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WSDOT Says I-90 Tolling Could Start as Soon as 2015

State transportation officials will seek public input in 2013. An environmental study and legislative approval would be needed for any tolls on the I-90 bridge.

Officials have been hinting at it for years, but a Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) study in the works could make tolling on Interstate 90 bridges over Lake Washington and across Mercer Island all but inevitable.

Tolling on the State Route 520 floating bridge began about a year ago and transportation officials have been closely monitoring two factors: the routes that drivers are now using and the overall tab (and deficit) for replacing the aging 520 Bridge. In response, the State Legislature last session asked for a new environmental study to review the affects of tolling on I-90 between Interstate 5 and Interstate 405.

“What we will be doing in the new year, 2013, is studying the tolling of I-90,” said Craig Stone, assistant secretary for the WSDOT Toll Division.

A WSDOT-proposed time-line of the study has planned public scoping meetings in early 2013 and a complete Environmental Impact Study by early 2014, which could then allow approval of potential tolls in 2014. The state could then begin collecting the charge in 2015 or 2016.

The overall cost of the 520 replacement project is estimated at $4.128 billion, a decline from $4.6 billion, but the state still needs to find $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, WSDOT's Stone said at a Mercer Island public meeting last month that congestion has increased on Interstate 5, Interstate 90 and State Route 522 as drivers avoid tolls on SR 520.

Traffic on I-90 has increased, on average, 13 percent over pre-520 toll levels, and I-90 travel times are three minutes longer on average during the peaks, said Stone. The state can't afford to come up with the rest of the money by asking the federal government for earmarks.

"The days of 90 percent of federal dollars coming in to finance highways in our state are basically over," he said.

WSDOT spokesperson Michell Mouton pledged that no decision has yet been made on whether or not to toll I-90. But the transportation agency must carry out the wishes of the State Legislature, which s them to perform an "environmental assessment" and engage the public in communities that border Lake Washington.

"It's not just tolling for tolling's sake," she said. "We have to look at tolling on I-90 to help with (the 520 Floating Bridge) ... one affects the other. People will have the opportunity to engage and provide input to the study. We're looking at tolling as a strategy."

Mouton also told Patch that no decision had been made on changing access to  HOV lanes to and from Mercer Island, which currently allow single-occupancy vehicle access on the I-90 express lanes.

WSDOT's Craig Stone will return to Mercer Island City Hall with more information on I-90 tolling and traffic data — in addition to presentations on WSDOT’s I-90 Two-Way Transit Project, and the Sound Transit East Link Light Rail Transit Project — for City Council's regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2013.

Beary January 29, 2013 at 07:02 AM
Why not increase bus fares? Why is the burden only placed on the drivers whether we are individuals or carpoolers. I feel bus riders put wear and tear on the roads and they should help pay their fair share. Take a look at SR520. The DOT took away the carpool lane and turned it into a bus only lane. Not sure if they raised bus fares to help fund the bridge (I doubt it) but it really sucks for the drivers and really benefits the bus riders. Drivers funds these roads with tab fees, gas taxes and now more tolls. Bus riders fund it by...not really participating in it. They pay bus fares which I am sure pays for some of the roads and stuff, but they get the benefit of carpooling, a service (driven to their general area) an not having to pay for gas or tab fees. I don think it is asking too much to raise the fares to help fund these tolls. If ridership drops on i90 and the revenue stream still falls below the state's projections will they toll I5 and 405? I think so. It is the only logical next step and I would be naive to believe otherwise. I wish the state had figured out all the details before they decided to jump in head first.
Thomas Imrich January 29, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Commenter Beary is correct in that busses do not come even close to paying their fully allocated costs. That is also true for trains and trollies which also get heavy subsidy. Efficient environmentally friendly POVs/SOVs, which are the 100 year to 1000 year better environmental and fiscal solution are inappropriately getting crushed by this ill-advised bus/train/toll social engineering. @ Lisa Thomas (still hiding behind his/her anonymity, and fronting for the Council) is dead wrong. MI Voters DID NOT VOTE FOR THIS MESS. See commenter Ira Appelman's earlier explanation in a related article for the real truth.
Kindra February 13, 2013 at 03:04 PM
What about moving the tolling point to access into Seattle only, in other words, between MI and Seattle? Wouldn’t this retain most of the predicted revenue generation and move the commute patterns back to how they were before 520 tolling? But it would also allow both Islanders and off-Islanders who need to access MI to/from all points east to do so without burden.
Publius February 13, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Only if you buy into the WSDOT's false 'corridor' narrative. This will push more towards Renton and other side roads. It would also turn the north end of Mercer Island into a large park and ride being the last 'park free' option before Seattle.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA February 13, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Tom Emrich has it right- as he usually does. JG-

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