On Tuesday, I attended an open house at the Mercer Island Community Center to discuss tolling across the I-90 Bridge.
A representative from the Washington Department of Transportation, Craig Stone, was on hand, merely to host an exhibit on the various tolling options, but the presentation quickly turned into an impromptu public hearing.
“Some people said, ‘I’m going to get very livid if I don’t have an opportunity to talk to an individual,” said Stone. “I’m the individual you’re talking to. We want your comments, but again I’m not the ultimate decision maker in this. This is a legislative decision.”
Island residents weren’t shy about how they felt. Outside as I walked up to the hearing room, I found Owen Blauman waving a ‘No tolls on I-90’ sign outside of the hearing room, but visible through the large picture window to the people inside. When I asked why he was waving the sign, he said:
“Mercer Island’s finest told me that even though it’s a public facility, that I have to be wearing my sign. So for a while I had it shoved down my pants, but that was a little awkward, a lot of splinters, so I’m out here now watching from the outside.”
Blauman said the tolling will make Mercer Island like a mini-Alcatraz.
“We don’t have choices. If you’ve lived here for 40 years like I have, I don’t have a choice.”
I’ve heard Mercer Island described as many things, Alcatraz is not one of them.
Of course, the original bridge was tolled in the 1940s, but since then, there’s been no toll. Slapping a toll of perhaps $4 in each direction is a major lifestyle change.
I talked to some people inside who explained to me why Mercer Island is a unique case.
“The City of Mercer Island only has 20,000 residents and has far fewer services and resources than a town of 20,000 would normally have. There is no alternative to I-90. It literally is my umbilical cord to the rest of the world,” said one man, who continued to say not everyone that lives on the island is wealthy.
“I just moved here a year ago. I purchased by house for $215,000. If you don’t believe me look it up on Redfin. The truck I drove in here cost only $3,400. This jacket was $18 and this hat was $6.”
If there were a few more services on the island, things might be easier the resident said.
My own wife pointed out, that you can’t even get stitches, for an injury requiring them, on the island.
We tried to stay impartial, but it’s hard when you know everyone that lives on the island.
After Dave gave his report on the meeting, news anchor Linda Thomas pressed him on how he feels about the tolls as a Mercer Island resident.
“Look, we made our bed back in 1999 when we killed the car tab fees that were paying for about one-third of the transportation budget,” said Dave. “Nobody wants a gas tax, nobody wants a car tab fee. It’s either tolls or you’re not going to get a bridge. I don’t know how else to say that. People are saying, ‘Well we have to pay this toll for somebody else’s bridge.’ That being the 520 bridge, that’s why they need the money. But if you raise the gas tax, that means people of Eastern Washington pay for two bridges which they might never even visit. So none of it’s fair.”
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