The state will soon send 10,000 surveys to residents and businesspeople on Mercer Island, to find out when, how often, and in what direction they drive on Interstate-90 during the week of Nov. 17-23.
The forms include fill-in-the-blank questions about peak commute habits, and another about service workers, such as nannies, home-care aides, and landscapers. The back page looks like a standardized test, but easier. Mark the bubbles on a grid, for the number of trips taken in one of five time periods, for Sunday through Saturday.
Island residents continue to oppose state plans to toll I-90 to collect money to help finish the Highway 520 Bridge across Lake Washington. Citizens at a forum Monday at Mercer Island High School often expressed concern about teachers or elder-care workers who live off-island and can’t afford tolls.
John Parker, the school’s sound, video and performing arts center technician, testified at the event he was working. “Yes, I would have to quit my job if they toll,” he said later. He said he earns $47,000 a year, lives in West Seattle, and would have to spend at least $2,100 a year to keep driving to what he calls his dream job, if tolls are imposed.
Attendance at the forum peaked at about 300 people at 5:30 p.m., and the total was higher. A similar forum in January drew 800 people.
Craig Stone, tolling director for Washington State Department of Transportation, rolled out some compromise scenarios. In one, islanders might pay a half-toll. In another, they’d pay in only one direction.
Tolls would have to be authorized by the Legislature in 2015, so they might begin in late 2016 or early 2017, he said.
Unless there are more tolls, a gas-tax boost of 3 to 4 cents a gallon will be needed to pay off the 520 Bridge, he said.
Speakers at the forum cited problems on the Highway 520 Bridge — pontoon cracks and cost overruns, as a reason not to impose more tolls.
“There’s a lot of tolling fatigue,” said resident Owen Blauman, who greeted people at the front steps. He said multiple rounds of state process are wearing opponents down, and some are assuming they’ll catch a price break. “Bottom line is, why should there be tolls anyway? They [WSDOT] can’t manage the gas tax we’ve given them.”
Stone said WSDOT recognizes Mercer Island is a “unique situation” because I-90 is the only way to get there or leave it.
Mercer Island generates about one-fifth of the 160,000 daily cross lake trips on I-90, and seemingly four-fifths of the political controversy.