Crosscut reports that Mercer Island residents will be "devastated" financially if the state charges tolls on I-90. Potential tolls, according to Mercer Island mayor Bruce Bassett, will create "a huge economic disruption" for Island workers and residents.
That's one way of looking at it. Here's another: A couple of bucks a day is a small price to pay to live on an isolated island enclave (which happens to be amply served by buses, whose riders are exempt from tolls) whose residents already benefit from a taxpayer-funded lid over I-90 and are the only residents of Washington state allowed to drive in HOV lanes alone.
"What we hear from our citizens [is that] they've developed this expectation over time of free mobility," Bassett testified before the state senate transportation committee yesterday. "The result is potentially thousands of dollars a year in impacts."
"Expectations" are not entitlements. Just because Mercer Island residents have gotten special treatment in the past doesn't mean they deserve special treatment in perpetuity. Hell, I'd love to have a free bus pass, but you know what? I pay for mine. And I don't demand that bus drivers let me on for free.
And a reality check on those "thousands of dollars in impacts": The only way a driver would pay "thousands of dollars a year" in tolls is if they choose to drive back and forth, alone, across the bridge seven days a week at the most expensive times of day—rush hours on weekdays and midday on weekends. In that rather unlikely case, a driver would end up paying a grand total of $2,150 a year, or about one percent of the average Mercer Island income of $186,356.
But what about the workers—the plebes who live elsewhere but work in low-paying retail and service jobs on Mercer Island? If Mercer Island residents are really concerned, as some folks quoted in Crosscut's story suggest, that those folks wouldn't be able to afford to work there anymore, there's an easy fix: Provide a reduced toll rate for lower-income bridge commuters and charge regular tolls to everybody else.
But if the real complaint is that Mercer Islanders should continue to enjoy special treatment in the eyes of the law, forgive me if I'm less than sympathetic. The rest of us pay our fair share. So can they.