Light rail OK on I-90 bridge, State Supreme Court rules

  • By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
  • Thursday, September 12, 2013 4:47pm
  • Local NewsNorthwest

SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday the state can go ahead with plans to build light rail tracks on the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington, citing agreements dating back to the 1970s that gave priority to public transit on the bridge.

The justices agreed with Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper’s grant of summary judgment that an agreement between the Washington Department of Transportation and Sound Transit does not violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit and appeal were brought by plaintiffs including Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, who is known for building the Bellevue Square Mall. They argued that the state was misusing highway dollars by giving freeway lanes over to mass transit.

In their appeal of the lower court ruling, they offer as evidence a 1944 voters pamphlet that characterizes Article II, Section 40 of the state Constitution as saying highways are strictly for motor vehicle use because they are built and maintained using motor vehicle license fees, fuel taxes and other revenue intended for highway purposes.

The state argued and the court agreed that government agreements concerning I-90 before the bridge was even built set aside lanes for transit. The bridge connects Seattle, Mercer Island and Bellevue.

The justices voted 7-2 in favor of allowing light rail to be built on the bridge. The majority opinion by Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen also points out that the state is leasing the lanes to Sound Transit in exchange for money to build more lanes for cars.

Voters approved the Sound Transit light rail route to Seattle’s eastern suburbs as part of a 2008 ballot measure.

Sound Transit is scheduled to begin construction on new high occupancy vehicle lanes on the bridge in 2015. It plans to transform existing lanes into light rail starting in 2016. After the project is completed, the bridge will have 24-hour HOV lanes in both directions, as well as light rail tracks.

“We’re excited to be moving forward,” said Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick after the ruling was posted on the Supreme Court website.

Freeman said he agreed almost entirely with the dissenting opinion, written by Justice James M. Johnson, calling the majority opinion “preposterous.”

Both Johnson and Freeman argue that the Supreme Court is eroding the 18th Amendment to the Washington Constitution, which prevents the diversion of the gas tax, vehicle registration and related funds for non-highway uses.

Freeman said there’s a good reason why most states have a provision like this in their constitution.

Despite the Supreme Court decision, Freeman has not changed his opinion that the best kind of mass transit uses buses, not trains, because bus rapid transit carries more people, is cheaper to build and can be set up faster.

More in Local News

It’s hard to find a parking spot at Wallace Falls State Park

There’s a study under way on how to tackle that issue and others.

At long last, a church of his own

After years of filling in elsewhere, Hallack Greider is the new pastor at Maplewood Presbyterian.

Judge: Lawmakers’ emails, texts subject to public disclosure

News organizations had sued to challenge the Legislature’s claim that members were exempt.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Outgoing councilwoman honored by Marysville Fire District

The Marysville Fire District in December honored outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Wright… Continue reading

Officials rule train-pedestrian death an accident

The 37-year-old man was trying to move off the tracks when the train hit him, police say.

Ex-Monroe cop re-arrested after losing sex crime case appeal

He was sentenced to 14 months in prison but was free while trying to get his conviction overturned.

Everett district relents on eminent domain moving expenses

Homeowners near Bothell still must be out by April to make way for a planned new high school.

Number of flu-related deaths in county continues to grow

Statewide, 86 people have died from the flu, most of whom were 65 or older.

Most Read