State transportation officials are exploring ways to offset the difficulties the poor would experience if tolls are added to both floating bridges across Lake Washington.
One idea proposed would create a transportation allowance in the current state welfare system so that electronic benefits (EBT) cards could be used to pay for tolls. Officials noted that a higher portion of a low-income family's budget would go toward paying tolls than more affluent households. Another idea would subsidize tolls for the poor, with the state only charging a percentage each time an EBT card is used.
The state legislature next year may approve tolling to begin on the I-90 and State Route 520 bridges as soon as 2010. Last Friday, the three-member 520 Tolling Committee held a meeting on Mercer Island to discuss several aspects of the proposal to use tolls to pay for a new Highway 520 floating bridge. In a recent study of low-income and minority individuals concerning the impacts of tolls on the poor, consultants interviewed 650 people and found that 35.7 percent of low-income respondents and 46 percent of minorities said they would pay a $3.50 toll for a faster, more reliable trip. But nearly half of the low-income and minority participants also said they would not pay the toll.
Respondents use the bridges mainly to commute to work or for medical appointments, the consultants heard. Many stated that taking a bus across the lake would not be an adequate substitute because, for instance, they have children in day care and need to drop them off before going to work. Officials say that those who earn less than $55,000 annually are less than 14 percent of the bridges' users. Officials said they heard from the poor that paying upfront for the digital transponder -- tolls will be electronic as there won't be any toll booths -- would be difficult to afford and some surveyed said they would have to pay cash in person as they don't have a debit or credit card.