This morning the Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion in Freeman v. Gregoire, the suit filed by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, Jr. to block transfer of the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for East Link.
They ruled 7-2 in favor of the state – which in this case is for light rail. Freeman requested a “writ of mandamus”, essentially a command, to the state specifically prohibiting them from entering into any agreement with Sound Transit for use of the I-90 center lanes.
This prohibition was denied because courts don’t typically issue commands to the legislature to follow the constitution – it’s assumed they already will – and there’s no specific, mandatory requirement in state law to do anything unconstitutional. The sections of state law in question just require the state to “complete negotiations” with Sound Transit and to spend money on a valuation study of the I-90 express lanes pursuant to that negotiation.
The court found that motor vehicle funds spent on the study were an administrative function that indirectly benefits the highway system – a use which is not prohibited. However, the majority opinion specifically omitted discussion of whether or not they felt a transfer of highway property to Sound Transit would be constitutional – they just declined to issue the broad prohibition Freeman requested.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a new case is filed once the lanes are actually transferred to Sound Transit.
We really, really need to change the state constitution. A big step is to elect better representatives, but for now, I want to call out Transportation for Washington, the campaign that’s fighting to make transit a bigger part of the picture in Olympia. If you’re not on their mailing list, you should be. Their press release had a bang-on quote this morning: “This frivolous lawsuit brought on by Kemper Freeman and his anti-transit colleagues was just a cynical attempt to thwart the voters’ will and derail transit.”