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520 Bridge tolling moves on to State Senate

With Mt. Olympus looming above it in the background, the SR-520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge needs replacing due to age and safety concerns. A state-imposed toll to help pay for it passed in the legislature April 17.  - Photo/WSDOT
With Mt. Olympus looming above it in the background, the SR-520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge needs replacing due to age and safety concerns. A state-imposed toll to help pay for it passed in the legislature April 17.
— image credit: Photo/WSDOT

The State House voted 52-46 on Friday to start tolling on the SR 520 floating bridge as early as this August to pay for it's replacement.

Originally introduced by Transportation chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), House Bill 2211 gives the Washington State Department of Transportation authority to introduce tolling, spend $1.2 billion in toll-backed bonds for the floating bridge portion of the project and forms legislative sub-committees to guide the final project design phase.

It also sets the state-funding total for the project at $4.65 billion.

Efforts to start tolling the bridge appeared to split the votes of local officials and legislators, who disagreed over whether they should also introduce a toll on I-90. Both Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland) and Ross Hunter (D-Medina) from the 48th District voted against the bill, while Roger Goodman and Larry Springer of the 45th District voted in favor.

“I agree that early tolling is a good strategy and I appreciate the efforts that so many have put into crafting this legislation,” says Eddy. “But the bill as it is written today is not sound public policy. We are preparing to launch one of the most expensive and important transportation projects in our state and this legislation falls far short of addressing key issues involving process, funding for Eastside projects and dealing with I-90.”

Eddy said she supported the bill in committee but was unable to amend it later. Another amendment - brought by Rep. Springer - to allow tolling sooner and cap spending on the bridge at $4.65 billion, did pass.

The tolling is planned to be set at a variable rate and registers payment through the use of electronic transponders. The rates are not yet determined, but a rate of $1.50 to $3.80 has received the most support so far.

Mayor Jim Lauinger was also expected to testify on 520 tolling earlier this year during a Feb. 19 public hearing, but said he chose not to comment after officials from Bellevue and Mercer Island publicly shared their views of opposition to I-90 tolling. Dual tolling of both the 520 and I-90 bridges is the city's position and supported by the majority of cities on the Eastside.

A public hearing on the tolling legislation is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Committee on Transportation on April 20 at 8:00 AM.

Eddy and Hunter proposed alternative legislation earlier that included triggers for when tolling on the I-90 floating bridge would occur. They both criticized the bill and said say they’ll press for changes that address critical issues the current legislation ignores.

“It’s critical that we show the wisdom and leadership necessary to bring the right people to the right conversations, make sound decisions and get this entire corridor upgraded,” says Eddy. “The legislation as written sets up a process better suited to a political event. I want a process that ensures better – and hopefully, quicker – decisions throughout the life of the project.”

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