Island’s recent collective actions have slowed the legislature’s rush to toll I-90, the state continues to press in that direction. We urge you to attend the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) meeting at Mercer Island High School on Monday, Oct. 21, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. to express your views. Visit WSDOT’s I-90 tolling website for details.

As far back as October 2008, when the City of Mercer Island reaffirmed its concern over the potential impacts of tolling I-90 (Resolution 1402), your local government has engaged decisively in the issue on behalf of its citizens.

The WSDOT has proposed tolling of I-90 as a means to fund budget shortfalls on the new state highway 520 bridge. But the proposal will result in disproportionate adverse impacts to residents, employees, the local economy, the school district, city government, religious institutions, and all people who have no choice but to use I-90. As a result, the city vigorously opposes the I-90 tolling plan. Ultimately, any final tolling decision must be made by the state Legislature and approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). While residents should be assured that the city has made its opinions known, it is equally important that the public continues to speak up in opposition.

By way of background, the city’s actions have been coordinated by an I-90 Steering Committee  — Mayor Bassett, Deputy Mayor Grausz and Councilmember Bertlin — and informed by a three-prong strategy approved by the Council in March, delivering notable results in seven months.

1. We assembled a strong campaign team that provides expert legal representation, governmental affairs consulting and analysis of federal tolling rules. This has led to: support from U.S. Representative Adam Smith and state legislators; an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) instead of a simple Environmental Assessment (EA), due in 2015; and meetings in Washington, D.C., with the FHWA, the EPA, and members of Congress.

2. We use a regional approach, working with other local governments to support transportation funding options. The city has obtained: a joint letter from 12 mayors to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) asking for a study of funding alternatives; unanimous support from the 35-member Sound Cities Association; and a state bill (initiated by Sen. Litzow and supported by Rep. Clibborn) requiring WSDOT to undertake the full EIS study of its tolling proposal and explore non-toll funding sources.

3. We launched an active public information program that includes email updates to residents, reports at nearly every Council meeting, and public presentations. (Credit must also go to the ‘No Toll on I-90’ citizens group for their tireless outreach efforts.)

What comes next:

a) The public meeting on Oct. 21 is part of the full EIS process, which WSDOT expects to complete in about a year.

b) A special legislative session for transportation funding will likely be held in December 2013.

c) The city will keep a close eye on the upcoming PSRC study of regional tolling and alternative transportation funding options.

Mayor Bruce Bassett

Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz

Councilmember Debbie Bertlin

 

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