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I-90 Tolling - Questions & Answers

Purpose of I-90 tolling study
Why is WSDOT considering tolling on I-90?

I-90 environmental impact statement (EIS)
Why is WSDOT conducting an EIS for I-90 tolling?
Why did WSDOT conduct an additional scoping period for I-90 tolling?
What are the potential range of alternatives WSDOT will consider in the
EIS?
Will WSDOT evaluate alternative funding or financing options?

Tolling on I-90
What tolling options is WSDOT studying for Mercer Island?
Isn't it illegal to toll I-90, or any interstate?
How can you consider tolling I-90 to pay for SR 520?
How would tolling affect the use of the center roadway?
Would toll revenue be used to fund projects on I-90?

Decision making process
Who decides if I-90 will be tolled?
Has a decision already been made to toll I-90?

SR 520 tolling and traffic
Is WSDOT studying I-90 tolls because there's less traffic on SR 520 from tolling?
How has SR 520 tolling impacted I-90?

Purpose of I-90 tolling study

Why is WSDOT considering tolling on I-90?
Together, I-90 and SR 520 form the Cross Lake Washington Corridor, two parallel highways that operate as one system to connect the region’s major employment and population centers over a 22-mile long body of water. In 2012, the Legislature directed WSDOT to study tolling I-90 to help manage traffic on the Cross Lake Washington Corridor and provide funding to complete SR 520 between I-5 and Medina.

Tolls from I-90 could:

  • Manage congestion and traffic flow on I-90 between I-5 and I-405, which is in the Cross-Lake Washington Corridor, and
  • Contribute revenue to the sustainable, long-term funding for timely completion of the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program and maintenance and future transportation improvements on I-90 in the Cross-Lake Washington Corridor.

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I-90 environmental impact statement (EIS)

Why is WSDOT conducting an environmental impact statement (EIS) for I-90 tolling?
Between the end of the initial scoping comment period in January and February 2013 and publishing the Scoping Summary Report in June 2013, the Legislature passed legislation requiring WSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) for I-90 tolling.

An EIS provides an opportunity to evaluate the economic, social and environmental impacts of the proposal and present these findings to the public and agencies for their review and comment. This includes consideration of a range of alternatives that could also achieve the purpose and need of the proposed project. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the Draft EIS when it is published.

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Why did WSDOT conduct an additional scoping period for I-90 tolling?

As part of the EIS process, WSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration conducted additional scoping in October and November 2013 to gather public, agency and tribal input on the proposal to toll I-90 and potential range of alternatives.

All comments and letters submitted during the initial round of scoping between Jan. 22 and Feb. 22, 2013, will be included in the I-90 EIS record.


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What are the potential range of alternatives WSDOT will consider in the EIS?
WSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are examining a potential range of alternatives for consideration in the EIS. These potential alternatives come from prior studies, legislative direction and feedback received from initial scoping.

  • Variable tolls on all lanes of I-90 between I-5 and I-405
  • Express toll lanes on I-90
  • Additional federal funds directed to the SR 520 project
  • Additional state gas tax funds directed to the SR 520 project
  • Vehicle miles traveled tax
  • Transportation Benefit District - vehicle license fee, sales or property tax
  • King County motor vehicle excise tax
  • Adjust tolls on SR 520
  • Increased transit service
  • Widening I-90 to add new lanes
  • Implement tolls on other facilities

More information on the range of alternatives (pdf 80 kb) 

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Will WSDOT evaluate alternative funding or financing options? 
WSDOT and the Legislature have evaluated different funding options for the SR 520 bridge project for the past six years. The funding options that have been reviewed include numerous taxes and tolling approaches. Within the I-90 study, WSDOT will evaluate funding alternatives to see if and how they could potentially fulfill the purpose of tolling I-90:

  • Manage congestion and traffic flow on I-90 between I-5 and I-405, which is in the Cross-Lake Washington Corridor, and
  • Contribute revenue to the sustainable, long-term funding for timely completion of the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program and maintenance and future transportation improvements on I-90 in the Cross-Lake Washington Corridor.


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Tolling on I-90

What tolling options is WSDOT studying for Mercer Island?
WSDOT is only studying tolling options (pdf 404 kb) that offer a free way on and off Mercer Island or a reduced toll for residents, employees and visitors. WSDOT is not considering options for the variable tolling alternative that place a full toll on both sides of Mercer Island. 

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Isn’t it illegal to toll I-90, or any interstate?
Tolling an interstate is legal and currently in place in other states. In fact, approximately 2,900 miles of the nation’s interstates are tolled; I-90 is tolled at seven locations around the country. Tolling I-90 across Lake Washington would require approval from the Federal Highway Administration under the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP). The VPPP aims to improve operations while generating revenue on interstates through variable tolling. Washington is one of 15 states participating in this program which also allows tolling an existing facility without reconstruction or replacement.

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How can you consider tolling I-90 to pay for SR 520?
WSDOT is analyzing tolling I-90 as part of a regional tool to manage congestion and generate funding for the parallel SR 520 Bridge Replacement Program. Together, I-90 and SR 520 are the only two highway routes across Lake Washington connecting the surrounding communities to form a Cross-Lake Washington Corridor.

In 2008, the Legislature directed WSDOT to work with the Federal Highway Administration to determine a path to federal authorization for tolling on I-90. WSDOT submitted a formal Expression of Interest to FHWA, and in their response, FHWA indicated that the Value Pricing Toll Program was an option for tolling I-90.

FHWA was also involved in the Elizabeth River Tunnels, a similar project in Virginia that sought toll authorization under the VPPP to fund two parallel river crossing facilities, one of which is an existing interstate. In 2011, FHWA approved the Elizabeth River Tunnels project, and tolling started in January 2014.

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How would tolling affect use of the center roadway?
I-90 tolling is independent from both the
I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations project and Sound Transit's East Link project. Timing for the closure of vehicle traffic and transfer of the center roadway is dependent on Sound Transit’s East Link program schedule and is currently targeted for 2016. The center roadway will be tolled if it is open to vehicle traffic.

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Would toll revenue be used to fund projects on I-90?
The Legislature will decide how toll revenue would be used, while taking into consideration the need to close the funding gap on SR 520. Long-term, WSDOT will continue to evaluate improvements along I-90 as far east as Issaquah as directed by the Legislature.

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Decision making process

Who decides if I90 will be tolled?
The decision to toll I90 would require multiple approvals. The state Legislature would need to authorize tolls and the Federal Highway Administration would need to grant federal toll authorization under the Value Pricing Pilot Program.

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Has a decision already been made to toll I-90?
No. In 2012, the Legislature directed WSDOT to conduct an environmental study to examine the potential effects of I90 tolling. The process involves research, technical analysis, and extensive public outreach. All the public and stakeholder feedback will be compiled and addressed as part of the EIS and presented to the Legislature to inform their decision whether or not to authorize tolls on I90.

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SR 520 tolling and traffic

Is WSDOT studying I-90 tolls because there's less traffic on SR 520 since tolling started?
No, 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 bridge, there is still a $1.4 billion funding gap for construction between I
5 and the west side of the floating bridge.

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What is the impact on I-90 from tolling the SR 520 bridge?
By the end of 2012, daily volume across I-90 was approximately 11 percent higher than previous years. Some of this increase has been attributed to diversion caused by tolling on SR 520. Since tolling on SR 520 tolling started, I-90 travel times between Issaquah and Seattle are four minutes longer on average during the peak travel times. Tolling I-90 could balance traffic on the Cross-Lake Washington corridor. 

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