I-90 Bridge, Wikipedia

Kemper Freeman’s lawsuit has failed to make it past summary judgement.  The Superior Court of Kittitas County filed a summary judgment on Freeman’s lawsuit against the State of Washington, finding the use of part of the highway for light rail is allowed under state law.

The issue in question stems from the 1944 Amendment under the state’s constitution stating:

All fees collected by the State of Washington as license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel and all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes, shall be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for highway purposes. Such highway purposes shall be construed to include the following:

(a) The necessary operating, engineering and legal expenses connected with the administration of public highways, county roads and city streets;

(b) The construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, county roads, bridges and city streets; including the cost and expense of (1) acquisition of rights-of-way, (2) installing, maintaining and operating traffic signs and signal lights, (3) policing by the state of public highways, (4) operation of movable span bridges, (5) operation of ferries which are a part of any public highway, county road, or city street;

(c) The payment or refunding of any obligation of the State of Washington, or any political subdivision thereof, for which any of the revenues described in section 1 may have been legally pledged prior to the effective date of this act;

(d) Refunds authorized by law for taxes paid on motor vehicle fuels;

(e) The cost of collection of any revenues described in this section:

Provided, That this section shall not be construed to include revenue from general or special taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes, or apply to vehicle operator’s license fees or any excise tax imposed on motor vehicles or the use thereof in lieu of a property tax thereon, or fees for certificates of ownership of motor vehicles.

Freeman argued that since I-90 was built with motor vehicle taxes, it cannot be leased or sold to Sound Transit for use with light rail.  The court disagreed, stating:

The court agrees Article 2, Section 40 restricts the use of motor vehicle excise taxes to the use for highway purposes but it does not restrict the State from eventually declaring the highway surplus and then using it for non-highway purposes, provided, however, that the motor vehicle funds used to constuct the highway are in effect repaid to preclude any allegation that the State is circumventing the intent of Article 2, Section 40.

full judgment here 

28 Replies to “Courts: Light Rail Allowed Over I-90”

  1. My understanding is that the ruling was a pretty complete drubbing of KF and his positions.

    However, don’t expect KF to give up so easily – I give him a month or two before he files another lawsuit using some other angle.

      1. One would hope that the result would be the same in any venue. There’s only one set of facts and laws.

      2. @Oran

        Kittitas County has like 3 people; traffic patterns due to heavy commuting around lake washington seem kinda unlikely to have a significant impact there (and certainly much less than in King county).

    1. Stage 2 (MI-Bellevue,EB) is scheduled for completion this month, stage 3 (Seattle-MI) not until 2015.

      (from WSDOT:)

      Stage 2

      Eastbound I-90 Mercer Island-Bellevue

      Began construction spring 2010
      Add HOV lane to outer roadway from 80th Ave. SE to Bellevue Way
      Modify existing reversible HOV direct access ramp at 80th Ave. SE to an HOV on-ramp to the new HOV lane in the outer roadway of eastbound I-90
      Preserve I-90 pavement in both directions between West Mercer Way and Bellevue Way
      Complete construction in early 2012

      Stage 3

      I-90 both directions Seattle-Mercer Island

      Add an HOV lane in each direction of the outer roadway between Mercer Island and Rainier Ave. S in Seattle
      Preserve pavement in both directions, Rainier Avenue to West Mercer Way
      Build an eastbound HOV direct-access exit ramp at 77th Avenue SE on Mercer Island
      Complete construction 2015

      1. Stage 3 may take a while as it is still in “design”.

        I would expect Stage 2 to be done any time now.

    2. Stage two (eastbound HOV lane extension to just east of the Mercer Island Lid) was supposed to be complete late February. The completion date has been delayed to late March.

      I don’t know why it’s been delayed. It looks like the markings for the HOV lane was just finished a few days ago though. Perhaps the actual opening of the lane will be sooner, with the leftovers (landscaping, barriers, sensors, other utilities) finished by late March.

    3. three years ago better yet.

      note Sound Move, the 1996 RTA measure, included a two-way busway on I-90 but Mercer Island would not go along.

      1. And I believe even the 1976 Memorandum of Agreement among all parties posited a two-way HOV facility on the center roadway, but WSDOT (nee Department of Highways) designed out the ramp structure necessary for that — after a “value engineering” study.

  2. So…….

    What they are saying is: you can’t use highway-collected funds for non-highway purposes.

    However, if the highway is paid off, then you’re not using highway funds to pay for a roadway that is then used by rail.

    But, essentially you’re giving the asset, paid for by highway funds, over to rail use…so even though it’s “paid off” you’re still giving away hundreds of millions of previously paid taxes to a non-highway use.

    I don’t know who your accountant is — but I think if I tried to do something like this with personal assets, the IRS would be on my landing in no time flat.

    1. Do you have a reading comprehension problem? WSDOT is being reimbursed by Sound Transit.

    2. um … not only is Sound Transit reimbursing the state for the lanes … they are paying for the construction of the new HOV lanes

      1. It would make sense to pay a nominal fee for the lanes (just for basic maintenance and ware and tear) and HOV mitigation, but certainly not full fare. The constitutional amendment on the other hand is entirely absurd. How much are ST paying for I-90?

      2. “The constitutional amendment on the other hand is entirely absurd.”

        YES. I demand that all taxes on coffee should go only to coffee infrastructure (public coffee grinders?), not to police or schools or any other government service.

        Taxes should all go to a general fund, and we decide as voters (and their representatives) how to spend that money.

        The ’40’s were a different time, with the amazing car coming to homes everywhere and roads were spreading like wildfire. Of course that was all very short-term thinking, as it’s all based on a limited resource that they knew well would disappear someday. That day is coming, but we still have the goofy laws put in place that keep us building roads.

      3. Although I’m happy that this judgement went this way, I’m curious about what could happen when I-90 needs repairs/repaving. Aren’t gas taxes going to be used for that, which would then make I-90 technically back to what it is now?

      4. So essentially, Sound Transit bought these highway lanes, and is paying fair value (the taxes plus inflation) and will do all the maintenance.

        I don’t see what the problem is then. As said, who cares if the original funding was from a highway fund, if it was paid back in full and the asset transferred out of WADOT’s responsibility.

        It is now essentially a rail road track.

      5. @ Cinesea, My understanding is the center (current HOV) lanes would be converted to the train bedway and thus would never require repaving during its lifespan (40 years). But obvious maintenance for connector and structural components would be funded by ST for that portion of the “roadway”. The remainder of the bridge would be maintained in the same manner that it is funded now, vehicle taxes and general fund taxes.

      6. Charles & Cinesea

        ST has two options for the roadway … the first (which I believe was rejected) was to have the rails embedded in the concrete just like the ROW is on MLK … this would have allowed for buses to share the ROW too.

        This was rejected and I believe instead they are going with the style of fixed rail attachments that they use on the current elevated /at grade I5 segment of the existing line (or between SODO and Mt. Baker station)

        With this method … the rails will be higher than the roadway negating the need to plow snow … and negating the need to maintain the entire road surface

    3. If you’re selling off an asset for fair market value, I don’t think it matters HOW it was originally paid for.

  3. The best part was this comment from Freeman’s camp, in the Seattle Times:

    “Freeman hasn’t decided whether to appeal, said Bruce Nurse, vice president and transportation aide for Kemper Development. He pointed out that Sound Transit has yet to prove it can operate unique “transition joints” where trains must move safely between the floating and fixed segments of the bridge.”

    Just admit your intent is to stop the project any way you can, not to vindicate the law, correct the engineering, or anything else. How is the design of the transition joints any of your business? Freeman’s like an internet “concern troll,” except with millions of dollars to hire lawyers.

    1. If he were engaging in this sort of obstructionism in order to, you know, keep high level nuclear waste out of his neighborhood, or stop hydrofracking from poisoning his water supply, or, you know, something IMPORTANT, then I could sympathize.

      But he just seems to irrationally hate trains.

      1. And considering he is going to profit handsomely from trains makes it doubly ironic.

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