The Island of Asa Mercer
The Island of Asa Mercer

The residents of Mercer Island have a pretty sweet deal.  They live in an emerald castle of sorts, surrounded by a moat, which keeps the riffraff out and property values high.  They have a relatively short commute to Seattle OR Bellevue.  They have a bridge across said moat paid for by federal and state taxpayers in both directions.  Finally, they have free access to the HOV lane for their single-occupancy vehicles!  All in all, it’s a helluva place to settle and raise a family if you happen to earn three times the U.S. median household income.

But alas, all is not well on the emerald isle. Tolls are coming. What?! That’s not what’s supposed to happen!  In fact, it’s precisely backwards: the bridge is supposed to keep people out, not keep the islanders locked in! They took the beautiful Castle on a Cloud and turned it into… Alcatraz!

Alas, the moat giveth, the moat taketh away. But I, for one, am at least somewhat sympathetic to the plight of our island-bound friends (soul mates, as they are, in our 206 area code). These folks bought houses under the (perhaps naïve) assumption that they’d have permanent, subsidized access to the mainland in perpetuity and now the rules are being changed.  What, if anything, should we do about it?

The easiest thing to do would be to raise the gas tax and pay for the bridge without tolls.  Since that’s apparently off the table, Mercer Islanders have come up with some of their own solutions, like giving themselves perpetual free (or subsidized) access on and off the island. That doesn’t really seem right or fair, but there are other mitigation steps we might consider.

For example, tolling I-90 probably means tolling one of the two bridges on either side of Mercer Island – the west bridge between Seattle and MI, or the East Bridge between MI and Bellevue.   Toll the Eastern half, and you make it expensive for MI residents to drive to Bellevue, where transit access isn’t awesome.  Toll the West side, and you’ll have a crush of Eastsiders dumping their cars at the over-capacity MI park-and-ride. As it is, half the P&R users live off-island.  In either case, though, there’s one toll-free escape hatch off the island.

On first blush, tolling the West side seems like the winner to me: Mercer Islanders can get to and from Bellevue for free by car, but if they want to come into Seattle, then they’ll either have to pay a toll or use transit.

What to do about the overcrowded park-and-ride?  Expanding it again is probably out of the question.  Pricing the spots would be a worthwhile initiative, but my guess is that it would still fill up even with a modest charge (and an immodest charge would be efficient but politically untenable).

An alternative solution might be to build a second Park and Ride mid-island, in the vicinity of Island Park Elementary, to pick a random spot.  Such a P&R would likely be too inconvenient for Bellevue and Seattle users, but would provide islanders with peak bus access to Seattle and the U-District via the 204/205 (with increased service hours) or transfer at the North end of the island.

Like any major change, there will be some winners and losers with tolling, but people will eventually adapt. Parents will opt to take their kid to the Tae Kwon Do class on the island as opposed to the one in Factoria.  Some trip chaining will occur.  More businesses will open up on-island. Salaries for workers on the island will probably have to increase. And life will go on.

Update 2/4/03 8:25 PM: Ron Judd gives MI residents what for in the Seattle Times, making my post look calm and measured by comparison.

195 Replies to “Mercer Island, I-90 Tolls for Thee”

  1. compromise would be to toll eastbound between mercer island and bellevue and westbound between mercer island and Seattle. this way mercer island residents only have to pay half the tolls they’d pay otherwise.

    1. Why should they get a break? They’re inducing congestion and the need for a damn bridge in the first place. They should pay for their way of life.

      1. How are the people living on Mercer Island inducing congestion on 520 and causing the need for a new 520 Bridge??

        How is collecting 30% of the revenue generated from tolling I-90, for a project like 520, from people that will NEVER use 520, fair?

        Im curious to see what percentage of people that live in Mercer Island that you think use 520 Bridge on a regular basis.

        I have a better solution, raise property taxes on people that live in downtown Bellevue. They will for sure use the bridge more often, shouldn’t the burden be on them?

        I imagine when I90 comes under construction, the people of Mercer Island will be happy to shoulder the burden with a toll. Until then, it makes absolutely no sense to have them pay for 520.

        I use 90 everyday to commute, I personally haven’t used 520 in 5+ years. The thought of paying for a bridge that I will never be on frustrates me. I can only imagine what people on Mercer Island feel like.

      2. 520 and 90 are related corridors. Traffic on one directly impacts the other. Your trip on I-90 may originate on I-90, but your demand for cross-lake service impacts ALL cross-lake demand. Your “me” mentality is repugnant. Pay your fair share!

      3. If you live on Mercer Island, then I90 and 520 are not related corridors. One bridge connects Bellevue and Seattle. The other bridge IS YOUR ONLY way on/off of an island. How on earth could they be related?

        Tolling I90 to move traffic back to 520 only works with the 5-10% of people that are skipping 520 to go to 90. The people that live on Mercer Island would still have to get on and off the island regardless of where the tolls are.

        So when you use the phrase “Pay your fair share!”

        Im curious as to what share they are getting for the payments? The people on Mercer Island would be shouldering quite a bit the burden and they stand to gain almost 0 from it.

        Again, I do not live on Mercer Island. Im just under the belief that when taxes are levied, the government should attempt to target the people that stand to gain the most from the project.

        Im not necessarily arguing against a toll on I90, what I am arguing against is placing a toll on I90 that only benefits the people that take 520. If there is a new toll on 90, I think all the proceeds should go to I90 projects.

        If you want them to “Pay their fair share.” Then allow them to get a “fair share.” 520 is not a fair share for the other 90-95% of people that take I90

      4. Zach: The “I never use the 520 bridge” argument from MI residents would be more compelling if MI residents had paid tolls on the new I-90 westbound span. They did not, though, and their new bridge span was funded by taxpayers all over the state (and country!), so the “it’s not my bridge” argument sounds an awful lot like “I got mine so fuck you”.

      5. Zach, read what I said. Your demand of the bridge directly impacts ALL CROSSLAKE DEMAND OF BOTH BRIDGES. That is how it affects 520. Please do not insult rationality with your unwillingness to accept responsibility and pay your fair share.

      6. @Zach — I think you make a good argument, but I would suggest that this has little to do with fairness. I can think of lots of examples of why this isn’t fair (405, cough, cough). It has everything to do with making a better transportation system. 520 moves much better now because lots of folks find other ways to cross the lake. This helps the overall economy. The folks who do drive pay extra. Likewise, the folks who drive across I-90 contribute to overall congestion. Maybe this wasn’t a big issue before tolls on 520, but it is now. So Mercer Island residents, like everyone else, have to pay to DRIVE across I-90. The obvious alternative is for the resident to take a bus. In other words, if you drive across I-90, you are making things worse for everyone (including those who ride the bus) so you should pay extra.

      7. Honestly,

        I think the people that live on remote islands should pay the state more in taxes then the local people pay, for the basic state services that they require to live.

        There is currently quite a large budget deficit adding up from the required ferry services that places like Orcas Island and the such occur and basically require. Why should taxes be raised for the many people that live in Seattle, for the few people that live on ferry only accessible islands?

        This principal can easily be applied to the Mercer Island situation. Raise the general property taxes for the people that live on mercer island to help maintain the services that they require (namely i90). Im fine with that and Im fine with stopping their HOV lane privileges. What I disagree with is people getting wrongly taxed in any situation.

        Tolling I90 to build 520 is the wrong way to go about. Tolling 90 and or taxing MI to maintain 90 is the right way to go about it. Tax Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond, they are the ones that directly benefit from a new and improved 520.

        @Lack Thereof – As a counter point I would say that, I90 WAS tolled when it was built, once they finished paying off the bridge the toll ended in 1949. When they rebuilt the bridge in 1990-93 (what it is currently today), they had to, the previous one sank. It was fairly imperative to quite a few people that a new bridge be erected as quickly as possible.

        And actually, as a side note, both 520 and 90 had tolls on them when they first opened to pay for their own project. Currently 520 is grossing 50 million dollars a year. I personally think that the state is just trying to double dip on taxes and it has nothing to do with the 520 project. When i90 gets tolled, and it will, dont expect either of these tolls to disappear when the 520 bridge is finished.

      8. Reinstating tolls on the MI bridge rather than upping the property tax, means that the burden hits those who would congest. I doubt the entire population of the island jumps in their car every day without fail to drive across the lake. Many take the bus, and many simply stay on the island over the course of their day.

      9. Zach, you’re trying to shift responsibility away from yourself. You’re playing smoke and mirrors. Toll is a transportation demand management toll, not just a user fee. It controls that demand and eliminates many unnecessary or valueless trips from the network, thereby reducing demand. It also charges people who use the service their fair share. A tax does the inverse. It punishes people who aren’t using it and does not control demand. Again, I-90 and SR-520 are entirely linked. One does not exist without the other. They are the same corridor.

      10. @Eric – lol, as a counter argument, I dont see how taxing the residents of MI for a bridge they do not use is different from tolling the people that use I90 for a bridge they do not use. If your argument is that people of MI do not use the i90 bridge without fail daily. Then certainly you would have to make the argument that they rarely and, more than likely, never use the 520 bridge. So how could tolling i90 to pay for 520 be any fairer then imposing a property tax on mercer island to pay for i90 maintenance? At least in my scenario they have a better chance of using the thing that they are paying for.

        Thoough, calling MI an Alcatraz was a little dramatic to Frank’s point. Im just under the impression there are better solutions that will ring more fair to the people that are actually affected.

      11. @Stephen… do me/yourself/everybody here a huge favor… please read that link that I posted.

        It actually contains all the information that they have collected this past year from tolling 520.

        If you would of read it, you would of seen the first paragraph which reads:

        For fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ended June 30, 2012, the performance of traffic on SR 520 has exceeded
        projections, while gross revenue has remained at or slightly above forecast values. Furthermore, net
        revenues are currently outperforming projections due to lower than projected operating costs as well as
        a contribution from the Lake Washington Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) grant applied to initial
        operating costs. The following is a summary of the FY 2012 performance highlights.

      12. “many simply stay on the island over the course of their day”

        I don’t know as much about Mercer Islanders, but on Vashon even though there are commuters or one person in the family commutes, many people leave the island once a week or even less, because the entire reason they moved there is for island living.

      13. Sorry guys, my post was cut off….

        what I meant to say to Stephen was:

        For fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ended June 30, 2012, the performance of traffic on SR 520 has exceeded projections, while gross revenue has remained at or slightly above forecast values. Furthermore, net revenues are currently outperforming projections due to lower than projected operating costs as well as a contribution from the Lake Washington Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) grant applied to initial operating costs. The following is a summary of the FY 2012 performance highlights.

        -Average daily traffic exceeded forecasts by 18 percent1
        -Adjusted gross revenue exceeded forecasts by 8 percent2
        -Net toll revenue exceeded forecasts by 57 percent3

        There are only two ways across the lake, people that live in downtown/bellevue/kirkland/redmond are not going to take the nightmare that is 405 via kenmore and renton

        They estimate that only about 5% of people switched to I90 from 520 after the toll was put in place. So what? if you put a toll on 90 it just means they switch back to 520. You would still have 120k people using a bridge (520) that was only intended for 65k

        There are 18% more people using the 520 bridge then they anticipated. So if adding a toll to 520 did not alleviate traffic, Im curious why you think that adding a toll to 90 would alleviate traffic on both 90 and 520.

        Im actually giving you all the numbers of why your theory isnt working. So where are you getting your information from? or are you only speaking to theory?

        If you think that the DoT is adding tolls to solely alleviate traffic, you are very mistaken. This is a revenue generator first and foremost.

        Give me numbers Stephen!

      14. Zach,could I ask you to use your last name or choose a handle? First names by themselves only lead to confusion.

      15. When they rebuilt the bridge in 1990-93 (what it is currently today), they had to, the previous one sank. It was fairly imperative to quite a few people that a new bridge be erected as quickly as possible.

        You are mistaken. At the time the original bridge span sank, the new westbound span had already been completed as part of a unrelated I-90 widening project. Its construction was completely unrelated to the sinking. Cross-lake traffic was not interrupted for even a day, as eastbound traffic was diverted onto the express lanes.

        The replacement eastbound span was paid for by insurance of the contractor who had been widening it.

  2. Other island residents have to pay for ferries to get off. Is Whidbey Island Alcatraz too then?

      1. For getting to Seattle, even the ‘free’ bridge options from Bainbridge or Clinton have 85 and 100 mile VMT penalties, respectively. In an average car that’s about $10-15 in gas alone.

      2. @Michael H. Money doesn’t change hands when you leave, but I guarantee the fare to get onto the islands covers both directions.

      3. Correction on the toll-free VMT penalty for Bainbridge: It’s 147 miles, not 85. If you’re that dead-set against tolls, you can’t take the Narrows, you have to drive through Shelton and Olympia.

      4. When I last used my car for a road trip (to Port Angeles), I calculated that despite driving a hybrid that gets 47 miles to the gallon, it was more efficient for me to take the ferry across to Seattle from Bainbridge than drive around. Time, gas, and tolls were more than simply paying the toll to cross.

      5. @Sir Charles, Ah but did you factor in missing a boat? For us, from Hansville if you miss one boat you have lost both time and money. Peak holidays you’ll never get the boat you’re driving down to meet. If you do drive onto an empty boat then WSDOT is running excessive service.

  3. I am surprised by how little many of my fellow Islanders know about the impending changes to I-90. Many are completely unaware that the center lanes are going away in 2016. I expect another backlash when people finally realize what they voted for and I fear more lawsuits from Islanders could further delay construction of East Link. Even the MI City Council has been talking about trying to keep the Express Lanes and SOV access beyond 2016, even after the outer roadway HOV lanes are completed.

    1. Word has it WaDOT is getting cold feet about leasing the lanes to ST. Apparently the bridge and ramp structures are so narrow the new lanes and shoulders for general purpose and HOV traffic wouldn’t be wide enough. The specter of circling trial lawyers once the inevitable accidents occur is starting to spook some in the Dept. Inslee is said to be against the idea, precisely because he was a trial lawyer in E. Washington.

      1. Re: “reduce the speed limit to 50 mph” — In a prior life I represented insurance companies defending vehicle owners involved in accidents, some involving claims against WSDOT for faulty highway design. Reducing the limits to 50 because of an unsafe design would do nothing but highlight the state’s knowledge that it had created an unsafe road corridor. In other words, it would be worse than keeping the limit 55 (from a liability perspective).

        Ben: That’s a pretty common misconception. The document you are talking about is the 1978 Federal Highway Authority “Decision” document that allowed the state to proceed with building the new floating bridge. In exchange for some fed $$, the state agreed the center roadway would remain available “permanently” for rubber-tire vehicle use, with bus public transportation getting priority. In particular, condition number 3 of it says the center roadway must be built and maintained for use by the buses, cars and trucks comprising “Mercer Island traffic”:

        As provided in the MOA, public transportation shall permanently have first priority in the use of the center lanes. The Washington State DOT will assure that general Mercer Island traffic use of the center lanes is controlled to the extent necessary to maintain bus and carpool speeds of 45 mph or greater.

        That 1978 Decision document only refers to rubber-tire types of transit, and it says the state is limited to allowing that kind of use in the center roadway:

        The State proposes to build a unique interstate facility with includes both highway and transit elements, funded with 90% federal funds. The plan consists of six general traffic lanes – 3 eastbound, 3 westbound – and a two-lane center roadway reserved for transit vehicles, carpools, and Mercer Island general traffic.

        Of course the only kind of “transit vehicles” that can share a roadway “reserved for” carpools and the general traffic to and from Mercer Island are buses and vans.

      2. Boy, Hornsby, I’m so glad you’re here to fill in for the Supreme Court!

        How about we let the lawyers fight this one out, hmm?

      3. Lowering the speed limit was always part of the plan after the outside HOV lanes were complete. I just don’t drive I-90 enough to remember if the current speed limit is 55 or 60mph so I’m not sure if the new speed limit was set to be 50 or 55. If you can find a rendering of the trains in the center roadway and look closely you’ll see the reduced speed limit signs in place.

      4. Boy, Hornsby, I’m so glad you’re here to fill in for the Supreme Court!

        Good one! My opinions of course only are my own . . .. I expect that if there’s a lawsuit based on what that 1978 fed funding agreement says the MI residents would lose, mainly because all the public sector interests that signed it would just agree to modify it. Who knows though — it could be a court would hold that the MI residents have some vested legal interests to continued use of the center roadway (with bus traffic getting priority of course). It’s an open question. Thing is though, if WSDOT decides the liability risks of going ahead with R8A stage 3 and then leasing the center roadway to ST are too great it could just refuse to lease those lanes. That’s how I read it anyway . . . it’s not like the feds can force WSDOT to hand the roadway over — I’m sure of that.

        Bernie — here ya go! Don’t see any speed signs though . . .

      5. Cold Feet? I think not, Hornsby. If WSDOT had cold feet, then they would not have already signed an airspace lease with Sound Transit for the center lanes that takes effect when the HOV conversion is complete. Sorry for the bad ferry pun, but this ship has sailed.

      6. Hi Railcan — the airspace lease has not been signed, only the umbrella agreement. That happened in Nov. 2012. But I only have that information 2nd hand. Do you know for a fact the airspace lease was signed? It would be great to see that document, and the umbrella agreement. TIA, Hornsby.

      7. Bernie — here ya go! Don’t see any speed signs though .

        No, it’s a rendering, as in made to look like real life. It was on the cover of one of ST’s East Link documents. Ah, it was used as a photo for a STB post. “55 Stay Alive!” Those were the days. Look at the scale of those buses; like the 3rd one in the distance next to the lorry. And it looks like a wrong way driver in a trunk, forground of the west bound lanes.

      8. Bernie, that area is now a variable speed zone. The speed limit is commonly below 50mph. There is an image on google Streetview that has the variable message signs at the west portal of the lid showing 40mph.

      9. The first lawsuit Kemper & Co. brought against using the center lanes for Link was rejected by the justices as being not ripe. I’m sure many on this blog think everything Kemper does is “ripe” but in the judicial sense it meant they declined to rule on the case because the decision had not yet been made. The second suit the courts ruled in favor of ST so I have to assume that a deal had come to fruition. I believe an MOU between WSDOT and ST. In any event, ST’s funding of the R8A project was conditioned on the premise of being allowed to take the center roadway for East Link.

      10. Hey railcan — I smell a little white lie out of you … Bernie’s got some arguments about why an airspace lease might have been signed, but you railcan say it WAS signed. Look, I’m a lawyer and I’m trained to smell out episodes of “stretching the truth”. You have some evidence the airspace lease was signed? Provide it. Bernie’s right about an MOU being signed, that was the term sheet that WaDOT and ST signed in early 2010. But the airspace lease . . . well, let’s just say if it existed we all would know about it. You gonna try backing up what you posted, railcan?

      11. Hornsby, I find it hard to believe that WSDOT is suddenly spooked about narrow lanes and shoulders on the bridges and ramps. They’ve been working under that assumption for about 8-10 years. Something other than the Governor would have to have changed.

        By the way, the 1978 FHWA Record of Decision isn’t the only one guiding the future of I-90. FHWA issued another one for the I-90 Two-way Transit and HOV Project in 2004 that addresses the narrower lanes and shoulders directly. FTA issued one for that project also.

      12. IIRC, there is in fact a document requiring the center lanes to be available for rail service. And yes, the Feds can force WSDOT to transfer the center lanes to Sound Transit if the Feds want to — that’s what the Eminent Domain power of the federal government means, and it has been used against states in the past.

      13. per Paul: FHWA issued another one for the I-90 Two-way Transit and HOV Project in 2004 that addresses the narrower lanes and shoulders directly. FTA issued one for that project also.

        Right, and that RoD specified that if there were to be HOV lanes added on the outside of the two spans the center roadway would remain in its current configuration (e.g., reversible operations, alternating east- and west-bound depending on the time of day). To the extent WSDOT goes ahead with that new 10-lane configuration the separate decision of whether or not to hand over the center roadway portion to Sound Transit remains unresolved.

        Apparently there’s an Umbrella Agreement now that’s several months old. Can you link to that Paul? That may help clarify things.

        To the poster suggesting that the feds could use eminent domain powers to take the property Sound Transit would need from the state of Washington and then hand it over to Sound Transit for trains . . . um, well, that’d be a non-starter. The power of the federal government to obtain property by eminent domain is limited to situations where the federal government needs the property for its uses. The federal government can not condemn a state’s property because a municipality wants to use it. Thanks for posting though!

      14. Yes Paul, the feds did issue that RoD. And that is the project — East Link — that WaDOT has cold feet about now.

        More than one source is saying East Link is a non-starter. Apparently the new Umbrella Agreement has no teeth that Sound Transit can use to impose a timeline to get the property, it leaves WaDOT free to back out, etc. Why don’t you try to get your hands on a copy and post it. Make yourself useful!

      15. Why don’t you make yourself useful Hornsby and do your own research? You’re the one who wants to read it.

        In the meantime, why don’t you substantiate your assertions that WSDOT is getting cold feet? Tell us about your sources. Why should anyone pay attention to them?

      16. @Paul:

        1) I was asked to keep quiet about my friend’s identity. The proof that I’m right about this is there for everyone to see — the R8A Stage 3 contracts haven’t been signed by WSDOT and the RoD is 9 years old. Anyone with half a brain can see WSDOT is dragging its feet. Except you. Hey, maybe you’re [ad-hom]!

        2) I’ve tried to get that Umbrella Agreement to look it over and I can’t. You’re posting about this topic — I figured you might have some useful information. Guess not . . ..

      17. The fact that there isn’t yet a R8A Stage 3 contract advertised for bid plus the fact that the ROD is 9 years old does not necessarily mean WSDOT is dragging their feet. If all the funding doesn’t materialize quickly, projects don’t get finished quickly. Anyone with half a brain can figure that out. Look at the SR 509 completion project. WSDOT has been sitting on that ROD for almost 10 years now and they haven’t done much more than buy right of way and produce a few studies trying to figure out how they can pay for it. Do they have cold feet? Of course not.

        Over the past nine years, WSDOT hasn’t been sitting on their hands. They built Stage 1 and Stage 2. R8A Stage 3 did not get fully funded until ST agreed to pay for it late in 2011. It isn’t a simple widening project. The work inside the tunnels is fairly complex. I’m sure your friend has explained this to you. The project is scheduled to start in 2014.

        Too bad your pursuit of the Umbrella Agreement has not been successful. I see it referenced in the State Supreme Court proceedings from Kemper’s lawsuit. I guess that is as close as we’re going to get to it for awhile. Per ST, the agreement was signed November 3, 2011. ST also reported last March that the air space lease was executed per the term of the umbrella agreement.

      18. @Paul – If all the funding doesn’t materialize quickly, projects don’t get finished quickly. Anyone with half a brain can figure that out.

        Ouch, what a zinger! Look, ST is supposed to pay for R8A Stage III, and it has plenty of money to do that (at the end of 3Q 2012 it had $650 million in unrestricted assets sitting in various accounts). Plus it always could issue more bonds. The reason I want to see that Umbrella Agreement and the “lease” is because they are more than likely “agreements to agree later”, as opposed to actual property transfer documents. Look, if WaDOT does not allow R8A Stage III to go forward, and I’m confident the Umbrella Agreement contemplates that eventuality, then East Link would be dead in the water. The fact that Sound Transit says it has a lease (one the board has not seen, let alone approved) does not mean that Sound Transit will get that property. WaDOT could determine the liability issues to it would be too great. You understand that, right?

  4. My view is that the 520 bridge replacement is a regional project, which benefits the entire region (particularly Bellevue, Seattle, and those travelling between them). Accordingly, I think that if I-90 tolls are part of the solution to this regional issue, then those tolls should be for everyone using the facility. Mercer Island residents are unfortunate in that the I-90 bridge is their only link to the rest of the world, but that’s not enough to preclude tolls. Mercer Island has excellent transit service to both Seattle and Bellevue and this service will only improve with the opening of East Link. Further, Mercer Island has been the direct recipient of pricey projects in the past … especially the unnecessary lids and other mitigation that was forced in the past. Others in the region paid towards that project (both in direct taxes and federal taxes), and now the region must similarly pay for 520 (M.I. just loses out this time because the Fed portion has to be covered by tolls instead).

    The wealth of the MI community is irrelevant in my opinion. I think it’s important that we avoid comments like “stick it to the rich” or “cry me a river, you poor spoiled MI resident”. Rather, tolls should first and foremost be from an equitable point of view. Ditto for when Link opens and the center roadway goes away. M.I. residents shouldn’t get preferential treatment for tolls/HOV access anymore than others who are in similar situations. Should there be special lanes on the West Seattle Bridge since there’s not other ways to downtown? Should Gig Harbor residents avoid tolls on the Narrows since it’s their only way to Tacoma? Any special treatment for MI residents should be paid for with a LID that M.I. residents pay directly into.

    1. I agree that everyone should pay, but why should Mercer Islanders pay more? Will there be tolling on I-5 or 405? It seems to me that if we have to have tools, this would be the fair way to do it. Everyone benefits from the added mobility, so everyone should pay

    2. Gig Harbor residents voted against the new bridge but got tolled anyway. A lot of people really weren’t happy about that.

    3. You are wrong.

      The wealth of MI is directly relevant.

      The rich have more influence in local politics, and making us regular folks pay for their tolls (see Lid on I-90).

      WE THE PEOPLE need to take every chance we can to tax them to balance out the wealth and power inequality that is present here.

      No one is proposing a toll on MLK for the same reason we need to toll MI.

      1. Little John, that’s a poor way to play Robin Hood. The majority of the toll revenue will be paid by people that don’t live on M.I. If it’s tolling for the sake of wealth distribution then what you should be championing is tolling the exits to M.I.

      2. @Bernie

        I’m not playing Robin Hood. I’m not even asking the rich to pay a little extra for the common good. All I’m asking is for the 1%, for the first time in recent history, to play by the rules and pay the same as the rest of us, not less.

  5. Here’s my compromise: toll Seattle eastbound and toll Bellevue/Eastside westbound. Then toll every on-ramp from Mercer Island. No mercy for the rich and taker oligarchs.

    1. I think this is an excellent idea. The rich of poverty rock contribute nothing to the local economy — it would be better for Seattle if we tax them as much as legally possible, recoup our losses, before it is too late.

    2. The problem I see with this line of thinking is that most of the part-time employees at the McDonalds on Mercer Island don’t actually live on Mercer Island. Taken as a percentage of what they will earn at work today, that is a lot of money. Just sayin’.

      1. No one is forcing them to work on MI…

        And if the aristocrats require minimum wage food service but find no one is willing to work, then maybe they should consider raising the pay (OH the horror!).

      2. My mother would be in the same situation, working as a teacher at Islander Middle School where the 12 year-olds she teaches probably have a higher net worth than she does. Because the 111 doesn’t stop on Mercer Island, it’d be a 3-bus trip for her (560–>550–>204) vs a 25-minute drive/carpool. I’d venture that a strong majority of people who work on Mercer Island couldn’t live there, and their needs (however peripheral relative to the overall need to toll I-90) require some consideration. I do think we have a responsibility to either sustain intra-island transit, have more commuter runs stop at the P&R to allow 2-seat rides instead of 3-seat rides, and/or provide a split tolling option.

        (Her commute would be 2 miles as the crow flies, and a canoe+bicycle trip from Kennydale would probably take about the same amount of time, but I doubt she’d get dock access from the homeowners.) :)

      3. OK, your mother’s case really does call for a ferry to the south end of Mercer Island. Honestly, foot ferries shouldn’t be that expensive….

  6. It isn’t just MIP&R that is full. The 550 is also full at peak. Oh, and you may recall the plan to cease having the 216 stop on Mercer Island that goes into effect on February 18.

    Metro ought to be ramping up service on the 202, and various other eastside expresses. ST could add in some peak service on the 545 as well.

    Putting both in the DSTT, along with the 210 that also serves Mercer Island, and kicking out the 216 and 218, which have no apparent reason to be in the tunnel other than filling Metro’s allotment, would be ideal, if only there weren’t a three-party agreement in the way. I suppose the Seattle City Council could stand in the way of amending that agreement just to force some horse-trading on other issues.

    At any rate, why should every hindrance to SOV mobility be solved with an alternative way to move SOVs? Some commuters will shift to transit if Metro and ST can figure out how to provide them space on a bus.

    1. Right, the 550 is at peak, that’s why we’re building East Link. Or we would be, if WSDOT let us.

  7. Toll the Seattle side only; that will nullify the “Alcatraz” criticism.

    Restrict the P&R to island residents.

    Don’t try to build a mid-island P&R or expand already underused service on the 202 or 205, which can’t possibly hope to be as useful as the existing 550 and 554 service.

    1. Is the P&R an ST facility? If so, limiting it to MI residents isn’t very likely.

      It could, of course, be sold to the city of MI, which could then do whatever they want with it.

      1. Then the answer is to put tolls between MI and Bellevue. That would keep out those looking for “free” parking as close to Seattle as possible.

      2. As far as I know the P&R is a Metro facility. In either case, I don’t know of any reason why it couldn’t be restricted to island residents as part of a mitigation package to compensate upset islanders for the new tolling.

      3. The MI P&R is a Sound Transit facility. You can tell by the signage.

        I think ST should accelerate the schedule of the P&R they intend to build for East Link.

      4. “I think ST should accelerate the schedule of the P&R they intend to build for East Link.”

        I was mistaken, I had though there was supposed to be added parking at the Mercer Island Station, but according to the FEIS, there is not. Of course, there’s nothing preventing the city of Mercer Island from adding a parking structure.

    2. The 202 is underused, in part, because the popular 550 is in the DSTT, and the 202 is not. Move the 202 into the tunnel (in place of the soon-to-be MI-less 206), and watch ridership on the 202 balloon.

      It just takes an administrative decision on Metro’s part, and a 180-day notification waiver that ST should readily grant.

      For that matter, I don’t know why Metro can’t just waive the limit on ST buses in the tunnel, so ST can add more peak-of-peak 550s.

      1. The only way that would make sense is if you shortened some or all 202 trips to end at the park and ride. The current route travels the length of the island, a time-consuming trip that serves only a low to moderate number of riders.

        Ridership warrants more service to the park and ride and less service elsewhere (except for the north end of the island, not served by the 202).

      2. If there is not enough ridership to ride around the island, then add more peak 550s.

        Why, on the Creator’s Green Earth, can’t the county council just unilaterally pass a proposal stating “Martin Luther King, Jr. County hereby waives the ten-bus-per-hour-per-direction limit for Sound Transit buses in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, under the following conditions … including Sound Transt being responsible for its proportional share of operating costs and debt service …”. If ST took up the offer, then Metro would reduce its operating budget hole.

        Is there any reason MLK County couldn’t make such an offer?

  8. How many spots at MI P&R are reserved for carpools? Would it be feasible to have someone watching these spots duing peak hours and turn away SOVs?

    And how about carpooler boards (physically at the P&R or online) so that commuters can find like-timed neighbors to share the ride to the P&R?

  9. just put the tolling system right where the original toll booths were located – at the east end of the floating bridge(s).

    MI retains a “free” way off the island, and is no better or worse off than the entire balance of east side folks going to and from Seattle.

  10. My thought is to phase out the subsidy to Islanders by giving a toll rebate to cars registered to MI addresses that is gradually reduced to zero, perhaps at the time light rail opens.

    MI must realize that their case, however justified it may seem in terms of their expectations, simply looks like the privileged demading to remain so while others pay. That is a politically untenable position, and they had best look for a compromise that lessens the pain.

    1. I think this’ll boil down to the “why do they get special treatment” argument. I don’t drive often, but when I do, it’s to the south, either to West Seattle, Pierce County and beyond. From Ballard, this means using the viaduct. There’s alternatives, but they are extremely inconvenient to use. When the tunnel goes online, should I get a subsidy for the tolls? That question would make most people laugh and laugh and laugh. But yet when MI residents pose the question, a lot of people take it seriously.

      1. Yeah… WSDOT is worried now about what happens when people from Ballard or West Seattle “divert” to I-5 or downtown surface streets to avoid the planned toll, and the increase in I-90 traffic is thought to be caused by diversion from the 520 toll. But for some trips some people just have to use the tolled route.

        Some people are just good at getting special consideration. Yarrow Point residents got the special shuttle to Evergreen Point when even with their freeway stop closed temporarily, though even without it they still had much better transit service within walking distance than their land use and ridership warrants. Then nobody rode the special shuttle (surprising nobody). Most people affected by reroutes and construction get jack.

      2. Yes, but at least you have a toll free alternative. I’m not that sympathetic to the MI argument, but it does have a point. If they put tolls on both ends, then every trip off of the island will cost them toll money. I think that is unique for Washington State.

      3. No one expects to have a “fare-free alternative” when it comes to transit …pay per use is standard. The only reason “must have a toll-free alternative” is precedent when it comes to driving is decades of subsidy and the pernicious psychological effects of using false terms like ‘freeway’. In any case, nothing will ever stop anyone from leaving or entering the island. They can fail to pay whenever they want. It’s a billing issue, not a mobility issue.

        I do support the split toll option, because I like distance-based tolls and there are two distinct bridges. One toll to cross the Murrow, and one to cross the East Channel. Seems fair to me.

      4. Why would they toll both ends? They’ll put the toll sensors in one spot because it’s cheaper than two. People from Mercer Island will still have toll-free travel to the mainland in one direction.

      5. Now you are comparing apples and oranges. It seems quite reasonable to have tolls everywhere and free transit. I would support this. A simpler solution is to raise the gas tax to pay for all these bridges and free transit. But such a system doesn’t exist now. Nor is it likely to happen anytime soon (as much as I would like it).

        I was simply pointing out that RapidRider’s comparison is flawed. If tolls are added to both sides of Mercer Island, then it costs money to leave that area (the area being Mercer Island). So far as I know, this would be unusual in two respects. One is that it is very close to Seatle. Two that it is served by roads, not ferries (and those roads have been toll free for a while). Given that, I think the Mercer Islanders have a point.

        If you simply put the toll to the west of the island (mid-span) you solve this problem. The only negative part is that it leads to very busy, very full park and ride lots (on the island).

      6. @Eric — I think the argument for tolling both ends is this:

        1) One toll on the west side causes overuse of the MI Park and Ride. It also can lead to too many Mercer Islanders driving to Bellevue.
        2) One toll on the east side means too many Mercer Islanders drive into Seattle.

        As I suggest elsewhere, I think the best is a combination, with the west side toll being large, and the east side toll being small.

      7. RossB: this makes perfect sense.

        The toll sensor barriers can be arranged in a coherent manner while tolling both bridges. It’s not THAT much more expensive than putting the sensors in one place, and it makes sure the Mercer Island P&R is used only by Mercer Island residents.

  11. It’s also important to remember that we’re not talking about staffed tollbooths or any other sort of physical barrier to/from the island. Electronic tolling is such that anyone can drive to/from Mercer Island anytime, freely. Yes, they’ll receive a bill in the mail, but there is zero mobility impact for anyone needing to go to the hospital, etc. Tolls will not limit actual physical access, period.

    I also agree with Ryan that a ‘soak the rich’ approach is counterproductive. Stick to your guns…tolling is an equitable user fee with bipartisan support that reduces VMT, reduces trips, reduces GHG, and increases transit usage. That’s plenty of reason to do it.

    1. +1

      As far as I know, zero Mercer Islanders are able to go about there lives without paying a single tax of any kind. And toll is effectively a tax on using a specific government service, just like a license renewal fee or bus fare. It’s obvious considering all the benefits of tolls Zach mentions, to which I’ll add reducing congestion, that tolling is a better way to raise revenue than any alternatives. So no I don’t think tolling one or both bridges creates an access problem in the same way that I don’t think raising the sales tax, or income tax or gas tax would create an access problem for MI residents. The difference is entirely psychological. That’s doubly true assuming that MI residents could avoid the tax by going to Bellevue or Seattle depending on where the toll is placed.

    2. @Alex Bailey,

      There are too many oligarchs on MI that get away with tax evasion and NOT paying their fair share of taxes. If there is a tax on them mingling with the rabble, it is only a small step towards rebalancing the access to transit inequality that is present here.

      1. @Kyle S
        The residents of poverty rock turned tolling into a social justice issue by loudly complaining that they couldn’t afford the extra tolls.

        In addition, if you have something meaningful to add to the discussion, I would love to hear it.

  12. This should be done without some vendetta against M.I.’s wealth, and also without overdoing the sympathy.

    The half-tolls measure with a toll plaza on each side of the island seems to mitigate the issue and still makes all area residents pay a share.

    1. You are right, it should be done without some vendetta against Mercer Island’s wealth, because ironically, the title of this post is partially taken from the 16th century poet, John Donne, who often lived in poverty and relied on wealthy friends.

    2. You’re right that there shouldn’t be some vendetta. But, Mercer Islanders have made it clear that they don’t want to pay a dime and deserve special privilege that no one else will receive everytime they cross the cross the bridge. The only fair option is for Mercer Islanders to pay *any* time they use the bridge–just like everyone else. That’s equity. Anything else is a classist warfare.

    3. @Stepehn — I am completely in agreement with you.

      Yes, a vendetta would only turn this argument into one of emotions, instead of rational arguments.

      It’s important to remember that WE THE PEOPLE paid for MI’s fancy lid and sunken freeway. To make them pay extra for 520 use by WE THE PEOPLE will only balance out the wealth disparity and taxing inequality.

      Anyone who argues otherwise is promoting class warfare.

      1. Well then I suppose I’m about to promote class warfare. If a hypothetical resident of Mercer Island moved there after the lid was constructed, which many I’m sure have, then they would have received no benefit from the construction of the lid, as that benefit would be included in the price of their real estate. Thus, to tax all MI residents for 520 construction as reparations would not balance out the taxing inequality you speak of, but rather simply create a different inequity.

        Now as for your use of the phrase “class warfare,” please explain to me specifically how the above analysis “is promoting class warfare.”

        @Stephen: You may be correct that Mercer Islander’s have made it clear that they oppose all tolls and want exemptions, but often times in situations like this it’s the vocal opponents that receive all the press while many residents are indifferent or in favor of a given policy proposal. With that coverage bias in mind, I’d want to see a lot of evidence before I was willing to make such sweeping generalizations about MI residents.

      2. I would personally consider a user fee for a government service a sub category of the term tax, i.e. a type of tax. I suppose I could be convinced otherwise, but my logic is that a toll or other user fees are corrective taxes that are intended to correct a negative externality in a given market, just like cigarette taxes or pollution taxes. The fact that roads are public business doesn’t make this relationship is any different. Indeed, what we think of as taxes could often be considered user fees. For example, levying a tax on carbon emissions is traditionally called a tax, but could also be thought of as a user-fee on public air usage. Thus, a toll is a form of tax and also a user fee.

  13. KISS- Keep it Simple Stupid
    Toll cameras installed on both ends and nothing on MI would ensure that thru drivers would pay going each way, same as 520.
    MI would pay going to the island, but not from the island, giving them a 50% reduction, which seems fair, because they are not using the entire length of the bridge – only half.
    This also ensures that the park and ride would be inside the fare paid zone to discourage useage from off island drivers.
    It would eliminate a lot of cameras and cost on the MI ramps, saving money.
    A Fair and Simple Fare!

    1. Like

      Could also call this distance based tolls, something common on lots of big freeways east of the Mississippi (ironically I-90 is probably one of them)

      1. Yep, I-90 is tolled in Illinios. The more roads that are tolled the less, as a percentage, goes to overhead. The Hood Canal Bridge should be tolled again too since being on the Sound means it’s constantly in need of major repairs and maintenance. Plus, the more roadways that are tolled the less one demographic feels like they’re being singled out.

      2. My understanding is that the tolled part of I-90 from Illinois to Pennsylvania predated the Interstate system, and they were allowed to keep their tolls by special agreement. Not that that precludes adding tolls to Washington’s freeways, but it does put them in a different situation.

      3. Not that different. Washington tolled the bridge before it was an Interstate. But it’s a moot point because the Feds have already approved tolling on both I-90 and I-5 express lanes.

    2. Yes, two tolls. One on each bridge. You might even tweak the fare a bit. For example, the Seattle-MI toll could be 90% of the cost, while the other one is a small amount. This would give MI residents a chance to exit the island for very little money. You could base it on the time of day. Going from MI to Bellevue could be free in the morning, but going the other direction is more expensive (say 50¢). Reverse it in the evening. That would discourage folks from driving to the Island only to use the Park and Ride. If the point is congestion pricing, then this makes sense. No one in their right mind is going to go from Mercer Island to Seattle via 405 (which would be toll free or low tolled in my scenario).

      OK, if you work in Renton or Tukwilla and it is a tossup anyway, you might decide to avoid the bridge and fight 405 traffic. But that is the nature of the beast. If we really want to toll the area and discourage driving that way, we’ll have to toll the entire area. An additional toll in Renton would make sense. In general, a few little tolls make more sense than one big one.

  14. While I think tolling the western half is more desirable for various reasons I’m curious as to which side has more congestion.

  15. As a parent and resident of the island – it is not fair to lock the residents on the island. The one side tolls don’t work either. As a parent – we may make 5 or so trips off the island in a given day.

    The fairest option – is charge a resident once for each day of use per vehicle.

    I-90 is using MI land as well as giving MI residents access off the island.

    The whole 405/I5/I90/520 corridor should be taxed.

    1. I am sympathetic with the “we shouldn’t have to pay a toll to leave the island” argument (as I suggested above). It does seem like something no other community has to face (although other island communities have had to face similar problems).

      While I am sympathetic in general, I don’t think your proposal would be fair. If you live in Kirkland and have to cross 520 five times a day, you don’t get a discount. Likewise if you live in Seattle and go the other way. The whole point of these fairs is to discourage driving. I really don’t see why you need to make five or so trips off the island. MI is not a backwater town. There are grocery stores, schools, parks, etc. If you really can’t get what you want on the island, then it makes sense to combine trips.

    2. I agree with you that the whole Seattle freeway corridor should be tolled (not taxed). But why should we cut MI residents any slack? They choose to live on an island. Living on an island pretty much narrows your transportation choices down. I understand your plight, but why should residents of an island, who choose to live there, be given special treatment? If they want “free” trips, they can build their own bridge, with their own money.

    3. As a retiree and someone who lives on an island – I must pay for a ferry ride to access the mainland, just one mile away. If the ferry were free, I may go to town 5x as much as I do now, but when there is a cost involved, I figure out a way to combine trips.
      So can you.

      1. Now I realize that I really haven’t the slightest clue where you live. The south end of Vashon? Ketron Island?

      2. Lived in LQA, then Kent and drove for Metro until my wife (retired transit planner) and I retired to Lummi Is. off Bellingham. I’ve always been a sucker for anything transit and found it nearly impossible to give up after moving from Seattle.
        I’m nearly cured now.

      3. Lummi is so beautiful. Does WTA still run a bus out to the ferry? I used to take it out to the ferry on Saturdays with my bike in college, but it didn’t seem to have much readership, at least on Saturdays.

      4. The WTA50 still runs but trying to get it coordinated with the ferry is like smashing atoms. Neither agency wants to change anything.
        Sound familiar?

      5. lol, that sounds about right. I didn’t care much in College; I always had something to read if I had to wait. Now I’d be much more irritable about that.

      6. Ah, Lummi! The one that geologically is a San Juan but practically is unrelated to the rest of the San Juan archipelago.

        I still haven’t made it out there. Have you been to that restaurant that the worldwide media was frothing at the mouth about not long ago?

        Guemes is one I always forget exists, though it seems not a bad choice for one who wants to “go into town” without breaking the bank, as the walk from ferry dock to seemingly-healthy downtown Anacortes is only 10 minutes.

        I’ve occasionally harbored dreams of retiring to the islands in the harbor of Portland, Maine. Barely two miles from downtown, and amazingly, part of the city proper, some of them still have dirt roads and no cars. My urban self would suffer not, as Portland bustles mightily for a city so tiny and walkable, and the train to Boston runs five times a day.

      7. Yes, the Willows Inn, but haven’t sprung for the $135/plate dinner yet on retiree pay.
        Back to the article at hand. Our county lease with the Lummi Nation for dock rights on the mainland expired, then was renewed last year for a huge sum. That raised ferry rates to $13 per car for the short hop out here, or about a 50% increase.
        Traffic fell about 30% overnight.
        Elasticity of fare even works on Lummi Island.

      8. Yikes!

        Pretty great that you have up-to-20-minute service to an island with such a small population, but yow! that is a lot to pay for it. Is this a permanent condition, or do they think they can bring the fare down from the stratosphere with a renegotiation or a cut in service?

      9. All the more reason to sync up ferry and bus service. The 50 seems pretty efficient, once you get on it.

    4. If the small toll is “locking the residents on the island,” then the cost of gas must be locking them in their homes.

      I’m not sympathetic to the idea that a one-side toll is any less fair to Mercer Islanders than it is to anyone else on the Eastside. Roads cost money. You are using them just like everyone else.

      1. A one-side toll doesn’t lock them into paying a toll. Tolls on both sides do. I’m not sure if that is fair or not, but I see their point.

        All of these arguments show how silly tolling is when you have a redundant system (it is redundant for most residents, ironically not for Mercer Islanders). We went through a long period in this state without tolls. Now you can see why. Everyone pays because everyone benefits. So what if you don’t drive on the new bridge, you benefit because commerce improves (at least, that’s the idea). We should just double the gas tax and pay for all these projects (and that includes transit projects). People think tolling is more fair, but the fairness argument dissolves the more you examine it.

      2. Tolls are better at managing congestion than they are at fairly funding projects. But they are a very good tool for managing congestion, particularly where the alternatives are unappealing. The bridges are just about the best imaginable example of congested bottlenecks where tolling makes sense. Yes, there are alternatives, but for most of the users the alternatives add quite a bit of time and cost.

    5. “it is not fair to lock the residents on the island”

      Indeed it is not. I will join you in your fight against any and all efforts to put a giant wall around the island and locking the only gate. In the meantime, I think this post is actually about a possible toll for I-90.

    6. how is it unfair? tolls are a usage fee. if you use it, you pay for it. don’t want to pay for it? combine trips or take the bus/Link when it’s built

      to be fair, the toll should be split 50/50 for each bridge so that you don’t pay the whole toll if you are using only 50% of the bridge …

    7. I’m sorry, let me play the world’s smallest violin while you complain about a $2.50 toll, while driving your $105,000 Range Rover, paying to fill up your gas-guzzling SUV.

      You see, us common folk have to combine trips to save money when the economy is bad. I’m sorry you haven’t had the privelage of experiencing this.

      As Stephen F said, “Want fair? Move off the island.”

  16. Everyone has bridges and roads in their area. When we fix the road in your neighborhood we should put tolls at both end of the road. Every time you go to walmart or costco you get tolled.

    MI is just a choke point that is easy to toll. 80% of the island normal middle class people. The people should not be made to pay a disproportanate ammount for all the road repair in area to use a road the had tolls removed 60+ years ago.

    Johannesburg is implementing a toll system on their circuit of freeways around the city – why can’t seattle. If they are going to toll they should charge anyone using 405/5/520/90. They should charge a flat fee per per day of use. Otherwise people are having a tax applied and being penalized after the fact depending on what their job/school/life entails.

    The gas tax is really the best system and not tolls.

    1. 80% of the island normal middle class people.

      Median household income, M.I. $123,328, Bellevue $84,503, Seattle $61,856, WA State $58,890. At double the State median income I’d have to say that the majority are distinctly upper middle class. But I don’t see that has anything to do with tolling the bridge.

      I find the “single corridor” argument pretty tenuous. 522 sees a significant amount of diversion. Why no talk of tolling at Lake Forest Park? Claims that it’s Traffic management, same thing. Note that on 167 TDM was implemented to allow the option of using the HOV lane as a SOV in exchange for paying a fee. A manditory toll across the Lake is a very different kettle of fish.

      That said, I believe there is ample financial impact associated with maintaining a floating bridge and just like the other “marine vessels” (WSF) there should be a user fee charged. And I have no problem with tolls on 405 and I-5 which should be distance based just like most toll roads are. Remember, even if tolled that revenue would only pay a portion of the cost of constructing and maintaining those highways.

      The thing I find most “unfair” is that there is no willingness to put tolls on the Viaduct when the only funding plan for the Deep Debt Tunnel seems to be hope that the tax fairy will leave two billion dollars under the concrete pillow.

    2. Disagree Island resident, gas taxes are good, but they are a poor way of addressing choke point congestion. The lake crossings, like the mercer mess, create a choke point because there aren’t many alternative routes through the area. The only way to deal with that congestion is to price usage of those corridors, i.e. toll. It’s fair to ask that one side not be tolled, but to ask for more is to ask for special treatment over everyone else who wants to commute from Seattle to the eastside or visa vursa, who would all have to pay tolls for those trips. All that ought to be determined is whether MI is on the eastside or on the Seattle side of the lake crossing tolls.

      1. The purpose of tolls is not to restrict traffic.

        If I am going to pay a $7500 tax each year you can be damn sure I will put that much money up to file a lawsuit. Private agencies are not legal bodies that can impose taxes.

        There are legal obligations of using Mercer Island Land as a through fair for traffic. Mercer Island will impose an equal fee to use our property. Every car passing over Mercer Island (not including residents) will be charged $1. There.

      2. I didn’t see any of this righteous indignation back in the 90’s, when it was everyone else statewide/nationwide paying for a new expanded I-90 bridge. Double standard much?

      3. You right, a toll is not intended to “restrict traffic” it’s intended to manage congestion. Congestion is defined as the traffic and slowing of vehicle flow that results from a road being over its efficient capacity. 520 has what’s called variable tolling where the toll is highest during rush hour and $0 late at night in response to varying levels of demand for the roadway. Specifically, since demand for the roadway is so high during the daytime, the only way to keep traffic and transit flowing smoothly (as opposed to gridlock) is a toll. While there is a cost to the former users who choose not to pay the toll, the benefits to those who continue to make commutes across the bridge and particularly old and new transit users far outweighs those lost or diverted trips. And that’s before considering issues like global warming.

        As for your other claims:

        1. I-90 is state property and, for better or for worse, Mercer Island has little say in how it is used.

        2. You couldn’t charge a toll for those cars that passed through Mercer Island on I-90 (see 1.), but you could probably charge a toll for anyone who drives off the interstate as those roads would be local roads.

        3. It is true that private agencies are not legal bodies that can impose taxes, but I’m not sure what private agency(s) your referring too. Please specify where the private/public element of a given agency is relevant to this discussion.

        4.For the purpose of finding common ground, I think higher gas taxes, as you mentioned are generally a better way to address global warming etc. but gas taxes do a poor job of addressing specific choke points. It’s critical to have usage priced so that transit and auto users can get more efficient usage out of the road. This is particularly true in light of the supposed need to build a new $6-10 billion dollar 520 bridge. With tolls 520 actually functions quite well and there is little need for new HOV lanes as the tolls sufficiently incentivize transit use and car pooling.

    3. “80% of the island normal middle class people.”


      Seeing as 98040 is in the top 200 richest zip codes in America, your baseless allegation is absurd.

      1. Private Agency – Is the Agency hired by WSDOT to do the tolling. WSDOT is public agency. A lot of the money is flowing elsewhere when a gas tax keeps it here.

        There are lawsuits pending in other areas regarding tolling that amount to large taxes on a particular group of people.

        The tolls amount to more than my property taxes – to pay for a 520 bridge I use 10 times per year.

        In gaining use of the land from Mercer Island – there were agreements made. Those agreements will be violated. Right of way has its limits.

        Given the disproportionate tax for myself and family – I will go into savings to join any lawsuit.

      2. I’m sorry you want to waste your savings on a lost cause. I’d suggest instead that you set aside a small amount of them to cover tolls (and figure out how to avoid making FIVE daily roundtrips, while you’re at it…)

  17. Put the westbound toll on the Bellevue side and the eastbound toll on the Seattle side. That allows people to get off the island even if they run out of money, the same way the ferries work. It also means islanders get a 50% discount on all their round trips, which is fair considering they’re only using half the bridgespans, so only causing half a car’s congestion and wear.

    There’s a quote, I think in the Museum of History and Industry, that when they were first contemplating a Lake Washington Bridge, the engineer showed the politician the plan and he exclaimed, “But that goes through Mercer Island!” Nevertheless, that’s what was built.

    In talking about the diversion issue, you can’t ignore the fact that the population living between 520 and I-90 is far higher than the population of Mercer Island, especially since that area has the highest population concentration in both Seattle and the Eastside. So the diversion issue really is the dominant one, and Mercer Islanders can only plead for their “special situation”. But I think the 50% discount I’ve described is a sufficient concession to islanders. If they are going off the island 5 times a day — on an enormously expensive bridge — maybe they should address that and get more diverse businesses on the island. Plus, with a monthly ORCA pass on the 550 or future Link, the last four trips would effectively be free. Time for a larger P&R. Oh look, another benefit for islanders. Eastsiders will have to pay the toll to get to the Mercer Island Park & Ride! That should get rid of them.

  18. Unless I’m mistaken about the nature of the tolls, wouldn’t all of the following options still be free across I-90 from MI?

    1. Walking
    2. Biking
    3. Transit

    I’m pretty sure horses are allowed on Mercer Island, so travel by horse or stagecoach would be free too!

    If you don’t like tolls, you’ve got options.

      1. If you work a job where they give you a car and pay expenses automobile travel is free. I have friend that works in sales where that has been a large part of his compensation. Likewise, if you receive “free” transit that is part of your compensation.

    1. With a median home price of $751,300, residents of poverty rock could easily sell their mansions and move off the island if they wanted free transit.

  19. I don’t agree with the idea of tolling one side of Mercer Island both ways and the other side not at all. That’s playing favorites and guessing what people’s trip patterns are. But the guess could be wrong and leave people falling through the cracks, or trip patterns could evolve and make the guess obsolete but hard to change. The toll itself would cause trip patterns to evolve, in the direction of the free side. So we may try to toll access to downtown Seattle, but that would just push more jobs to the Eastside. Or we could toll access to Bellevue, but the romantic idea that rich Islanders would then be paying to drive to the Bravern may be more of a myth than reality.

    There is one factor, however, that might supercede this. The East Channel bridge is short and doesn’t float, so it may be significantly less expensive and longer-lasting than the floating bridges. If so, maybe we shouldn’t toll it because it’s only a miniscule part of the problem?

    1. I think that factor you mention is why it makes sense to toll the Seattle to MI span only. The goal of the toll is address eastside to/from Seattle trips, particularly in light of the fact that 520 is already tolled and I-90 isn’t. Considering that MI is fairly undeveloped, I think it’s better to deal with the cross lake problem by just tolling the west span. This is particularly true because the East Channel bridge is already wider than the floating bridge making congestion on that bridge less of a concern. Maybe many years down the road it will make sense to implement distance based tolling, but for now simply tolling the floating span best addresses the principal concern while also being seemingly fairer than tolling both sides.

    2. It makes more sense to toll the long, expensive bridge than the shorter one. That’s how the original bridge was paid for.

      We wouldn’t be having this argument at all if Seattle had just annexed Mercer Island as a giant city park, like they originally had planned to do. But no, everyone was too worried it would become a “playground for the rich”. Good thing that didn’t happen.

    3. You’re totally right, we’re playing favorites if we tax one side. Governments always make infrastructure decisions that benefit some and not others. Whichever side we toll will permanently alter the living, commuting, and business patterns. Over time, any “mistake” will be corrected as people adapt.

      1. But the currently still floating bridges are part of our marine highway system. We charge a fare when you take your car across any of the other marine vessels that make up our marine highway system so it only makes sense that we charge tolls on all of the potentially sinking bridges. Just because we bought enough barges to anchored them across the span doesn’t absolve the requirement to make payment equal to at least the rate of fare recovery on the WSF system which IIRC is around 65%.

    4. The alternative to “taxing one side” is the proposal I made above: toll eastbound leaving Seattle, and westbound leaving Bellevue. This also gets rid of Eastsiders filling up the Mercer Island P&R, which a toll entering Seattle wouldn’t.

  20. I would take Judd more seriously if he weren’t spouting things like “I wonder how many of those people voted for I-695” about an area that, in fact, voted heavily against I-695. I remember this! And I lived 2500 miles away and wasn’t being paid to know things about politics!

    OK, actually, since I also remember Judd’s other writings, I wouldn’t take him all that much more seriously…

  21. I am not particularly a proponent of tolls — I believe we should, in general, be increasing the gas tax at a sufficient rate to pay for needed maintenance and repairs on all of our state’s highways.

    That being said, I am somewhat indifferent as to whether we toll I-90 or not. I am not a particularly frequent user of the floating bridges (1 or 2x per month), and when I do use them, the presence or lack of a toll has not yet affected my choice one way or the other.

    That being said, if the decision is made to toll I-90, it seems that calling Mercer Island an “Eastside” suburb and tolling the bridge to Seattle makes as much sense as anything else. Sure it’s arbitrary. But MI fancies itself a suburb and not part of the city, so on the face of it, that makes since. Tolling 520 was equally inconvenient for the residents of Medina.

    The other option would be, if there were enough Mercer Island support/outcry, to toll the bridge heading East. If that would be more convenient for these folks who would be newly affected, then make it so. A popular vote might settle that matter pretty quickly.

    Separating the question “Shall we toll?” from the question “Where do we toll?” should simplify things a lot. I have to laugh at any argument that says that Islanders are somehow stranded there. With a toll on the I-90 floating bridge itself, they are no more stranded than residents of Medina are stranded.

    Where to expand the P&R is a very good issue, too. But it is a very separate issue. Moving the tollbooth to reduce use there is one solution. So is building a sufficiently sized facility somewhere else along the line that doesn’t fill up.

    1. The reality is that gas taxes are not a true user fee (hybrids pay less, gas doesn’t reflect wear and tear, etc.). The Fed isn’t picking up the cost of big projects anymore either. That means that tolls are the only way to get anything built in a reasonable time horizon. Don’t want to pay the toll? Take the bus or a different route.

      The more I think about this I think it should be tolled between both Seattle and Mercer Island, with 1/2 paid when crossing the first bridge, and 1/2 paid on the second. This gives Mercer Island something of a break (including those working or otherwise going to the island who don’t live there), while ensuring fairness for everyone.

      1. It does in fact make sense to toll BOTH bridges — Mercer Island – Seattle and Mercer Island – Bellevue.

        And this WOULD mean that Mercer Island residents pay less than people crossing all the way from Bellevue to Seattle.

        And it would keep the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride entirely open for Mercer Island residents, because Eastsiders would avoid the toll by P&R-ing in South Bellevue.

  22. From the Seattle Times comment thread:

    Is it even legal to toll a Interstate Highway? Sure you can toll a State Highway,but a Interstate? What impeding interstate commerce?

    Gah! The hundreds of other comments, mostly claiming that tolling kills economies dead and that it’s somehow unfair to charge Mercer Island to use infrastructure that the general taxpayers built for them, are just as stupid.

    Well, that took all of 2 seconds.

    “Seattle: Ignorantia ad infinitum

    1. You won’t get a very good impression of any city from the commenters on the local newspaper’s website. For some reason local newspapers bring out all the troglodytes on the internet.

  23. Accurately calculated the cost for two working parents with kids:

    $6550 per year.

    Revised my previous options:

    Free Use of Express Lanes (previous agreement)
    Free use of East Bridge


    Once per day charge per vehicle unlimited usage

    1. I.R.: We’re all pretty savvy when it comes to squeezing a buck to get from A to B, so how about you give us your general neighborhood location and the two work locations, along with start and typical end times, plus a list of errands you make.
      I’ll bet we can save you a bundle off that $6,550 you’ll be forking over, and I know everyone here will bust there little fannies to do it for you.

    2. I can’t possibly figure out how you could spend $20 per day in tolls, unless you don’t actually go to work and just spend all day driving back and forth.

    3. If you are actually traveling back and forth from your island five times a day, perhaps that’s a sign that you should live closer to where you’re going. Ignore the money for a second…how much time are you spending in your car every day? Wouldn’t you rather be doing something with that time other than driving?

    4. Metro has had daily passes, so it’s not inconceivable that bridges could have it too. The toll would have to be higher than one round trip, of course. And how would the overhead reader know if you want to get a day pass today? You’d either need a switch on the transponder, or set your account to always charge by the day.

      1. No technology needed at the transponder. You simply max out the charge per day at the back end to whatever you want the “day pass” to be. For the single trip price to really mean much the day pass would have to be equal to or greater than 2X the one way toll.

      1. Ah, I see.

        When others speed through their town, causing additional wear and tear on their bridge, they should have to absorb the cost of additional maintenance.

        But your right to drive on and off your island for free, on an exponentially more costly bridge (both to build and to maintain) that the rest of the state’s taxpayers gave to you, and which benefits you more than anyone else, shall not be infringed.

    1. Maybe WSDOT can give Bothell the same mitigation Mercer Island is getting. Toll the Sammamish Bridge! That should bring congestion down to a tolerable level for them.

    1. That’s nice. Thank you for demonstrating that Mercer Island residents do indeed have money to burn.

    1. Mentions of the word “toll” in the linked document: zero.
      Effect of city or county laws on a state-administered roadway: none.
      Legal impediments to tolling: nonexistent.

      Lots of very successful legal actions have been constructed from whining and blubbering, though.

    2. The WSDOT Right of Way manual is pretty irrelevant to this discussion.

      I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding an attorney to spit in the wind for you, as long as you and your other Mercer Island neighbors keep paying your bills. Good luck with that.

  24. Here’s my compromise:
    * toll both bridges from Mercer Island in both directions.
    * keep the HOV lanes free for Mercer Island residents.
    * Provide discounted bus and rail service from Mercer Island in either direction.

    People who really want to drive a lot for free *should not live on a small island*.

    1. If the HOV lanes are free to Mercer Island residents, they should be free to everyone. And they shold only be open to HOVs.

      I don’t see any reason why the islanders should get a break. They have a higher median income and they are able to afford the real estate prices on the island. This is not class warfare, it’s simple equity.

      I could accept some of the half tolling solutions brainstormed in this post. It reduces the cost to island residents and it provides a disincentive for folks further out using the MI P&R without outright prohibiting them. I use that P&R myself from time to time, but when I do, it will be in the afternoon or on the weekend when it’s not going to have so much demand. I’d never think of trying to use it in the morning, firstly because I’d rather have a shorter drive and a longer bus ride, and secondly because there’s nothing worse than driving to a park & ride only to find it full up.

    2. The bridge was paid for by tolls previously. Shouldn’t have to pay twice. Duh. When the time comes to replace – great – add tolls. Otherwise need a reqional solution. MI people don’t object to fair tolling.

      MI shouldn’t have to pay for:

      520 Bridge
      520 Montlake bridge removal
      Bothell road improvements

      The first thing I would do would be to add a carbon admission “toll” –

      $.25 indexed to inflation for gas and equivalent to other fossil fuels.

      Any tolling needs to be regional. This piece meal stuff is not fair and fool hardy.

  25. Funny – everyone is trying to get MI to pay tolls for part of a highway that doesn’t have tolls when they can simply add tolls to the part of the road that is not paid for.

    The part that isn’t paid for is the section of the road from I-5 to the bridge at Montlake. Add additional toll for that section.

    Crazy all those arguing for MI to pay twice for the I90 bridge with a new toll because we use it – when they are asking for the people using the section of 520 to montlake to pay for that.

    1. Correction:

      Crazy all those arguing for MI to pay twice for the I90 bridge with a new toll because we use it – when they are NOT asking for the people using the section of 520 to montlake to pay for that.

  26. It’s hard to take this article seriously, seeing that they never mention the 25% of residents that are seniors, the multitude of employees of the City of Mercer Island, the Mercer Island School District, and all of the other hundreds of businesses on Mercer Island, or those that live East or West of Mercer Island that need to commute across the bridge to get to work that may not pay enough to reasonably cover the toll expenses.

    In addition, two centre lanes of the bridges will be laying around empty for 7 years, and all the other existing lanes reduced to 11 feet in width, because of UnSound Transit. How’s that for traffic reduction?

Comments are closed.