Island Forum | Only SR-520 drivers should be tolled for bridge replacement

Mike Cero
Island Forum

I recently attended a meeting with about 25 councilmembers from the Puget Sound Region. A topic of discussion was developing a SR-520 replacement bridge tolling policy. I was surprised at the initial interest for early tolling of both 520 and I-90.

Additionally, the 520 Tolling Implementation Committee’s Draft Tolling Report to the legislature (Jan. 8) does not accurately express Islanders’ feelings. The report reads that the city of Mercer Island supports tolls on I-90 after the center roadway transit conversion is complete or if Islanders or traffic to the Island are exempted.

Do not be lulled into thinking that a toll exempting Mercer Islanders is in our interests. A policy exempting Islanders weakens the voting bloc allied against I-90 tolling. The political reality is that any derivative of I-90 tolls simply delays full tolling until the next legislative assembly. Mercer Island consists of 20 percent of I-90 traffic. How will we protect a toll exemption as the other 80 percent watch Islanders get a free pass through electronic counters? Throw in a couple of cost overruns, and Islanders will have a very difficult time preserving a legislative-enacted exemption.

The 520 Implementation Committee was chartered to look only at tolling as a funding mechanism. Without tolling I-90, SR-520 can still be built with only SR-520 tolls or with SR-520 tolls and other funding ideas, i.e. exempting state sales tax from construction.

An I-90 toll will devastate our school district’s financial model. Even if citizens wanted to offset teachers’ toll expense, the “Levy Lid” prevents any additional local taxing. All but a handful of our civil servants live off Island. As the only route on and off the Island, tolling I-90 will create unfair hardships for Islanders and those working on the Island.

It is unfair for all users of I-90 to pay for SR-520. An I-90 toll is unfair for those who transport goods across Mercer Island or to Mercer Island. Ultimately, this will result in higher product costs for everyone. We should not let the human tendency to find someone else to pay for projects to overshadow the fairness of a financing system.

My reading of the “tea leaves” is that Islanders should be wary of inevitable Olympic wrangling that may evolve to an I-90 tolling scenario. I urge you to register your feeling that SR-520 should be financed by the users of SR-520 and not the users of I-90. I-90 and SR-520 are separate corridors serving independent destinations and purposes. Compared to an I-90 toll, SR-520 toll diversions to I-90 are inconsequential to our quality of life.

The legislature is in long session and has about a month remaining. Like many Islanders, I am concerned that the legislature might toll I-90 to help pay for the SR-520 bridge. Fortunately, our Representative Judy Clibborn, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is in an influential position to voice Mercer Island concerns.

Help our legislative team stay on target: e-mail your 41st District legislators, Jarrett.Fred@leg.wa.gov; Maxwell.Marcie@leg.wa.gov; Clibborn.Judy@leg.wa.gov, as well as Senate and House leaders, Chopp.Frank@leg.wa.gov, Brown.Lisa@leg.wa.gov, and tell them “no tolls on I-90.”

Mike Cero is a Mercer Island City Councilmember.

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