On Jan. 22, the Washington State Department of Transportation will be opening their ears to the public as part of an environmental assessment about a proposed toll on the Interstate 90 bridge. As a part of the EA (a study which according to the WSDOT “establishes any influences, either positive or negative, about a potential project”), there will be three public meetings where anyone, including Bellevue College students, are invited to voice their opinion on the toll.
The toll on the I-90 bridge is being proposed to fund $2 billion of the $4 billion necessary to replace Highway 520, according to the WSDOT website. With a Good to Go! Pass, a round trip will cost commuters $7 at peak hours, or $10 by mail. Brandon Lueken, program coordinator for Student Programs, expressed concern about the potential tolls: “Obviously there’s an impact for students. We have…a significant number [of students] that come from Seattle to Bellevue. If they drive, then that’s an extra cost to get to school.” He added that many members of the faculty also commute from Seattle, saying, “[the toll] affects not just students, but the staff, the faculty, and all parts of the college.”
Lueken and BC’s Associated Student Government are planning to take a group of students to the city hall meeting at Belleve City Hall on Jan. 30 from 4-7 p.m. Before they can plan to take City Hall by storm, Lueken and the ASG have to get the word out to students: “What I’ve been working on with them is trying to get more posters up so students are just aware. I’ve been really adamant [that]…until they know all the students’ stance, [the ASG] won’t take a stance on it. Some students are really invested in the environment, and some students are like, ‘No, this is bad for me.’ They can have personal opinions, but as a group, our key issue is that students are aware that this is happening, that it could affect them, and that students know where they can channel their voice.”
According to Lueken, at the public meeting students can expect to see representatives from the state who can answer questions and take down comments. A microphone will be set up so members of the public can line up and take their turn to address the floor.
Before students take a stance on the issue, Lueken encourages them to get informed. Deric Gruen, the director of BC’s Office of Sustainability, believes students “should definitely be debating about what the implications of the toll and argue our points whether we are for or against it, but we also need to be considerate of how we can understand the context and take advantage of that.” Gruen stated that apart from the revenue, the other potential positive of the toll is a decreased environmental impact, but he recognizes that if this toll were to be approved, both BC and the state would need to provide support for students. “Students should be advocating those things that go along with tolling to support students actually making different choices, if they’re choosing not to drive anymore,” said Gruen. “Getting in and going to the public hearings I think is really important, I think they’ll also take feedback by email, letting them know we need support if they’re going to put in this kind of policy.” Currently, Gruen and the sustainability department are working on a grant whichwill provide one-on-one counseling with students to help figure out how they can get to school.
To learn more about the I-90 tolls and get involved, visit Student Programs in the C building.