Electronic tolling was implemented on the 520 bridge last January. WSDOT photo.

The free ride may be over for thousands of geeks who cross Lake Washington each day on Interstate 90, one of two Lake Washington floating bridges that connect Seattle to the tech-heavy suburbs of Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland.

For the past year, drivers have had a clear choice: Jump on the state route 520 bridge where heavy tolls await, or bypass those fees altogether for the sometimes more congested and longer drives of southerly route along Interstate 90.

But now the state, which has collected $50 million in gross revenue since the electronic tolling program went into effect on the 520 bridge a year ago, is considering bringing tolls to I-90. Funds from the effort are expected to go toward a six-lane 520 bridge replacement, tentatively slated to open in 2015.

“What we will be doing in the new year, 2013, is studying the tolling of I-90,” said Craig Stone, assistant secretary for the WSDOT Toll Division.

That could have far-reaching implications on Seattle’s tech community, which is split between Seattle (home to Amazon, F5 Networks, Impinj, Zillow, and Zulily) and the Eastside (home to Expedia, Microsoft, Nintendo, Apptio and Concur).

Some of the apps used by drivers to better navigate tolling on 520.

Some companies such as Tableau Software and Google have taken to setting up operations on both sides of Lake Washington, driven in part by a desire to cater to tech professionals who’d rather not have to drive over one of the bridges. Meanwhile, Microsoft has instituted its own bus service, dubbed The Connector, to ferry workers between Redmond and Seattle.

Could we see more of those satellite offices if I-90 tolling goes into effect?

Probably. From my own personal experience, I try not to jump on the 520 bridge if I can help it, only occasionally taking the route.

In fact, WSDOT reports that traffic over the 520 bridge is down 30 percent since tolling was instituted last January. That means drivers who frequently take the 520 bridge, like GeekWire’s Todd Bishop, save an average of five minutes per trip. (See Todd’s personal analysis: A big day on the 520 bridge: Why I’m happy about the tolls)

Of course, tolling I-90 has some added challenges, since it is a federal interstate, versus the state route 520 bridge. Nonetheless, as it sounds right now, tolls may very well be in our future no matter what Lake Washington bridge we cross. How do you feel about that?

Here’s more on the tolling situation from our media partner KING 5, and you can reach more about the 520 bridge effort in this press release from WSDOT:

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Mike 0rtloff

    Or, maybe all the yuppies and coders can just LIVE where they WORK…

    • Guest

      We do. That’s why we’re yuppies: the U stands for “urban.”

      What we really need to do to improve Seattle is to simply isolate it from the suburbs. If you’ve seen the new urbanist film “The Dark Knight Rises,” you would know that isolating an urban area has profound impacts on the sense of community one experiences in a city.

  • Guest

    Frankly, I’d like to see much higher car usage fees throughout the Puget Sound region. To achieve the kind of density expected in the next 20 years, commuting by private car is simply not sustainable. In fact, I’m going to refer to single-passenger car drivers as “selfish singles” in this article.

    I’d like to see:

    1. Usage-based car tabs. If you drive your car 40,000 mlies per year, you have 40 times as much ecological impact as a man like me who drives 1,000 miles per year. Pay 40 times as much as I do.

    2. Tolling on every bridge. Bridges are expensive. If you drive on them, pay for them.

    3. Mass transit. For a region of 3,500,000, Seattle’s mass transit system is appalling. We have two commuter rail lines which run for a grand total of 3 hours a day, fewer if landslides occur (which is often); two light rail lines which are not connected to each other; and buses that get snarled in traffic jams due to selfish singles taking up valuable road room. Tax the absolute piss out of selfish singles and use it to build rails to move people around more efficiently.

    In conclusion, more taxes? Yes please. More taxes for the selfish singles.

    • http://twitter.com/gary_weinberg Gary Weinberg

      I live in Seattle and work in Redmond, so right now I have very few options that will get me to work reasonably (and accommodate my hours) other than driving myself. The state and the county need to improve mass transit to the level where it is a viable alternative to drivers you lovingly refer to as “selfish singles”.

      • Guest

        I agree: more mass transit is badly needed. Absent light rail, one option I’d like to see tried is to close the 520 and 90 bridges to cars entirely during rush hours, or perhaps with astronomical car tolls (say, $50 each way) along with a dramatic increase in the rate of buses across these bridges. Let’s make our bridges as densely-populated as our cities ought to be.

        • Guest

          Yeah, those are realistic well thought out plans.

          Congrats on making Mayor McScwinn’s proposals actually look reasonable. I didn’t think that was possible.

          Perhaps you want to add the death penalty for car drivers for good measure?

          All “proposals” like this do is make any discussion involving public transit a non-starter. You discredit the goals you work for. Your a godsend people opposed to more mass transit.

          • Guest


            I don’t want car drivers to die. I simply want them to vacate my roads.


          • Guest

            Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you paid to have all the roads and bridges built yourself.

            My apologies.

            If that’s the case then yes, you can do whatever you want with YOUR roads.

          • Guest

            Of course I didn’t pay. I invaded, you didn’t fight back, and the roads are mine now.

            By the way, I think you typoed. This is Geekwire, a site for men who make progress. If you’d like Seattle to regress to where it was during the Reagan administration, bing “Seattle Times comments” and join the faithful.

      • patroclus1

        What’s reasonable? There are at least 2 express buses to Redmond from Seattle that leave very frequently e.g. 15 minute or less frequency during commute hours. Many of those express buses have wifi available so you can be connected to your electronic device while enroute. You can be productive if you choose and you will arrive with less stress than driving.

    • http://twitter.com/puckyourself Joe McGrath

      Because the cost of living is so high, a parent needs to take their child to daycare and pick them up while they have to work. Then they need access to a car all the time in case there is an emergency with their child. Of course, day care has massive fees for being late to pick them up, so you have to be prompt.
      Still selfish for not using massive transit? Or just not as self absorbed as you?

      • Guest

        Yes. You’ll be able to ride the bus with your child (he’ll ride for free) and drop him off at the day care located within walking distance of the bus stop and of your office. (In the car-free future, all services will cluster around transit stations.) You can pick him up on foot en route back to the bus stop that will take you home.

        Rather than reinforcing the status quo of “I need a car for my benefit,” consider the benefits to society that will result when you and your family leave the car at home and use transit and feet for quotidian tasks.

    • MiniPugetSound

      Maybe we don’t WANT the density you’re talking about? Maybe some of us are against more mass transit because we’re against more masses.

      I’d rather see all the people that have “migrated” here because of work but have no desire to be here and/or don’t actually participate in the community leave here and go back to CA and other places.

      There’s Mini Microsoft: I’d like to propose Mini Puget Sound. If 1/4 of those 3.5M people would leave this would be a better place. Less people and less whining about the weather, transit, food, etc from people who don’t belong here.

      • Guest

        I moved here and I belong here. If you don’t want to live in Seattle anymore, I’d prefer that you leave my city. Sell your home (you’ll notice it’s appreciated in value, thanks to me) and move to a place that has no mass transit and fewer residents.

        The only man whining here is you. By leaving, you make my city a better place.

        • MiniPugetSound

          It takes a LOT of nerve to move into a city/region and start telling the people already there what to do and to leave if they don’t like it.

          Historically the term used for people that do that is “invaders”.

          If you’re trying to change the nature of this region you don’t belong here. I and my peers were here long before you (do you know what Uff Da means, who John Keister is, J.P. Patches). We wouldn’t need mass transit if not for all you invaders: traffic was just fine 25 years ago, thank you.

          As far as homes appreciating in value, yes, thanks to you. Thanks to you people here all their lives can’t afford quality homes because of all the McMansion crap built to house you, your brood and your ilk.

          It’s not YOUR city. Go ruin some other place please. LA is a great place to ruin I hear. Or DC. Or if you really love “the city” and mass transit so much, go whole hog and live in NY.

          • Guest

            You moved here at some point in the past, invader. You moved here, you made a home here, and now you’re not doing enough to justify your continued existence in my city.

            Yes, my city. I am more educated than you, wealthier than you, and more cultured than you, and I have done more in just a few years to improve this city than you have in your entire existence. Uff Da? The death knell of the dying insular Nordic community that once polluted Ballard. John Keister? Who cares? Probably some old fart who Seattleites think is relevant. J.P. Patches? A dead clown. I would no sooner worship him than I would Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin.

            You should be proud to live in my city. It’s growing, it’s getting more valuable, and it’s getting more attention. Just today, the New York Times (a proper newspaper, not that salmon wrapping paper produced on Denny Way) did a thorough article on MOHAI. Who donated $10 million to build an “innovation wing” at this newly relocated museum? Jeff Bezos, an “invader,” who has turned a pit of derelict warehouses into a thriving neighborhood. Of course there’s more traffic: people actually want to be here!

            If you don’t want to live in a desirable, growing city like I do, I’ll repeat my request: sell your valuable home and buy a large plot of land out in Michigan or someplace. Just please take your whiny, backward self out of my city.

          • MiniPugetSound

            You made all of my points for me, thanks for that.

            I look forward to when you leave: your kind always leaves.

            Good riddance.

          • Guest

            Based on your diet of aquavit and hate, combined with your advanced age, I expect you to leave Seattle in about 10 years. When that happens, may I have your house?

  • Bryan Mistele

    Here’s a question: what causes traffic (which the tolls on 520 and I-90 are advertised to address)? Three things:
    1. People commuting to and from work,
    2. Commercial activity (i.e., businesses making deliveries)
    3. Economic activity (i.e., people going to stores to buy things)

    A toll adds friction. There is an abundance of data that shows that
    when you toll a road, you get less activity on it. We saw this with 520 which saw a >25% decline in traffic. Good? I guess it depends on your perspective:

    1. The people hurt the hardest with a toll are not software engineers going to and from Microsoft. It’s the low-income people who are going to the restaurants they serve tables at downtown, the maids that go to the hotels to clean rooms, the janitors, etc. that keep the city running. They can’t afford to pay the 520 toll, so
    they diverted to I-90 clearing traffic for the people who can afford the
    toll. Now toll the I-90, and what do you do? You hurt the people who need help
    the most. Some percentage of which, will need to seek employment outside the city or may go unemployed because $1,500+/yr is real money to them and these folks have jobs where they cannot vary their hours of employment.

    2. Businesses paying higher tolls will translate into higher prices for consumers. Higher prices for products, higher prices for services, etc. This is a hidden cost that hits people anytime a tax or toll is introduced. The result? Again, this hurts the people who have less income. They pay more for food at their grocery stores, more for services like cable TV, etc.

    3. Higher friction on economic activity means fewer people going shopping to buy things. This means less traffic for local stores. It may help folks like Amazon.com who deliver, but ultimately will hurt the small businesses that are on the edge in an
    already difficult economy. The toll will push some percentage of these over the edge with the result being fewer jobs, higher unemployment and less taxes for the State.

    So, the result ultimately of higher tolls may be less traffic, but since traffic represents economic activity it really means fewer jobs, higher unemployment, higher prices for goods and services and fewer small businesses paying taxes. It
    may generate some extra needed income for the department of transportation, but as studies have shown, it will likely end up costing the State more when all things are considered.

    • dw

      1. Except that almost all the “poor” you cite don’t take 520. North Seattle is a middle to upper middle class area. 520 plows through some of the highest value real estate in Seattle. As for 90, yes, that would hurt the urban poor in South Seattle, but from Rainier Beach south you’re going to take 405, not 90, and there’s really only one pocket of lower middle class in the 90 corridor — Factoria — that’s going to be affected, and even then they typically work on the Eastside.

      2. Higher tolls may affect the cost of doing business, but consider that the cost of living in Oklahoma — where half the interstates are tolled — is lower than Texas’ standard of living — where the only toll roads are routes that connect rich suburbs and exurbs together. The “hidden cost” is pretty insignificant when you compare it to, say, the price of diesel.

      3. “Fewer people are going to go shopping?” No, not even close. It may affect shopping patterns, but it won’t affect sales. It won’t hurt small businesses. In fact, it might marginally help them — people will shop locally and buy at a store near them in Northgate or Queen Anne rather than go all the way to Bellevue Square. And even then, Bellevue Square will still be a destination.

      I’m really tired of the concern trolling over the urban poor. Most everyone on this site has never seen urban poverty in Seattle, much less even know where the urban poor in this town live. I am middle class (for Seattle) and pay $150/month in tolls on 520. It’s the cost of working in Bellevue. And I’m tired of people making 5-10x what I do telling me how they REFUSE to pay ALL THAT MONEY on tolls. The middle class of Seattle has been driving 520 all year — and I can tell you first-hand that there are as many beaters and Chevys on 520 as there were before the tolls.

      You know what the poor need? Jobs. Good grocery stores near their homes. Crime-free neighborhoods. Good schools. To be able to work their way up the ladder for themselves and their kids.

      You know what the poor don’t need? Upper middle class people complaining about the high cost of something that’s less than they probably carry in their wallet right now.

      • http://twitter.com/puckyourself Joe McGrath

        I think he was referring to people who live way out east (Duvall, Monroe, Sultan) and commute 1 to 1.5 hours a day and pay a toll because they can’t afford to live any closer to their job in Seattle.

        To your point on jobs; if a company pays for the toll of 10 employees annually (cost of approx. 180k), how does that create jobs? Or when you are referring to jobs, areyou referring to government created jobs that serve no utility, but rather just provide someone with a source of income?
        This will all make sense as long as they do what they did with 520 and add no additional public transportation.

        • patroclus1

          The purpose of this toll is to pay for the very bridge you’re crossing. Secondary purposes include traffic management. having 30% fewer people choose to cross 520 is in fact a good outcome. It means 520 commutes are shorter using less fuel and polluting our environment less. It uses a market rate mechanism to achieve a desired outcome. Pay for the bridge you’re using and improve overall system speeds.

          As for the utility of government jobs, as a Keynesian capitalist, it would be far better to create jobs through government outsourcing or even insourcing than having millions of unemployed people not doing much productive in the absence of jobs that the “jobs creators” failed to produce despite all those huge tax breaks they enjoy. It would even be better than all the trillions of dollars we spend blowing things up in the desert which really doesn’t contribute to productivity or economic growth except for a few wall street fat cats.

          • Guest

            No, it’s not. This post is about tolling the I-90. This is an interstate road paid for through the gas tax. Tolling I-90 is about generating more cash for the State, it has nothing to do with users of I-90 paying for their use of it.

          • patroclus1

            there again the fallacy that Washington’s gas taxes pay for all roads is repeated. That is simply not true. Tolling programs enacted in Washington are indeed about financing projects. That is why 520 is now tolled, the Deeply boring tunnel will be tolled.

  • Guest

    I’m not totally sure how it would work out, but since it is an interstate and federally funded, does tolling I-90 require approval from the rest of the union? I’d bet South Carolina and Arizona would love to collect money on tolls we pay to drive here. I also take 520 every work day. I’m lucky to have a company that will pay for that too. It cut my commute time when they started tolling 520. The only times I’ve hit traffic are when somebody breaks down midspan or if there’s a Husky game (maybe we should tax the Husky ticket sales to pay for our roads?).

    • mekskwpm

      To be fair, there’s no great need to take I-90 across the lake unless your destination is Seattle. With 405 providing access to I-5.

      • Guest

        my home destination is Seattle :)

        • mekskwpm

          Yes, I guess what I’m saying is that no other government outside of Seattle should be concerned about tolling I-90.

  • skunky pete

    Until the toll on 520 was put into place, we had been privileged to be one of the only major metro areas in the United States to not have toll-ways. WA state has no income tax either and frankly I’d like to keep it that way. I’m surprised that for how liberal and tax-friendly western Washingtonians seem to be (myself included), everyone gets huffy about paying a little use-tax for the roads we cherish (myself not included). The money’s gotta come from somewhere folks. Let’s just make sure we get the right auditors in place so we don’t piss away these dollars like the rest of the state’s funds.

    Side note: I-90 is federal property no? If we put a toll on those bridges, I’m sure the state is obligated to share that $ with the federal government. Dime to dollar there has to be some federal approval to put a toll on “their” road too. Anyone know what that split looks like?

    • Leslie

      Yes, I90 is federal, but I believe that the ramps belong to the state. They don’t have to toll the bridge, just the access to it.

  • ringsgeek

    I have started a petition to enact change in the Billing & Customer
    Service policies for the WA State Department of Transportation “Good To
    Go” 520 Bridge Tolling program. If you would like to read and sign the
    petition, I’d be grateful. Please check out the link and sign if you
    would like to support:


  • mekskwpm

    Somehow I think we’ll see a few things happen if this goes through:

    1. Traffic jams in the bike lane
    2. Mercer Islanders getting a free pass somehow (like they do for the HOV/Express lane into Seattle)

    What I would love to see is major employers moving over to Seattle where the better employees tend to live.

    Also John, don’t forget T-Mobile, with thousands of employees in the Factoria campus.

    • Excuseme?!?!

      Excuse me? “….Seattle where the better employees tend to live.”

      You really said that? There’s good employees everywhere. Just because someone live in Seattle doesn’t mean they’re better than the rest of us.

      This is a region and a community. I’m guessing from your comment that you’re not from here. If that’s the case, I’d like to invite you to go back to wherever you came from. If you’re from here originally (amazingly) then maybe you need to move somewhere else that appreciates arrogant, elitest views (let me suggest Washington DC).

      Either way, we don’t want your attitude here. Some of us love Duvall as much as Seattle, Everett as well as Tacoma.

  • peasant

    Raise taxes or spend less money… not surprising that not a single comment notes that spending less money within the bloated inefficient government with gold plated pensions for fire and police and others might be better than crushing the peasants that must commute to make a living…

    • patroclus1

      Gold plated? biased much? if you don’t have comparable pension benefits, who’s fault is that? Not the government’s nor its employees. It’s yours. But guess what, the power to get those benefits rests in collaborating with your fellow workers to demand those benefits. I always laugh at people who think they can go up against a “union of capitalists” by themselves and get what they need.

  • Peter

    This was one of the more interesting predicted results of tolling the 520 bridge — it wouldn’t be long before BOTH bridges would get told. Similar to our other “guest” friend below, I think this is great news for transit oriented design and higher density. If we want to raise the capital to improve mass transit and at the same time create incentives to use this transit, tolls (and gas taxes, and usage taxes, etc) are a great way to do this.

    The conversation is always like this:
    – I wouldn’t drive my single occupancy vehicle if we had better mass transit
    – I don’t want to pay for better mass transit

    Lets fix the 1st by doing the 2nd. Also the busses and transit in Seattle are on the up and up as of Metro’s latest redesign, the City pushing streetcar initiatives and Sound Transit ROCKING THE HOUSE with their fast push for light rail through the city. Very exciting time to live here.

  • http://twitter.com/puckyourself Joe McGrath

    Free ride is a misnomer because federal taxes have already been paid by everyone.
    I imagine that if the stimulus was simply lining the pockets of crony capitalists, that would help with the cost of the bridge, rather than disappear in to thin air (can anyone point to the “amazing new bridges, parks and roads” the stimulus provided as promised, btw?).

    Would be interesting to see how this works for residents of Mercer Island; I imagine they would somehow have to provide a way for them to access the island without tolls, there is no way it would be appropriate to provide only one means of access to the place you live for a fee beyond what taxes been paid.
    And before some ignorant says people on Mercer Island can afford a toll because they are all rich, there are plenty of apartments, condos and people renting on the island to have their kids go to good schools. They are not rich.

    • http://twitter.com/Do_Go_On Do_Go_On

      Yeah, to say it is a free ride is a “give up lazy” attitude by the writer. Written by someone unaffected, yet very faux libertarian. Whattya gowna do? Amirite?

      Let’s have a link to activism instead of a link to a self-congratulating writer’s article about how he enjoys tolls on 520.

  • http://www.blockbeta.com Robbin Block

    I realize it’s time to pay the piper, but without a proper transit system, the result of the bridge tolls and parking fees is reduced mobility. It used to be fun (and functional) to have the freedom to go where you want, now it’s just pockets of isolation between the Eastside and downtown, and even between neighborhoods.

  • Tom S

    Tolls are cowardly governance. Toll 520. Toll I-90. Toll 99… It’s getting ridiculous. Every time we upgrade an expensive stretch of road we’re going to convert it to toll? If the State was charging a couple quarters it might not be such a big deal, but the State charges $3.59 at rush hour. If you’re a commuter this is a painful regressive tax. The less you make the bigger a percentage of your income it is. The more you make, the more likely your employer will pay your tolls as part of your compensation package. There is a reason to spread expenses around widely; it makes it more palatable for everyone, especially those who don’t make a lot of money. Except, our government representatives are afraid of the anger broader taxes will cause and know a use fee, i.e. tolls, are much easier to defend. It should be the other way around.

    • http://twitter.com/Do_Go_On Do_Go_On

      No employer I know pays for tolls

  • Alan Deright

    Mercer Islanders will wake up and prevent tolls on I-90.

  • JCJ Bike

    Tolls are fine as long as I can have all the tax money I have and will pay that was supposed to go towards things like bridges. Tolling solves the problem Olympia has created by using our tax dollars for other things like hiring more people in Olympia vs. building bridges. Greed can be found in a lot of places including government.

  • tolli-90.com

    Toll it. Voters won’t approve a gas tax. The whole region is hurt by uneven traffic patterns that are arbitrarily assigned based on 520 toll rates. User fees work.

Job Listings on GeekWork