Mercer Islanders give lawmakers earful over I-90 tolls

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- State lawmakers got an earful from Mercer Islanders Tuesday as the asked for a way to get around proposed tolls on the I-90 Bridge.

The bridge is the only way to drive on and off of Mercer Island, and thousands of cars use the route every day -- more than ever because the neighboring 520 Bridge has a toll to pay for its replacement.

Senate and House lawmakers from Mercer Island are leading the charge to see if there can be no charge for island residents to use I-90, or at least a reduced toll. Some on the island believe they're like Alcatraz, being held hostage to the money issues that face the state's highways.

They have collected 5,000 signatures to fight all tolls for everyone.

"Tolls on a bridge or a road that has already been paid for are not a user fee. They're a tax," said Mercer Island resident Lisa Belden. "And for anyone who is caught in that corridor that stretches from Bainbridge Island to Yakima and beyond, they will be hit with a big new tax."

And it's not just island residents feeling the pinch. The superintendent of Mercer Island schools claims a toll would be an undue burden on teachers and staff who will now have to pay to work on the island -- and those other workers with low-paying jobs.

"I think it would devastate business on Mercer Island because there is a very limited population of people from M.I. who work in these businesses," said Mercer Island resident Eva Zamplenyi. "And I think it would do away with that."

But those not on the island counter this is only fair -- that all taxpayers helped pay for the I-90 bridge and its special accommodations across Mercer Island. And senators from areas where they pay tolls and pay for ferry commuting feel they're paying their fair share: Why not Mercer Island?

"I hope that you will share with your constituents that that's not creating sympathy from me," said State Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island).

Right now, this is all still in the talking stage as the WSDOT comes up with alternatives for tolling across Mercer Island. But the residents on that island just want to make sure they are indeed heard.

Nobody testified against the legislation. The companion bill to this by Mercer Island Representative Judy Clibborn will be heard in her transportation committee Wednesday.