On a cold winter night in 1969, the Mercer Island Planning Commission trudged through knee-deep snow to their meeting at Shorewood to hear their planning consultant (me and my firm) tell them about a brand-new provision in federal freeway funding that authorized the engagement of design teams to mitigate the impact of freeways through urban areas.
At that time, the Washington Highway Department had plans approved for I-90 across Mercer Island that called for a 12-lane interchange at Island Crest! Seizing on this new provision, the Commission voted to recommend to the City Council that approval of the 12-lane interchange be revoked and to demand a design team. The City Council quickly did just that, so informing the highway department. The Council stood up to that department’s threats and bullying, and voila, a design team was funded, work progressed and Islanders hosted just six lanes, mostly invisible below grade.
The moral? That Planning Commission and City Council refused to kow-tow to the state, protected its citizens, and got a far better deal for its courage.
Fast forward to 2013. Once again, the highway department, now WSDOT, wants to penalize Mercer Island with a cockamamie plan to impose tolls on I-90. Where is the present Council? Are they going to cave in like abandoning our reversible lane access? Like the Park and Ride lot that no Islander can use? Or do they have the courage, like the 1969 Council, to adamantly reject the tolling proposal, enforcing that rejection with, say, a resolution to blockade I-90 at the West and East Mercer ramps to make their point?
What about our state legislative delegation? Representative Clibborn would not be chair of the House Transportation Committee if Islanders had not voted her into office to represent Island interests first and foremost. Same for state Senator Litzow, who should quit grandstanding and devote his considerable energies to protecting Islander interests by adamantly opposing tolling I-90.
The next few months are critical. The City Council should employ every tool to defeat the tolling proposal. Example: Employ our U.S. Congressional delegation to enforce the rule that the state can’t impose a toll on an interstate highway built with federal funds to pay for a state highway to which it doesn’t even connect.
What can Islanders do? Go to the city’s website. Bury the Council with emails demanding they get their backs up. Email Clibborn and Litzow your demands. Flood the Reporter with letters to keep up the pressure. We can win this thing!
George A. Smith