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I-90 lawsuit moves east to Ellensburg

The Eastside Transportation Association and others including Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, are continuing their quest to stop the construction of light rail in the center roadway of the I-90 floating bridge.

The group, which includes Islanders Sarah Rindlaub and former state Senator Jim Horn, has petitioned to have their case heard in Ellensburg, Wash., after the state Supreme Court told the group in April that the petition should go to a lower court first.

The group contends that the 18th Amendment to the Washington State Constitution prohibits state highways — built using gas tax revenues — from being converted to “non-highway purposes.” The plaintiffs say that light rail is a “non-highway purpose.” Such a highway can be converted to another purpose only if it is declared “surplus.”

The 18th Amendment was enacted in 1944.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2009, when the Washington State Department of Transportation began preparations to transfer use of the I-90 center express lanes to Sound Transit for the purpose of building light rail across the bridge, over Mercer Island and on through the Eastside corridor. The group filed a Writ of Prohibition in the Supreme Court to stop the state from performing an illegal act. A Writ of Prohibition is a special emergency legal action that bypasses lower courts when a legal action by the state is occurring or about to occur and immediate determination is needed.

Just days after the Supreme Court handed down their decision in April, ETA et al., filed again on the issue on May 18, this time in a lower court, Kittitas County Superior Court, to stop the action. The new complaint states that the facts of the case have been agreed upon by the court and the petitioners but that the central question has yet been answered.

Joining the present case is a  resident of Kittitas County, a businessman named Brian Boehm of American Container Transport Company in Ellensburg. Boehm says consumers could see higher prices in the store, and that exports could be hurt because of increasing delays for trucks coming over Snoqualmie Pass.

“Thousands of trucks from Boston to Seattle use I-90 and the floating bridge corridor every day, and we are very concerned about getting  bottled up in the last seven miles,” he said in a press release.

The group, naming both Gov. Christine Gregoire and Paula Hammond, Secretary of the Washington state Department of Transportation who oversees state highways, as defendants.

Attorneys for Sound Transit said that the agency will reimburse the state for the use of the lanes. The calculations of the reimbursement — how the value of the lanes and the gas tax contribution was assessed — is another issue in play. The plaintiffs say that “WSDOT has valued the lanes at a fraction of their replacement value to facilitate the transfer of those lanes to Sound Transit, for the unconstitutional purpose of rail transportation.”

Sound Transit’s attorney, Desmond Brown, was quoted by the media as saying among other monies, that “80 percent of the funding for I-90 came from the federal government.”

The ETA group and their attorneys say that having the Kittitas County Superior Court hear the case makes perfect sense.

“It is a state issue,” said Horn. “All of the people in this state will be affected if the agricultural goods and other goods such as wine or cheese, don’t make it to our Puget Sound ports or to western Washington for sale. Certainly, all I-90 traffic from eastern Washington has to pass through Ellensburg.”

Islander Sarah Rindlaub, a board member and past chairman of the board of the Washington Policy Research Center, agrees that nothing less than the viability of the state’s economy is at risk. Congestion on the I-90 bridge and it’s alternative, State Highway 18, hold up the truck traffic, and delays cost money.

“The Port [of Seattle] is critical to agricultural producers across the state,” she said. “Businesses who ship their goods by truck are worried about having fewer lanes across the I-90 bridge that could slow the trips. Companies who ship goods by truck need to get two round trips to Seattle to make it economically feasible.”

Rindlaub said that many trucking businesses are concerned statewide.

Some companies say it may be faster and cheaper to send their trucks to ports in California, she said.

“It is outrageous that light rail constructed for the benefit of the few commuters who will use it, could harm the economy of the entire state,” she said. “The effect of the [I-90 changes] on the economy of the state could not have been part of that discussion.”

According to Horn, the effort to pursue this issue in court is funded by dozens of concerned business people and citizens across the state who have contributed to an account named the “I-90 Center Roadway Trust Fund.”

For more on the Eastside Transportation Association, go to www.eastsideta.com.

Open houses set for Eastgate/I-90 design alternatives

Property owners, employers, students and others in the city’s Eastgate/I-90 area can review the latest ideas for improvements to the area, and offer their own suggestions, at a pair of open houses on June 1.

The events are an opportunity to learn more about proposed land use and transportation alternatives intended to guide growth in Bellevue’s I-90 corridor over the next 20 years. Attendees can take in a presentation, ask questions and weigh in on ideas for the future of the corridor — before alternatives are finalized.

The open houses on Wednesday, June 1, will cover the same information, but will be held at different times and locations, making it more convenient for people to attend. The locations are Robinswood House Cabana, 2430 148th Ave. S.E., 1 to 3 p.m., presentation at 1:30 p.m.; and Eastgate Elementary School Cafeteria, 4255 153rd Ave. S.E., 5 to 7 p.m., presentation at 5:30 p.m.

Following the open houses, those unable to attend can view the draft alternatives and complete a comment form on the project Web page at www.bellevuewa.gov/eastgate-corridor.htm. The draft alternatives and comment form will be available June 2-14.

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