Stuck in the middle of the I-90 tolling issue is Mercer Island. Halfway between Seattle and Bellevue, this island enclave wasn’t likely to support a toll on I-90 before tolling had started on SR-520.
The new traffic situation may be changing residents’ opinions. Mercer Island is now in the middle of a gridlocked commute for longer, darker, slower hours every morning and night. Tens of thousands of new commuters have converged to pack the I-90 floating bridges and escape the tolls on SR-520. Residents who stay on the island full-time are not affected, but these are few. Most leave the island for work, dining, shopping, and entertainment.
A toll would obviously disproportionately affect the residents whose only only access to Mercer Island is I-90. It might make sense to allow a credit, discount, or exempt-status pass for permanent residents, whether on a a full-time basis or possibly in the evenings and weekends. Opponents of a toll had expressed concern that the local Mercer Island businesses would be hurt by fewer customers if a toll were instituted. The same could be said if it takes 45 minutes to cross I-90 in gridlock.
Reduced Tolling for Mercer Island residents
There are many great ideas for reducing the disproportionate burden of tolling on Mercer Island residents. The best include transponders on both sides of the island. If each transponder only charged a half toll, Islanders could travel to Seattle or the Eastside and pay half of what a cross-lake traveler would pay. Even better, the transponders could only charge a toll if a driver pass both sides of the island on the same day. Seattleites could shop in M.I., and island residents could travel in either direction without paying. They’d only pay a toll if they crossed the whole lake, like the rest of the commuters.
Mercer Island is in an interesting position, because the island isn’t technically serviced at all by the SR-520 bridge. The indirect benefits of tolling I-90 and SR-520 for the residents of Mercer Island are clear, though. Tolls on I-90 would significantly improve the quality of life and access to work and home for residents at a low cost. Commuters could speed quickly through the island as opposed to stalling, fuming, and blocking on-ramp or off-ramp lanes.
Tolls on 520 are here to stay, along with the waves of new commuters on I-90. The traffic situation must be addressed in light of those realities, and tolling both bridges is the simplest way to reverse the congestion issues. Mercer Island would see a significant benefit from the tolling of both the I-90 and the SR-520 bridges.
Tolling I-90 is better for: