More than a hundred people came to Mercer Island High School Monday night to let the state know that island businesses and schools would be threatened by any plan to toll I-90. Despite not being a fan of the toll, several residents offered up their own alternative ideas on how to raise tax revenue for the 520 bridge.
Mercer Island City Councilmember Mike Sero said a gas tax – even if it has to be a local gas tax – is a far better plan than a toll on I-90.
“The problem is, that a state-level gas tax – it’s tough to pass that east of the mountains,” said Sero. But he thinks a local gas tax on King, Snohomish, or Pierce Counties of only a couple cents a gallon could be passed.
“A couple cents a gallon,” Sero said. “People don’t change their buying habits for a couple cents.”
Mercer Island resident Wayne Perryman said it wasn’t just about Mercer Island.
“My concern, and I’m sorry that the media is not here, because they took a lot of film of white people here talking about Mercer Island, but they’re not here to talk about the impact this would have on the ethnic minorities in Seattle that use I-90 every day to go to school and to go to work.”
Back in the school’s cafeteria, Dave Ross got into a conversation with Steven Burgess, who said he would like to know how close they have to come to the cost estimates for what has already been done in the 520 process.
Dave asked if he would feel better about paying a toll if it was not for a cost overrun on the 520 bridge?
“What are you talking about? You wouldn’t want to pay a toll period,” interjected another Mercer Island resident. She continued, “Mercer Island is an island – I think that they’re taking a huge advantage. Furthermore I don’t think it’s fair to the people that make their living by coming here to work – the teachers, the police, the fireman, clerks – it’s just nonsense. And why does Mercer Island have to be taxed to pay for the 520 bridge from Montlake to I-5?”
Suppose the state came up with some kind of countywide gas tax instead, and both the woman and Burgess said, “Okay, do it.”
Outside the school, Mercer Island resident Owen Blauman handed out flyers to announce a demonstration for Saturday morning at 10:30 starting at the park just east of the bridge.
“We’re just going to walk the sidewalk and show the state how irritated we are – at tolling and hopefully get a good turn out and show volumes of people,” Blauman said.
Signs, chants, and just anything, Blauman said. “They’re supposed to be administering the taxes that we’re giving them and now, they’re designing bridges that are leaking and this whole tolling process has more leaks in it than both the old bridge and the new bridge together.”
Principal Anca Wilson of St Monica’s Catholic School commutes from West Seattle. She said tolls would devastate the school.
“Please consider the fact that the tolling of I-90 could potentially have a disastrous blow on the St. Monica community. Our school and parish have been a strong pillar of support for this island for many decades.”
State officials presented every possible tolling option, including one which would let individual residents choose which way they’d want to commute toll-free, Bellevue or Seattle.
But the most unusual idea came from resident Jay Westerdahl who actually supported tolling, provided that there’s an exemption for anyone who lingers on the island more than 30 minutes!
“And that would mean that if you were on the island for more than 30 minutes your car is not tolled, and if you turned around on the island and went back in the other direction you weren’t tolled but you were only tolled if you drove across the bridge the whole way in a 30 minute time period,” he said.
These hearings have put a lot of pressure on State Representative Judy Clibborn who chairs the State Transportation Committee and is a long-time resident of Mercer Island. She’s been a supporter of tolls to fund other highway expansion projects. But unlike those projects, the money collected on the I-90 crossing would actually be used to help pay for the now 520 bridge, something that hasn’t been done before.
MyNorthwest.com’s Alyssa Kleven contributed to this report.