I’ve been receiving “I-90 Tolling Updates” from Mercer Island officials opposed to requiring their residents pay tolls for nearly a year with update #18 on Nov 13.
This effort is presumably in response to a Jan 23, 2013 WSDOT blog post “Looking at tolling I-90” that included the following objectives:
We’re studying the possibility of adding tolls on I-90, between Seattle and Bellevue to help address both of the challenges: balance Cross-Lake Washington traffic and generate revenue to fill the SR 520 construction funding gap.
The public was given 30 days to respond by attending public “Scoping meetings” or via email.
Apparently Mercer Island officials “convinced” the WSDOT to extend the response by requiring an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the tolling effects on their constituents. The end result was the WSDOT was given $8.32 million to fund an EIS aimed at initiating the tolls, if approved, in 2017
As attested to by the 18 updates, MI officials have spent the year (and presumably considerable funds) trying to influence the alternatives to the tolls (scoping) considered by the EIS. The 11/30/13 post explains why this effort has very little chance of succeeding.
It’s inexplicable why MI officials are ignoring a far better way than tolls to reduce I-90 congestion and to fund 520: use their permitting process to stop East Link. East Link will be a disaster for the entire east side, but particularly for MI commuters.
Their problems will begin in 2016 when Sound Transit closes off the center roadway to begin light rail construction. MI commuters will not only loose their exclusive “single occupancy” access to the center roadway, their access to the outer roadways will be severely limited by the “throttling effects” from signal lights on I-90 on-ramps because of heavy congestion.
To add insult to injury, their 7 (?) years of difficult access to I-90 and congestion on the bridge will be “rewarded” with limited access to light rail. East Link service will likely consist of one 2-car train every 8 minutes (see 12/24/13 post). The limited capacity along with the fact the MI station is the last of 8 eastside stations means commuters will have “difficulty” finding space to stand, let alone sit. Train operators may be forced to “skip” MI station because of over-crowded cars during peak commute periods. Again those choosing to ride buses or other vehicles will continue to face increasing congestion, inevitably resulting in frequent gridlock.
MI can avoid both the tolls and the disruption to their residents’ commute by using their permitting process to stop East Link. There is certainly legal justification for doing so. The ST EIS claim light rail is needed because “Transit demand across Lake Washington is expected to nearly double in the next 30 years” is absurd.
Light rail confiscation of the center roadway will reduce capacity not increase it. The idea that a light rail system with 2-car trains every 8 minutes is a better way to meet future “Transit Demand” than improved service from up to 1000 buses an hour is beyond absurd.
Not only will the center roadway never have needed capacity their own studies show forcing all vehicles onto the outer roadway will increase congestion there as well, even with their planned 4th lane additions. No one can reasonably reject MI attempts to disallow permits, particularly those enabling ST to spend $2.8 billion on such a debacle.
Rather than continue with EIS attempts to stop tolls, MI should use their legislative influence in the upcoming session to insist WSDOT require ST expedite adding the 4th lanes to the outer roadway as the way to reduce congestion. They should also use the legislature to “persuade” ST to use part of the $2.8 billion East Link funds rather than I-90 tolls to fund 520. (ST has a moral if not legal obligation to spend the East Link funds on east side.)
Stopping East Link should be a “no brainer”. Hopefully MI officials will recognize that reality and stop it and the tolls. Their constituents and the entire east side surely deserve it.