I-90 tolling proposal: Your feedback helps shape alternatives and tolling options

Friday, October 11, 2013

By guest blogger Emily Pace

I-90 Floating Bridge
As you may recall, earlier this year we conducted outreach on the proposal to toll I-90 between I-5 in Seattle and I-405 in Bellevue, including public meetings in Bellevue, Mercer Island and in Seattle, and a public comment period. We had a great turnout at the meetings, and in the end, received thousands of comments from the public and state and local agencies.

It’s important to remember why the Legislature asked us to study tolling I-90. The Cross-Lake Washington corridor – made up of the I-90 and SR 520 bridges – provides as a vital connection between our region’s major employment and population centers. We’re facing two key challenges with this corridor: funding the SR 520 - I-5 to Medina Bridge Replacement Project to complete the SR 520 Program and relieving congestion on I-90.  To address these challenges, the Legislature asked us to evaluate tolling I-90 and complete an environmental impact statement to examine other possible project alternatives.

Craig Stone, Assistant Secretary for the WSDOT Toll Division,
and Tolled Corridors Director John White discuss the I-90
EIS with members of the public attending the Bellevue
scoping meeting held October 10th.
How did we use the feedback we received from outreach earlier this year?
Many people suggested potential alternatives to tolling I-90 that may help meet the purpose of the project, which is to alleviate congestion on I-90 and fund SR 520 between I-5 and Medina. We used the suggestions to develop a list of potential solutions that fit into categories such as state or regional taxes, mileage fees, federal funding and adding new highway capacity. 

Many suggestions came from folks who live or work on Mercer Island.  When we discuss tolling I-90, we realize Mercer Island is in a very unique situation—fully reliant on I-90 to leave the Island in either direction.  As we continue with the environmental process and evaluate the variable tolling alternative, we’re only considering potential tolling options (pdf 404 kb) that would offer Mercer Island a free or discounted way off the island.

More input needed Oct. 6 through Nov. 7 on proposal and alternatives
We’re having another 30-day comment period and we need your feedback again – this time on the potential alternatives and proposal to toll I-90. You can provide your comments online, by mail or in person at a public meeting in Bellevue, Mercer Island and Seattle. Last time, many folks wanted a chance to give verbal comment at the public meetings, so this time around we’re offering the chance to speak at each meeting.

What are the next steps?
Ultimately, the Legislature decides whether or not to toll I-90. After the comment period ends on Nov. 6, we will compile all the comments and summarize key themes into a summary report. Your feedback will help determine which alternatives are studied in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) analysis. In mid-2014, we will publish the DEIS findings and allow the public another opportunity to comment. We plan to deliver the final report to the Legislature in early 2015.

Have more questions?
Check out our common questions on I-90 tolling to find an answer.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since I can't seem to find an answer on your FAQs, I'll try asking here. How will tolling I-90 affect congestion on the remaining free routes at the ends of the lake, like 900, 522, I-405, or various local arterials? Those roads are pretty bad as is right now. For example, my carpool used to take 522 in the afternoons from Bothell to Maple Leaf before 520 tolling, but now we go up 405 and back down I-5 because of the horrible congestion and awful signal timing in Kenmore, which means an extra 5 miles daily of driving out of the way. Relatedly, why are carpools banned from the right lanes on 522, 99 in Federal Way allows carpools there, so how come this is not allow up here as well? (And until the transit system is expanded to European/Asian levels of frequency and coverage, that will simply not be a feasible method of travel to anywhere except downtown for the vast majority of people)

steve said...

i'm confused because I thought because I-ninety was a federal highway, washington state couldn't just tokl it @ a whim.

WSDOT said...

@Steve In addition to approval from the state Legislature, tolling I-90 across Lake Washington would require approval from the Federal Highway Administration under the Value Pricing Pilot Program. The program aims to manage congestion while generating revenue on interstates through tolling. Washington is one of 15 states participating in this program.

WSDOT said...

@Anonymous We heard concerns from drivers during our initial outreach earlier this year that I-90 tolls will increase traffic on other routes. As part of our environmental study, we will conduct regional traffic modeling to measure the potential effects tolling I-90 could have on other routes.

Specifically regarding SR 522, we continue to adjust signals along the corridor. We definitely want to keep traffic moving on both SR 522 and the streets that intersect with it. However, adjusting the signals to move more vehicles on SR 522 means increased delays and congestion for drivers trying to cross or access SR 522 from side streets including higher volume arterials like 68th Avenue NE, 61st Avenue NE, Ballinger Way and NE 145th Street.

The carpool lanes along SR 522 are actually business access and transit (BAT) lanes. These lanes improve access to businesses and residences, and save time for transit riders because buses don’t have to pull in and out of traffic to load and unload passengers. In the case of SR 522, the BAT lanes are mostly converted shoulders and aren’t designed to handle the higher volumes of traffic we see in the regular lanes. There are also safety and sign distance issues with the curve of the roadway and the large number of driveways for both homes and businesses. When you look at the BAT lanes on SR 99 in Federal Way for example you have a much straighter roadway with fewer driveways, not to mention that the lanes were built to withstand higher vehicle volumes.

steve said...

I c. for some reason I couldn't get my numbers on keypad to work this morning so I had to spell out I-90 & then I see I misspelled 'toll'. anyway, that is interesting to know wadot, but pretty soon we r going 2 b taxed, tolled, SO MUCH that it isn't going 2 b worth going 2 work! u know, when the efficient gas cars or battery powered cars started coming out, or when people stopped driving 7 yrs ago because of outrageous gas prices, I said 2 myself, it's not making sense that the government wants LESS cars on the roads, or cars that use less fuel, because they r going 2 lose a lot of revenue on gas tax, & sure enough, a yr later, "wa state needs 2 explore tolling people because they r losing a lot of money because people have stopped driving & cars rn't using as much gas", & now there's going 2 b tolls everywhere!

Anonymous said...

The Washington State Legislature, WSDOT and FHA must approve tolling on this state highway, but public opinion merely shapes alternatives and tolling options.

Here is an option: leave I-90 alone. The public has already financed its construction. Placing tolls on this road is clearly a measure to make up for shortfalls in revenues from SR 520 tolling. This is certain to place an undue financial burden on the motoring public as well as to push traffic onto remaining alternate routes. Shall we toll SR 522, Rainier Ave and SR 99 as well when people cease travelling on I-90 as well?

The public needs WSDOT to find ways to finance public projects using the funds at their disposal

WSDOT said...

@Anonymous Proposed tolling on I-90 is not due to shortfalls from SR 520 toll revenue. Current SR 520 tolls are expected to raise more than $1 billion for the SR 520 floating bridge replacement. Because the program secured funding for the most critical part of the program first, the floating bridge, there is still a $1.4 billion funding gap for construction between I‐5 and the west side of the floating bridge. You can find more information on the project http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr520bridge/i5tomedina/. You can also find more information on SR 520 funding http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/financing.htm

Anonymous said...

Why should only cross-bridge drivers be charged with building and maintaining our highways? How about tolling I-5 and highway 99? Actually, the best toll of all is the gas tax. It tolls all driving and creates a progressiveness that charges people who drive bigger and less fuel efficient vehicles, which generate more pollution and greenhouse gases, more.

Unknown said...

Even though I'd be affected by a toll on I-90, I favor tolling. I-90 is used much more these days by those seeking to avoid the 520 toll, and that has really increased the commuter traffic. I think that a toll would send people back over to the 520 bridge. There are also many more cars commuting south on 12th Avenue (through the Capitol Hill neighborhood) to get to I-90.

Theresa Rasmussen said...

I agree with the masses here, we have already financed, and via our taxes the upkeep. If the money is mismanaged then we need to fix that problem, and not use it to fix other problems that have careened out of control (520). Please focus on fixing what is broke without causing more issues. (possibly a temporary hike for 520 tolls until enough funds are raised as well as a temporary hike in HOV lane good to go passes). Good luck..

Anonymous said...

The root cause I believe for you to have a need toll I 90 is due to over pricing the toll of 520 bridge. When you started tolling there was a drop in traffic over the bridge. Rather than lowering the toll to attract more drivers and thus increase revenue you chose to raise the toll even higher, and as a result seeing an even lower traffic and further reduced revenue. Having high tolls across the bridges isn't an answer, people will just clog 405 around the top of the lake. Additionally we already have one of the highest gas taxes in the nation. That money should be marked for our transportation infrastructure. Can you say these collected gas taxes are all going to public roads? Probably not! Finally, you are asking for the public to pay for WA DOT engineering failures that have cost us plenty, I405 rapid transit ramp in Kirkland and the structural on the new 520 floats are just a few to mention. How about you demonstrating good business sense and use of our existing taxes first before asking for more.

Jim

Anonymous said...

So tax the entire state to fix your traffic problems? Pay to fix the problems you create yourself.

Anonymous said...

From my understanding of the Federal Department of Transportation, a toll has to be approved by the Federal Department and can only be used on that highway. Which means if Washington State wants to take the money to pay for State Highway 520 they are in violation of federal law and subject to loosing Federal Highway funding. This would include funding for important infra-structure such as matching funds for the Highway 99 tunnel.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the solution is to stop building the new 520 bridge. If I am building my home and run out of money... I don't get to tax my neighbors to pay for it. I stop building. Why toll people who are using a FREEWAY (get the name there.. its 'free'). The State does not seem to have the competence to oversee such a huge project, from lack of adequate finance planning to poor oversight of contractors (concrete is the only problem, I think not...). Lets wait till the state develops some competency... Just an idea.

Anonymous said...

Even if I did live where I'd use that route everyday, can't say I'd be against it as it all has to be funded & paid for somehow in the end.
And when the tolling began on 520, already had the feeling that they'd eventually toll 90 because why would they wanna miss out on collecting those toll fees too?! Surprised they've taken even this long to install it all :-\

Anonymous said...

Please add tolling to I-90 and help balance the traffic.

Anonymous said...

One way that the Mercer Island problem could be solved is by having toll stations just after the island in both directions so that travelers only headed to the island won't have to pay.

Reg said...

I think tolling interstates is a serious mistake. When the Federal Govt started the interstate highways project it was envisioned as a freeway system. Tolling just part of an interstate system could be considered a restraint of trade issue. The feds put a lot of money into I90 across Mercer Island ($2 billion?). It certainly sets a dangerous precedent to toll the I90 bridge. I for one am against it.

WSDOT said...

Thanks everyone who’s taken the time to comment. Just a reminder, if you’d like to submit your comments to be considered as part of the I-90 study, you should email us at i90eiscomments@wsdot.wa.gov. We’re taking public comment until Nov. 6. Comments on this blog won’t be included as part of the record – so if you’re interested in offering input we would love to hear from you. Can also fill out our online comment form http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I90/CrossLakeWATolling/eiscomments.htm

Anonymous said...

Didnt we already pay for these highways and continue to pay for them thru some of the highest tax's in the nation? How about you trim some fat in Olympia...

Anonymous said...

Why not take all the sales tax from auto sales, auto parts sales, auto service sales and apply them to building roads. The construction process needs simplified.

Anonymous said...

I think I-5 AND I-90 SHOULD BE A TOLL ROAD FROM THE OREGON BORDER TO CANADA I-5 AND SEATTLE TO IDAHO A TOLL ROAD TOO AND IT WILL PAY FOR IT SELF IN THE LONG RUN THAT IS WHAT IS GOING ON ALL OVER THE EAST COAST.

Michael Van Rensburg said...

I already take alternative routs to avoid the toll bridge currently in place because (especially because I drive a Prius), the cost of the toll costs more than the amount of money spent taking an alternative route, furthermore, I am a college student and I get by each week with not a dollar to spare (and am also currently in heavy debt). Even though the tolls are seemingly cheep, a back and forth trip everyday Monday through Friday adds up at the end of the week. If I had to use the current toll bridge (forget a new toll), I would be spending more money to cross a bridge than I spend on my daily lunch. My main point is: there are some people who could afford it, but what about the people who already struggle to make ends meet? Why cant the money needed be generated through the current tax system? I get it: governments are running out of money, but you know what? so are the citizens.

Michael Van Rensburg said...

I already take alternative routs to avoid the toll bridge currently in place because (especially because I drive a Prius), the cost of the toll costs more than the amount of money spent taking an alternative route, furthermore, I am a college student and I get by each week with not a dollar to spare (and am also currently in heavy debt). Even though the tolls are seemingly cheep, a back and forth trip everyday Monday through Friday adds up at the end of the week. If I had to use the current toll bridge (forget a new toll), I would be spending more money to cross a bridge than I spend on my daily lunch. My main point is: there are some people who could afford it, but what about the people who already struggle to make ends meet? Why cant the money needed be generated through the current tax system? I get it: governments are running out of money, but you know what? so are the citizens.

lambiegroup said...

Please do not use tolls on I-90. I can easily afford a toll. People with less resources cannot. A toll punishes poor people. If you need more revenue, please consider a state income tax, which is more fair.

Unknown said...

@Michael Van Rensburg - The Seattle area transportation network is geographically limited which essentially forces operators and officials (WSDOT) to explore alternative methods in addressing congestion when roadway capacities are met. Tolling is one method to not only generate funding for projects, but also encourages users to seek alternative travel modes. This is where utilizing mass transit, carpooling, shifting times when you travel, etc., comes into play. You mention you are a student, and I am assuming at UW, who is limited on income. UW, if that is your school, forces you to pay a fee for the U-PASS (hint: unlimited fare pass since you have to pay for it regardless). What is stopping you from driving (if you still must drive from home to reach a bus line) to a park and ride then hopping on a bus to cross the lake to campus?

Unknown said...

@Michael Van Rensburg - The Seattle area transportation network is geographically limited which essentially forces operators and officials (WSDOT) to explore alternative methods in addressing congestion when roadway capacities are met. Tolling is one method to not only generate funding for projects, but also encourages users to seek alternative travel modes. This is where utilizing mass transit, carpooling, shifting times when you travel, etc., comes into play. You mention you are a student, and I am assuming at UW, who is limited on income. UW, if that is your school, forces you to pay a fee for the U-PASS (hint: unlimited fare pass since you have to pay for it regardless). What is stopping you from driving (if you still must drive from home to reach a bus line) to a park and ride then hopping on a bus to cross the lake to campus?

 

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