My engineering background frequently leaves me amazed at the methods the legal system uses to “resolve” issues. For example, the 3/16/13 post details how the judge in the recent BBB suit based his decision on arguments the defendants never included in their filings. The 9/23/13 post details how the State’s Attorney General praised lawyers who seemingly committed mal practice by either failing to read documents (or worse) they used to mislead a judge into allowing East Link to precede.
The attempt by Mercer Island officials to stop tolling on I-90 is another example.
I recently received “update #17 on the city’s efforts to oppose tolling of I-90”. It referred to a WSDOY study of 6 different tolling options. Typical of the WSDOT, they never considered “not tolling” the HOV lanes on the outer roadways, the best way to reduce congestion by encouraging carpools that would have reduced congestion.
The update also referred to their final scoping letter “advocating for a thorough and broad study and for a comprehensive analysis for alternatives to tolling”. The letter includes the following introduction:
The City continues to oppose tolling I-90. As with its February 22, 2013 scoping letter, however, the City's comments will focus on helping WSDOTto develop a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") sufficient to withstand judicial review under NEPA or the SEPA.
As a participating agency, the City looks forward to working with WSDOT and Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA") on development of an EIS that thoroughly analyzes the environmental impacts of tolling I-90 and all reasonable alternatives, including significant diversion-related impacts to transportation, water quality, greenhouse gases, public health and safety, and air quality. While this letter points to certain alternatives that it believes could have less environmental impact, the City does not endorse any particular alternative. Instead, the City's goal is that the EIS will explore in detail all funding alternatives (as per Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill ("ESSB") 5024)) and all reasonable alternatives (as required by NEPA).
The executive summary continues:
These comments build on the City's earlier comments but also reflect its concerns with the revised purpose and need statement and scoping materials.
They then identify specific concerns:
NEPA and SEPA require WSDOT to consider all reasonable alternatives, and failure to analyze a reasonable alternative is grounds for invalidation of an EIS. ESSB 5024 directs WSDOT to examine "all funding alternatives."
EPA and SEPA require WSDOT to analyze and disclose all significant environmental impacts, wherever they might occur. Given the likelihood of diversion to other routes, the study area for this EIS should encompass the entire Central Puget Sound Region
Mercer Island officials apparently base their opposition to I-90 tolling on concerns that “diversion” will result in “excessive” congestion on routes around the lake. As one who spent several years commuting around the south end of Lake Washington I doubt many will find that a viable alternative. Thus, the only way to reduce congestion with the current options under consideration is to toll I-90. It will reduce I-90 traffic by eliminating the incentive for those avoiding 520 tolls and encourage others to car pool and share the costs.
The Mercer Island argument for not tolling I-90 comes down not to reducing congestion but finding “alternative funding sources” for 520 bridge financing. The rest of the letter goes into these alternate funding sources. Since none of these funding sources reduce congestion it’s highly unlikely any “scoping” changes Mercer Island officials have proposed for funding will prevent tolling on I-90.
The only way Mercer Island officials can prevent I-90 tolling is to expand the EIS to include the option of adding a 4th lane to the outer roadway. Doing so would immediately reduce cross-lake congestion in both directions. Other posts (1/22/13, 4/18/13, 9/04/13, 9/10/13, 10/17/13) detail the advantages and funding benefits that could result from this approach. All have been forwarded to “no tolls on I-90” and Mercer City Council. Their “final scoping letter,” supposedly based on months of study and public inputs, fails to include this option.