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Supreme Court rules in favor of East Link light rail across I-90

Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation are moving forward to complete new HOV lanes across Lake Washington and start East Link light rail construction. The Washington state Supreme Court today dismissed a lawsuit seeking to stop the construction of East Link light rail across Lake Washington on I-90.

“Design work for extending light rail to East King County is moving forward, and we remain focused on opening for service in 2023,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “We are grateful for the Supreme Court’s confirmation today that the I-90 bridge was built with the clear intent to use the center lanes for mass transit. Our partnership with WSDOT will make this longtime vision a reality, while at the same time preserving the current number of vehicle lanes.”

The court held that WSDOT had the authority to lease the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for light rail, rejecting arguments that included a claim that the lease violates the 18th Amendment of the Washington State Constitution. The decision is available at www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/872678.pdf.

“While we did not let this lawsuit slow us down, I am pleased to have it behind us,” said Sound Transit Board and Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci. “It’s time to get this project built and give riders a congestion-free transit option across Lake Washington.”

Construction of East Link is scheduled to start in 2015, with work on the I-90 portion scheduled to get underway in late 2016 following the completion of new HOV lanes across Lake Washington.

Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman and other parties, including Mercer Island residents, former state senator Jim Horn and Sara Rindlaub, filed the suit against WSDOT in Kittitas County Superior Court, which last year issued a summary judgment in favor of WSDOT and Sound Transit.

In 2011 the Supreme Court rejected a previous challenge filed by Freeman, et al. Before the reversible center lanes are closed for light rail, the new HOV lanes will provide 24-hour capacity for carpools and buses both eastbound and westbound, maintaining the current number of general purpose and HOV lanes and remedying the current lack of HOV capacity in the off-peak direction.

Sound Transit is providing funding for the new lanes as part of its agreement with WSDOT. The court affirmed that the East Link light rail project is consistent with plans and agreements that have been in place since before the bridge was built. The ruling cites a 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.”

In 1976, a memorandum of agreement for I-90 was signed by the cities of Seattle, Bellevue, 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.

By 2030, East Link is projected to carry approximately 50,000 riders each weekday. As the region’s population continues to grow in the decades ahead, East Link will provide tremendous new transportation capacity to the I-90 corridor.

Increases in the length and frequency of trains over time offer the capacity to carry from 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour in each direction. Riding East Link between Seattle and downtown Bellevue is projected to take 20 minutes. By comparison, in the afternoon peak period it can currently take approximately 45 minutes to travel between Seattle and Bellevue via I-90.

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