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

Tolling of the Interstate 90 is inching toward reality, with the Washington State Department of Transportation saying that it is continuing to investigate whether to implement tolls on the floating bridge.

For the past year, drivers in the Seattle metro area 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.

The tolling of both bridges could have a serious impact on the region’s tech community (not to mention individual’s pocketbooks) since thousands of people commute each way over one of the two bridges. (For those not familiar with Seattle’s geography, Lake Washington splits Seattle from the Eastside suburbs where companies such as Expedia, Microsoft, Concur and Apptio are based).

The state has collected more than $50 million in gross revenue since the electronic tolling program went into effect on the 520 bridge a year ago, but it needs more funds.

Now, folks will have their chance to sound off on the plan to bring tolls to I-90, with public meetings slated for this week in Bellevue, Seattle and Mercer Island. The meetings will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. — the first taking place at the Mercer Island Community Center tonight. On Wednesday, the meeting will be held at Bellevue City Hall, while Thursday’s meeting will take place on Yesler Community Center in Seattle.

The last time we wrote about this issue, folks had a lot to say in the comment threads of GeekWire. One reader called tolls “cowardly governance.”

“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 reader wrote. Another reader suggested that all the “yuppies and coders can just LIVE where they WORK” if they don’t want to deal with tolls.

Obviously, this is a hot-button issue for the tech community, especially with big employers like Amazon and Microsoft having workforces split between both sides of the lake. Maybe we’ll see more companies following the path of Google and Tableau — both of which offer dual operations on either side of the lake.

Here’s more from our media partner KING 5:

Previously on GeekWireIs the free ride over on I-90? State to consider tolls on second floating bridge


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


  • Alex

    The 520 tolling has made I-90 increasingly congested. As much as we all do not want to pay tolls, tolling I-90 will reduce congestion and the runaround everyone is making around 520. If we get the tolls on I-90 we can payoff the bonds for 520 bridge faster and get rid of tolls in both places.

    • http://www.facebook.com/superrob Rob Stevens

      “… get rid of tolls in both places.”

      There is no way the tolls will go away after the bonds are paid. A tax of any rarely, if ever, goes away after people have gotten used to it as a status quo.

      • http://twitter.com/virtualawrence L Lam

        The empty toll booths on San Diego’s Coronado bridge show that tolls *can* go away.

      • NoToll

        Technically, 520 used to be a toll bridge and the toll did go away.

        But the current crop of leaders has not given us any reason to trust that they’ll do anything other than continue to jack up taxes.

        As far as the arguments that tolling makes sense because we should have people who use it pay for it: everyone has already paid into the state for roads and taxes plenty. Until someone in state government gets serious about real cost cutting we shouldn’t consider new revenues.

      • http://twitter.com/SeattleRJH Seattle RJ

        I’m sorry, I read this as “…get rid of TROLLS in both places.”

        And I agree – we should get rid of trolls in both places. While trolls may be workable for urban areas such as Fremont, they are simply not scalable to high-volume commuter routes such as the 520 and I90 floating bridges.

  • http://twitter.com/tolli90 Toll I-90

    There are a lot of great arguments against tolling I-90. They’re all idealistic, but impractical. None will solve the very real need for funding on this single transportation corridor. Toll I-90, and even out the traffic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tymonj Tymon Johns

    On one hand it seems fair that those using the road pay for it, but on the other hand, is it necessary to add more taxes? Don’t we already have a ton of taxes related to the maintenance of our roads? Add the toll, but remove the gas tax (or some other tax meant for improved roads).

    • guest

      We already pay for the road/bridge with taxes. So the department of transportation should double dip?

      • http://www.facebook.com/tymonj Tymon Johns

        No, they are double dipping now. I’m saying they need to choose one or the other.

  • Guest

    It’s not my money anymore, it is the states money… Well, that is the attitude in Olympia… Thinking about it…

  • Tall Americano

    To paraphrase Argo, it’s the least worst option. We don’t (directly) tax everyone for tobacco products. Road are not the same as social security. Tax those who use.

  • iapproveofthismessage

    Absolutely! Why should a tax payer in Walla Walla, or Centralia pay for the use, maintenance or upgrade of a floating bride across Lake Washington? Similarly, the folks who choose to live on ferry dependent islands in the Sound should pay their way.

    • ScottInHillmanCity

      well, if you want your products to be shipped overseas, then yes, you do use our bridges.

    • lan

      By your logic, the taxes from people in King County should not go to maintaining SR-12 in Walla Walla. Yet they do, along with every other state highway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ryan.clifford1 Ryan Clifford

    Does anyone think that tolling both bridges will increase bus ridership? If so, that’s a net positive

  • mekskwpm

    This will force me on to my bike. I would need the impetus of $120+/mo in potential costs to get me out there on cold rainy days. So, personally I’m all for it.

  • RunTheNumbers

    This is a band-aid on a wound.

    When the state opened up tolling on the 520, everyone knew they would just drive south and hop on I-90 and the state’s revenue projections were going to fall from their lofty goals on which they founded the project. Well, well, what do you know — the state’s tolling revenues are under projections. Shocking.

    So they’re gonna throw tolls on I-90, and traffic patterns will shift again. I know plenty of people who would drive south or north on I-5 to pick up the 405 and avoid both bridges. The traffic is simply going to be pushed elsewhere.

    And the state doesn’t have any option here, because closing down a bridge wouldn’t save them money (maintenance as a function of tolls is insignificant.) So they *have* to institute tolls because they simply need the revenue.

    • Ryan Parrish

      Actually no. Some people, like me, value their time more than their money. I am by no means tremendously well off, but the trade off of $3.59 for an extra 15-30 minutes each way is well worth it, especially if you equate it to hourly wages. Most of us spend more on cable TV than we do on these tolls, so it’s hardly a hardship, and if it actually is for you, that’s what public transit is for.

      • RunTheNumbers

        That’s cool, and the decision I would make as well. I don’t have to cross the water, so I’m not one of those affected. However, several of my neighbors are affected, and I’m going with what I hear from them (so, biases apply.)

  • ScottInHillmanCity

    toll it longer but for less money. i take it twice a day. have switched to bus mostly, but ride my bike during the summer when i can. ive cut driving down to once or twice a week. would be nice if there were a park and ride near the I-90 Freeway stop on Rainier.

  • http://twitter.com/Vroo Vroo (Bruce Leban)

    A toll is not a tax. It’s a usage fee. How is it that anti-tax folks are always in favor of shifting costs to the consumers of a service until there are proposals to do just that for something that impacts them? I think some are just anti paying for things.

    We should toll 90 because everyone who uses the system of major roads and bridges should share the cost. 520 isn’t a bridge to nowhere, it’s part of a system that includes 90. It wouldn’t be right to shift the costs 100% to tolls since we all share the cost of the rest of the roads, many of which I will never drive on.

    The tolls on both bridges should be lower than the tolls on 520 now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/tymonj Tymon Johns

      That’s some pretty broad generalizations you’re making. I’m against too much tax (I think few are anti all taxes), which we have. The problem with tolling is that we’ve already been taxed to build the bridge and now are being taxed again. I think tolls are better than a general tax because those who use it pay. We just need to reduce (or get rid of) the other taxes we’re already paying towards bridges if we’re going to start tolling them.

      • http://twitter.com/Vroo Vroo (Bruce Leban)

        “The problem with tolling is that we’ve already been taxed to build the bridge and now are being taxed again.”

        That doesn’t say anything relevant. I paid a toll yesterday. Why should I have to pay again today? The simple fact is that the tax + toll revenue must be sufficient to pay the cost.

        The anti-tax and anti-toll discussions always ignore the cost part of the equation. IMHO, proposals to cut taxes should always be required to name the spending cuts. Absent that, the people tend to vote to cut taxes and increase spending simultaneously.

  • Eric

    Floating bridges are an exceptionally expensive piece of road infrastructure. To the extent that these bridges cost more to build and maintain than a standard highway on land, I think it makes sense to pass this cost along to the people who use the bridges. Same goes for the deep-bore tunnel under downtown Seattle.

  • Steve

    I90 is a Federal Interstate which was paid for by federal dollars, what right does the State Government have by putting a toll on a federal right of way. The State has also raised the toll rate on the Narrows Bridge twice to pay for that bridge, but I suspect it is the cost of the 520 Bridge that is causing these tolls on both the I90 &
    WA16 being placed.

    I live in Sammamish and also have a place in Olalla, so I see all three bridges and don’t understand why I90 needs to be tolled and why the Narrows toll needs to be increased. WA520 is still backed up during peak traffic hours and I’ve seen WA16 East bound Backed up because only 3 toll booths are open on Sunday to handle normal heavy traffic blocking all lanes of East bound WA16.

    Next thing WA will be placing tolls on I5, I205, I405, WA167, US2, US12 and I84.

  • Guest

    Absolutely we should toll I-90. Frankly, every time a citizen gets in a car by himself or by herself, he or she is doing damage to our environment. The emissions per passenger-mile of a single-occupancy vehicle, even an ostensibly fuel-efficient vehicle, are extraordinary. High-efficiency mass transit vehicles capable of carrying dozens of passengers represent a huge win for traffic congestion and for our environment.

    In conclusion, I would like to see a toll established to encourage more mass transit usage and to discourage single-occupancy vehicles from travelling across our limited bridge capacity. Other progressive cities, from London to Milan, have embraced a mass-transit-centric approach with congestion charges and high user fees. Let’s join the 20th century and move on from our destructive car culture.

  • William

    Yes, toll away! Citizens who use our infrastructure should pay for it. Myself included. Tax is actually a good thing for a sustainable society.

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak Red Russak

    My in-laws live on Mercer Island…now I have to pay to see them? I guess it’s another excuse not to visit ;-) TOLL AWAY!

Job Listings on GeekWork