Mercer Island leaders ask feds to put brakes on I-90 tolling proposal

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. - The state's proposal to toll Interstate 90 across Lake Washington is not sitting well with Mercer Island officials, and they're not wasting any time voicing their concerns with federal and state leaders.

Earlier this week the city sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration asking them to hold off on authorizing the tolling plan altogether.

"We want to make sure the Federal Highway Administration understands the legality of approving tolls and the significance," said Noel Treat, deputy city manager for Mercer Island. "From what we understand, this is the first time an interstate could be tolled to pay for a completely separate state project."

City officials believe tolling a federal interstate to pay for an unrelated project could set a national precedent - something they want the federal administration to evaluate. On its website, WSDOT explains how tolls collected from I-90 would help offset the $1.4 billion budget shortfall for State Route 520.

The city hired Seattle-based law firm Calfo Harrigan Leyh & Eakes to consider possible litigation against WSDOT.

Mercer Island officials do not agree tolling should be approved or even considered before an environmental review is completely finished.

The environmental review looks at a variety of issues regarding tolling, including: why it's being proposed, how it would be implemented, how it would affect traffic on I-90 and other routes, how it would affect surrounding communities, potential environmental effects on the local economy, and what can be done to avoid or minimize any impacts found.

"We still want to see in WSDOT's study the whole range of alternatives in mitigation explored," Treat said. "We are really hoping the state will take a step back and really look at the broader impact tolling would create."

Lawmakers from the 41st Legislative District are holding two town hall meetings this Saturday to talk about issues affecting Mercer Island residents. Treat believes a number of citizens concerned with the state's tolling proposal will attend the meetings and share their concerns with state leaders. Details about each of the meetings can be found online.