The Washington state Supreme Court today rejected an attempt by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman Jr. to stop Sound Transit from building a light-rail line on the Interstate 90 floating bridge.
The 7-2 decision gives a green light to the $2.8 billion East Link project, which when completed in 2023 would connect Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Overlake with light-rail service.
This appears to be the end of the line for legal challenges by Freeman, developer of Bellevue Square area and a longtime advocate for motorists. His transportation adviser, Bruce Nurse, said no further lawsuits have been discussed, and he seriously doubts there will be any. “We’re getting somewhat battle fatigued from fighting the government,” Nurse said.
Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci, who sits on the Sound Transit board, said in a statement today, “While we did not let this lawsuit slow us down, I am pleased to have it behind us. It’s time to get this project built and give riders a congestion-free transit option across Lake Washington.”
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, writing for the court majority, found that the conversion of two high-occupancy vehicle lanes to rail lines doesn’t violate the state Constitution because the state motor vehicle fund that built those lanes will be reimbursed by Sound Transit.
Although the state Constitution requires that the vehicle fund be used only for highway purposes, “it does not prohibit” the state Department of Transportation from transferring highway lanes to other purposes if the fund is reimbursed, Madsen wrote. Another point that swayed the majority was that the Federal Highway Administration, which paid most of the I-90 construction cost, supported the rail conversion.
Justice James Johnson, in a sharply worded dissent, wrote that the majority “once again” eroded the constitution’s protection of the motor vehicle fund for highway purposes and put it “at risk of legislative and administrative pilfering for projects outside its constitutionally prescribed purposes.”
Johnson echoed Freeman’s case by ridiculing a state argument that I-90 center lanes will become surplus with the advent of new carpool lanes on the mainline.
“In fact, it is difficult to imagine any property in the entire state of Washington that is needed for highway purposes more than the two center lanes of the I-90 bridge during any daily rush hours,” he wrote.
In 2008, voters in the three-county Sound Transit district approved taxes to expand the agency’s light-rail system, which currently runs only between downtown Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Trains will reach the University of Washington and Angle Lake in SeaTac by 2016, while extensions in the early 2020s will reach Northgate and Lynnwood.