Toll Us– It’s Better than the Alternative

It took crises in Western countries’ real estate markets and a not-yet-ended series of near-collapses in our financial system to make me realize that Seattle transit is not as screwed up as some other systems.

Since the defeat of Prop 1 last year, Seattle transportation-makers have been trying to figure out how to fix our bridges, notably the 520 bridge over Lake Washington. They recently added a fifth option to the four options already priced out and presented. That fifth option is the most drastic: to toll both I-90 and I-520 starting in 2010. has a very nice online comparison of the four original options. Option 5 not yet included.

So Toll Us, Already

Tolling I-90 at the same time as SR-520 makes sense. If SR-520 is the only route across Lake Washington with a toll, a lot more traffic will cross I-90. The bridges are only a few miles apart. Then our bridge, already a parking lot during a lot of rush hour, will really be a mess.

But Give Us a Break

Come on, we live on an island. And it’s a residential island, with basic services but not much else. But of course we’ll leave the island less often if tolls are high. If the rest of Seattle thinks Mercer Island is insular now, wait til we have to pay $3.80 to branch out. Some residents may never be seen off-Island again.

Mercer Island residents ought to get some kind of a break, like a reduced rate or free passage over half the island. Or we could bring back the Ferry Dawn and avoid the bridge altogether.

Gratuitous Fear-Mongering

Of course, another alternative to this plan is that we underfund transportation (it’s the Seattle way) or fail to pass a plan altogether. Then we face: not tolls, not traffic, but total disaster. Realistically, I-90 isn’t at much risk of failing, but fear is a great motivator and I needed an excuse to include this Youtube video of the old I-90 bridge sinking.

The Other Side

The other side of the argument says that it’s 520 being replaced, not 90, so why should we get tolled for a bridge we’ll barely use? That makes sense to me, but it’s also the parochial approach that got us into this mess. We need a regional approach to transportation or the system loses overall efficiency.

3 responses to “Toll Us– It’s Better than the Alternative

  1. Pingback: The Race for 41st District State Rep: Litzow v. Maxwell « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

  2. Allow me to point out the flaw in your logic. It’s right here: “Tolling I-90 at the same time as SR-520 makes sense. If SR-520 is the only route across Lake Washington with a toll, a lot more traffic will cross I-90.” There may be a small uptick in traffic on I-90, but everybody that can take I-90 over 520 already does. The traffic on 520 is miserable while I-90 is somewhat tolerable. I doubt the state can accurately model the origin and destination of every car trip across the lake, the effect on each individual driver of a 520 toll versus the increased travel time to I-90, the effect of the new I-90 carpool lanes, and the effects of the recent downturn in the economy, etc.

    As a counterpoint, are you ready to pay an extra $7 for each of your Amazon Fresh deliveries that you love so much? More property taxes to offset the cost to the already under-paid teachers on the island (most of whom live off-island). More for the already over-priced and meager restaurants on the island? Are you ready to take a hit on your property values due to people not wanting to move to a place where your trapped by a toll?

    The thought of paying a toll on a bridge that is already paid for makes absolutely no sense.

  3. mercerislandblogger

    Dave, good points. But I do think there will be an increase in traffic on I-90. I used to live in Capitol Hill and commute to Redmond, and I did have a choice- I’d take one or the other based on traffic. Dozens of other commuters who lived in Capitol Hill, Queen Anne or Belltown also would take either. Now that choice might be made based on the toll, sending a lot more traffic over I-90.

    And given Amazon’s delivery model, I bet they’d pick up the fee. They pay it once for a truckload of deliveries to MI homes. Amortized over all deliveries, it’s probably about $0.25 per delivery.

    But I agree that Mercer Island residents– and to your point, teachers and other workers– need relief. Unlike living on the Eastside or in the city, it’s not practical to say that Mercer Island residents could work on the Island. Many of us moved here because it was close to everything and we could commute to East Side or Seattle jobs (or in the case of dual-career couples, both). Mercer Island should get heavily reduced or free access across the lake.

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