Kirkland residents weigh in on 520 tolls
August 11, 2008 · Updated 1:51 PM
Eastside residents like Dave McDonald would have no problem paying a toll on the 520 and I-90 bridges if that’s what it came down to.
A salesman with accounts in Seattle, he crosses both bridges several times a week from his Kirkland home.
It would be reasonable to have a user fee, he says, but he wants the toll to be low – one to two dollars at the maximum per trip. Also, start it now, he added.
Such was the sentiment that was echoed at a 520 open house in Kirkland last Thursday as more than 60 Eastside residents weighed in on tolling options for the bridge. The tolls could help fund the proposed new 520 Bridge across Lake Washington between Seattle and the Eastside, which would cost nearly $4 billion.
Construction of the new bridge is expected to begin in 2010 and open in 2014. When the corridor is complete in 2016, it will include six lanes, with two general-purpose lanes and one carpool lane in each direction.
About $2 billion in state and federal contributions already have been secured to fund the bridge. Officials anticipate toll revenues will fund the other half of the project.
During the Aug. 7 meeting, attendees heard a presentation and had the chance to voice concerns about the four tolling options that the 520 Tolling Implementation Committee has begun to evaluate.
These options include tolling 520 when construction starts in 2010 or waiting until the project is complete to begin tolling in 2016; tolling both the 520 and 90 bridges in 2016 or begin tolling 520 in 2010 and wait to toll 90 in 2016.
Bob Drewel, Tolling Implementation Committee member and Puget Sound Regional Council executive director, said that two of the options would fall short of the total needed to fund the rest of the project, and the other two would pull in more than is needed.
No one thinks that having to pay tolls is a good idea, Drewel added.
“But what we’re hearing is more comments that people understand the bridge had to be rebuilt, that revenue sources are not what they used to be and tolls, if reasonable and spent on mitigation, then it’s probably something we have to do.”
And do sooner rather than later.
“I favor the concept of the 2010 tolling on both 520 and 90,” said Bill Garing of Redmond. “What you want to do is start collecting tolls when you start construction and that way the tolls would be lower over the period of time that they need to be collected.”
He added a regional tolling policy of all freeway corridors within a certain radius of downtown Seattle would help to eliminate people seeking the free route or shifting their direction of travel.
Redmond resident Hans Gunderson agreed.
“We should start the tolls right away,” he said. “I am very cool to the idea of congestion management using variable tolling.”
However, a handful of people felt differently about the tolls.
“I think I’m in the minority here,” Barbara Cromwell said.
The single mother drives from her home in north Kirkland every day to Boeing field and fears the highest toll rates under consideration could cost her as much as $130 per month. Her work will not allow her to take flex time. Anticipating the new tolls, Cromwell checked the Metro bus schedule only to find that it would take her three busses to get to work – two hours one way and two hours back.
“It’s wonderful these people all think this is great,” she said, “but I think there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t make a lot of money and who don’t have a lot of options and what in the heck are we going to do?”
Drewel said that the concern about the economics of tolling has come up at each of the six community open houses so far and is an issue the committee will consider as they move forward.
One resident said he’d like to see a sunset provision so users know how long they will be paying tolls.
Others suggested doing away with segment tolling recommended under some of the options and instead to toll the same amount on each corridor.
“People in Kirkland, we really would have to drive out of our way to go on to the I-90 bridge,” one resident said, noting that many will seek the free route if only one bridge is tolled.
“If necessary, toll the north and south end of the lake as well just so that no matter how you get around here, you’re going to have to pay, so that you’re not making a decision to drive further to avoid paying,” one person said.
After the last open house this evening in Mercer Island, the Tolling Implementation Committee will convene again in September to look at additional tolling scenarios. They will submit a final tolling report to the legislature in January of 2009.
Carrie Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.
Scenario 1: Start tolling the new 520 bridge in 2016
*Toll rate $0.90 - $3.80
*Highest toll rate
*Includes bridge and segment tolls
*Funding $835 million, does not meet legislative target.
Scenario 2: Start tolling the 520 bridge in 2010
*Toll rate $0.75 - $2.95
*Lowest toll rate
*No segment tolls
*Funding $900 million, does not meet legislative target.
Scenario 3: Start tolling the new 520 and 90 bridge in 2016
*Toll rate $0.90 - $3.25
*Moderate toll rate
*Includes segment tolls beginning in 2016 on 520 and I-90
*Funding $2.3 billion, greater than legislative target.
Scenario 4: Start tolling the 520 bridge in 2010 and 90 bridge in 2016
*Toll rate $0.90 - $3.25
*Moderate toll rate
*Includes segment tolls beginning in 2016 on 520 (when the corridor is complete) and I-90
*Funding $2.5 billion, greater than legislative target.