Purpose of I-90 tolling study
Why is WSDOT conducting an environmental review for I-90 Tolling?
In the 2012 Transportation Budget, the Legislature directed WSDOT to “undertake a comprehensive environmental review of tolling Interstate 90 between Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 for the purposes of both managing traffic and providing funding for construction of the unfunded state route number 520 from Interstate 5 to Medina project..."
Why is WSDOT considering tolling on I-90?
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.
Tolls from I-90 could:
- Provide a timely funding source for the roughly $1.4 billion needed to complete the I-5 to Medina: Bridge Replacement and HOV Project that would replace the Portage Bay and southwest bridge approach structures, both vulnerable to earthquakes and severe storms.
- Help with congestion management on the Cross-Lake Washington corridor.
- Offer a sustainable, long-term funding source for transportation improvements on the Cross-Lake Washington Corridor.
Environmental review process
What happens during the scoping process for I-90 Tolling?
Following direction from the Legislature, WSDOT started the I-90 tolling scoping process in January 2013. Scoping is a public process used to determine the range of issues to study in the environmental analysis. We offered numerous opportunities for public input during the scoping process. Over the 30-day comment period from Jan. 22 to Feb 22, we received roughly 3,400 comments through emails, hand-written forms, public meeting comments, and online survey forms.
What does the Scoping Summary Report contain?
In June 2013, WSDOT published the Scoping Summary Report for the I-90 Cross-Lake Washington Tolling project. The Scoping Summary Report describes efforts to inform and engage the public, agencies and tribes in the project scoping process, and summarizes the comments received during the public comment period. It does not tally the number of positive or negative comments.
Why is WSDOT completing an Environmental Impact Statement for I-90 Tolling?
Between the end of the scoping comment period in February and publishing the Scoping Summary Report in Jun2013, the Legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate bill 5024 requiring WSDOT to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the I-90 tolling project. As a result of the comments received during the scoping process and in compliance with this new state law, WSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration also announced today that we will move forward with an EIS for I-90 Tolling. FHWA anticipates publishing a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register later this summer.
What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)?
An EIS is a process under the National Environmental Policy Act that provides information about a project's purpose and need, range of alternatives, and potential temporary and permanent environmental effects. The public will have an opportunity for formal comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement when it is published.
What are the range of alternatives WSDOT will study in the EIS?
WSDOT and FHWA are revising the purpose and need for the project and examining a potential range of alternatives to be included in the EIS. WSDOT will conduct a second round of scoping for I-90 tolling to offer the public, agencies and other interested parties the opportunity to provide input on the revised purpose and need statement and range of alternatives.
Who is overseeing the I-90 Tolling EIS?
The Federal Highway Administration is the lead federal agency for the EIS. They will make sure WSDOT follows the guidelines and regulations outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Decision making process
Has a decision already been made to toll I-90?
No. In 2012, the Washington state Legislature directed WSDOT to conduct an environmental study to examine the potential effects of I‐90 tolling. The environmental process involves research, technical analysis, and extensive public outreach. All the public and stakeholder feedback will be compiled and addressed as part of the environmental study to be presented to the Legislature, who will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to toll I‐90.
Who decides if I‐90 will be tolled?
The decision to toll I‐90 would require multiple approvals. The Federal Highway Administration would have to approve the environmental study, and the Legislature would need to pass a bill authorizing tolling.
Is it illegal to toll I‐90, or any Interstate highway for that matter?
Interstate tolling is not illegal. In fact, approximately 2,900 miles of the nation’s Interstate is currently tolled. I‐90 would require approval from the Federal Highway Administration under the FHWA Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP). The VPPP requires variable rate tolling as a means to provide improved operation and revenue generation during peak periods. Fifteen states including Washington, participate in this program, allowing tolls of existing facilities without reconstruction or replacement.
Did WSDOT study alternative options for funding the remaining project on SR 520?
Prior to 2012, the Legislature directed WSDOT to undertake multiple studies to evaluate SR 520 financing approaches. A 2006 Expert Review panel recommended tolling I‐90 as one way to generate funding toward the SR 520 program. Additionally in 2008, the Toll Implementation Committee conducted significant public and stakeholder outreach related to SR 520 tolling, resulting in a suggestion to toll both the SR 520 and I‐90 bridges. Finally in 2009, the SR 520 Legislative Work Group, led by a diverse group local, regional and statewide legislators, issued a report stating that if the remaining SR 520 funding gap was not filled through new Federal or State revenue, “to be identified over the next year or two”, then “general tolling of I‐90 to fill the gap starting no sooner than 2014” should be considered.
Funding Improvements to I-90
Would toll revenue be used to fund projects on I-90?
The Legislature is considering Cross-Lake Washington Corridor improvements (which could include both SR 520 and I-90) and will decide where potential toll revenue would go, 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.
Why is WSDOT considering tolling one road to pay for another?
The I-90 tolling project is part of a broader strategy to fund critical transportation needs and manage congestion across Lake Washington. I‐90 and SR 520 are the only two highway routes across Lake Washington, connecting the surrounding communities to form what WSDOT refers to as the Cross‐Lake Washington Corridor. Tolls would help re‐balance traffic across these two bridges, adhering to the principle that tolling should result in travel benefits for all users in the project corridor.
How would tolls be collected?
Tolling on I-90 would be collected electronically using Good To Go!, similar to how tolling on SR 520 works today.
How much would the tolls be? Who determines the toll rates?
The Washington State Transportation Commission is responsible for recommending toll rates. The I-90 study assumes tolls would be similar to the SR 520 variable toll rate structure. If tolling were authorized by the Legislature, the commission would gather input on rates from a public input process.
If you toll I‐90, can you reduce the SR 520 toll rates?
No, traffic and revenue from tolling on SR 520 are meeting forecasts and are expected to raise more than $1 billion for the SR 520 floating bridge replacement. There is still a $1.4 billion gap in funding SR 520 construction between I‐5 and the west side of the floating bridge, with the SR 520 program being funded and constructed in stages.
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 overall East Link program schedule and is currently scheduled for 2016. The center roadway will be tolled if it is open to vehicle traffic.
Is WSDOT studying I‐90 tolls because there’s less traffic on SR 520 since tolling started?
No. Traffic and revenue from tolling on SR 520 are meeting forecasts and are expected to raise more than $1 billion for the SR 520 floating bridge replacement. There is still a $1.4 billion gap in funding SR 520 construction between I‐5 and the west side of the floating bridge, with the SR 520 program being funded and constructed in stages.
SR 520 traffic diversion
What is the impact on I-90 from tolling the SR 520 bridge?
By the end of 2012, daily volume was approximately 11 percent higher on the I-90 floating bridge, compared to previous years. Some of this increase has been attributed to tolling on SR 520 and traffic diverting to I-90. In comparison to before SR 520 tolling started, I-90 travel times between Issaquah and Seattle are four minutes longer on average during the peak travel times. By introducing tolling to I-90, WSDOT would reduce traffic congestion and provide reliable travel conditions in the I-90 corridor. Balancing SR 520 and I-90 traffic by tolling both bridges is part of WSDOT’s Cross-Lake Washington corridor goals.