Can Sound Transit use I-90 center lanes?

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by ROBERT MAK / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on April 21, 2011 at 5:23 PM

TheWashington State Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman and other opponents of light rail on Intersate 90. But the fight may not be over yet.

This is a significant issue because Sound Transit is counting on being able to convert the center express lanes on I-90 to get light rail to the east side.

Opponents say those lanes were built in part, with money from the gas tax and they argue that under the state Constitution, those lanes must be used for highway purposes—not light rail.

Last September, they went to the State Supreme Court asking justices to step in and stop the Washington Department of Transportation from moving ahead with plans to transfer those center lanes to Sound Transit.

Today in a 7-2 opinion, justices refused to step in. “This court is not empowered to command the discretionary decisions of state officials in advance…” wrote Justice Charles W. Johnson.

But the justices avoided the entire issue of whether it’s Constitutional to use those center lanes for light rail. Johnson continues, “Whether this potential lease specifically complies with these statutory provisions is not before us at this time…”

So a legal victory for Sound Transit today, but the cloud still hangs over the agency as to whether it can use the center lanes.

Opponents now have choice—they can wait until the state actually transfers the lanes to Sound Transit and file a lawsuit at that time. Or, they are considering other legal options.

An interesting ruling here. While the state and Sound Transit won this lawsuit, they don’t come away with more certainty on the fundamental issue.

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