Opposing a proposal to toll the I-90 bridge as part of the funding package for the 520 bridge replacement, Mercer Island resident Denise Joffe resentfully asks: “Why should I be paying a toll for somebody else’s bridge?”
Huh. Good question Denise. And why should I pay taxes to pay for somebody else's freeway park lids, or to educate somebody else's children, or to put out somebody else's house fire, or to fight somebody else's war? Why should I pay taxes (or tolls or fees) to pay for anything that doesn't directly benefit me, or for any policy I disagree with?
Maybe, Denise, it's because we all live in the same community?
It's this narrowing of our sense of community that I think is one of the most destructive trends in American politics. The sense of national identity and purpose that once bound us together in the interest of a larger common good has gradually eroded into local squabbles over subarea equity and levy equalization and whether users of one bridge have an obligation to pay for another bridge just a few miles away. It makes for an every-man-for-himself free-for-all that might have thrilled Ayn Rand, but that threatens our ability to collectively invest in the public infrastructure and services necessary to assure our future welfare and prosperity.
Why should you have to pay for this bridge, Denise? Because you are a citizen of King County, of Washington State, and of the United States of America. And that makes the 520 bridge your fucking bridge just like the I-90 bridge belongs to the hundreds of millions of taxpayers who helped pay for it, but will never lay eyes on the damn thing.
Indeed, if there's anybody who should embrace a communitarian approach toward regional transportation infrastructure, it is Mercer Islanders.* Mercer Island, no matter how wealthy it is, could not have afforded to span Lake Washington on its own. Indeed, it is its largely federally-funded bridge that helps make Mercer Island real estate so valuable.
So yeah, that's why you should pay for somebody else's bridge, Denise. Because that's how the real world works.
*[Don't get me wrong. I feel Denise's pain. Literally. My ex lives on Mercer Island and that's where my daughter goes to school, so I often make two roundtrip I-90 crossings a day. A $3.50 peak toll each way could cost me a couple thousand dollars a year. And on alt-weekly wages, that's a couple thousand dollars I just don't have. So it sure would help me if the tolls don't start until after my daughter graduates high school.
But the I-90 bridge is part of an integrated regional transportation system, so it would be selfish and hypocritical of me to oppose tolling it simply in deference to my own pocketbook concerns. Not everybody who lives or works on (or otherwise commutes to and from) Mercer Island is wealthy. I understand that. But everything I know about transportation convinces me that congestion pricing is a necessary step forward.]