(I wrote this post in response to an April 17, City of Mercer Island update of their efforts to oppose tolling of I-90)
The recent decision by the WSDOT to “study the possibility of tolling Interstate 90” and the apparent willingness of the Legislature to impose the toll gives a new meaning to the phrase “Rubbing salt on an open wound”. The “wound” in this case is the fact eastside residents already pay more than their fair share towards funding cross-lake transportation through the .9% sales tax to Sound Transit.
What makes the additional tolls so "painful" is the fact ST has spent much of what little sales tax revenue they've spent on the east side promoting East Link light rail; a $2.8 billion project that will devastate parts of Bellevue and require Bellevue residents to pay an additional $200 million for a tunnel under the city center.
Fifteen years ago ST and the WSDOT could have added the 4th lane to the outer roadways, reducing cross-lake congestion for everyone but particularly “reverse commuters”. Instead they’re partners in a $2.8 billion project that includes confiscating the I-90 Bridge center roadway for light rail and forcing all traffic onto the outer roadways to face ever increasing congestion and inevitable gridlock.
Even when East Link begins operation (2023), the vast majority of I-90 commuters won’t have access because of limited parking along route. Forcing them to pay a toll to fund a bridge they will never use, knowing their taxes have funded a light rail system that increases their commute times is practically obscene.
It’s way past time for ST and WSDOT to acknowledge they made an historic blunder when they selected light rail for cross-lake public transit. A small part of the East Link funds could be used to add the 4th lane to the outer roadway and to initiate bus rapid transit (BRT) on the center roadway with 10 times light rail capacity accessible from every eastside P&R. The remaining money could be used to eliminate the need for tolls on both bridges, a well-deserved benefit from years of supporting ST’s Central Link.
The best way to “find another source of funding” is for the City of Mercer Island to use its considerable influence with the legislature to “persuade” Sound Transit to divert East Link funds to projects that will help the entire east side.