Challenge to light rail on I-90 bridge to continue

Former State Senator Jim Horn, spokesman for the Eastside Transportation Association (ETA), announced today that they have instructed their attorneys to appeal to the State Supreme Court a March by Kittitas County Superior Court that dismissed ETA’s suit to prohibit the state from transferring the two center lanes of the I-90 bridge to Sound Transit.

Sound Transit plans to use the center lanes for light rail between Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond after the completion of new 24-hour eastbound and westbound HOV lanes to the bridge.

The ETA group says that the light rail proposal will harm truck transportation that is important to business beyond the Seattle metropolitan region. Horn said it’s important to keep in mind that the I-90 bridge doesn’t belong to just Seattle area people.

“That bridge belongs to every citizen of this state. We all paid for it. When eastern Washington trucking slows down, we’re all going to be paying more for our products.”

In March, a Kittitas County Superior Court Judge issued a summary judgment that rejected those claims in suit by Kemper Freeman and the ETA group, seeking to stop the East Link light rail project. Mercer Island residents, Former State Sen. Jim Horn and Sara Rindlaub were also part of the suit.

The March ruling confirmed the legality of the work now underway to extend light rail across the I-90 center lanes to serve to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond.

ETA 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,” they said.

Geoff Patrick of Sound Transit points out that the floating bridge was constructed with federal dollars, not state gas tax dollars, and that agreements with the federal government explicitly said the center roadway was permanently designated to transit use and future conversion to mass transit. The federal funding agreement was based on that agreement, he said.

The Kittitas court affirmed that the East Link light rail project, approved by voters in 2008, is consistent with plans and agreements that have been in place since before the bridge was built. The ruling cites the 1978 federal action approving construction of the I-90 floating bridge, which contained an express condition that “public transportation shall permanently have first priority in the use of the center lanes.”

The court also held that WSDOT had the authority to lease the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for light rail, rejecting the argument that the lease violates the 18th Amendment of the Washington State Constitution because Sound Transit is paying adequate compensation for the lanes.

Sound Transit is compensating for the limited gas tax funding that was included in the floating bridge construction by building a new HOV lane in each direction across I-90, while maintaining the current number of general purpose lanes. The investment in the roadways more than reimburses the $69 million in gas tax dollars that the state invested in the central roadway, the agency has said.

In 1976, a memorandum of agreement for I-90 was signed by the cities of Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island, King County Metro Transit and the State Highway Commission. It directed that bridge design and construction accommodate future conversion to rail and committed the two-lane center roadway for that purpose.

Freeman filed the lawsuit in Kittitas County following a Washington State Supreme Court ruling against him in 2011.

The Eastside Transportation Association (ETA) is a private-sector organization includes the management of five trucking companies, one from Seattle, one from Tacoma, and two from Ellensburg and one from Yakima. Also a member is the former president of Western Peterbuilt, a large truck dealership. Also included are a former director of the Bullitt Foundation; an investment executive; a former state senator who was chair of the Senate Transportation Committee when the Nickel Fund was passed, starting the road expansion activities now underway today; and the former owner and Chief Executive Officer of Superior Asphalt Company and past chairman of the Board of the National Asphalt Paving Association.

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