The HOV lanes and East Link (stolen shamelessly from ST)
The HOV lanes and East Link (from Sound Transit)

On Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court published their 7-2 opinion (PDF), denying a laundry list of the usual anti-transit suspects their likely second to last attempt to block the construction of East Link.

This latest case started in Kittitas County – Freeman sued to block East Link there, perhaps looking for a more conservative judge than he’d find in King, and failed over a year ago. He appealed to the Supreme Court, and this week the result is clear: he’s burning his money on ways to block rail without success on any front.

The fight for rail in the I-90 express lanes is long – it started in the 1970s with the reconstruction and expansion of I-90, Sound Transit joined the party in 2004 to plan transit across the bridge, Sound Transit 2 funded it, and finally it’s happening!

Freeman’s suit alleged that because I-90 was partly (about 10%) built with state gas tax money, and state gas tax money is prohibited from use for transit projects, the state couldn’t lease the lanes to Sound Transit. There are a lot of specifics, but all of them were wrong, and unless you’re really fascinated by the legal contortions that folks like this will go to in order to try to stop transit, it’s really only worth reading the first couple of pages of background (PDF, look at pages 1-5), which are excellent.

So, assisted by attorney Phil Talmadge, who I expected better from, and the Eastside Transportation Association, a nonprofit you should never donate to, here’s the dirty dozen:

Kemper Freeman; Jim Horn; Steve Stivala; Ken Collins; Michael Dunmire; Sarah Rindlaub; Al Deatley; Jim Coles; Bryan Boehm; Emory Bundy; Roger Bell; and Mark Anderson.

It’s possible this will come back one more time – part of the decision came down to only five members of the court agreeing that WSDOT could lease the space to Sound Transit. The other four think the lease wouldn’t be constitutional, but that they can’t weigh in until someone sues when the lease actually takes place. Kemper Freeman may very well waste more of his money, and our tax dollars, with his attempt to litigate away the will of his neighbors.

67 Replies to “Anti-Rail Forces Rejected by State Supreme Court”

  1. I’m pro-rail, but running a train on a floating bridge gives me the willies.

    How about a couple of tunnels instead since we have the gear in town?

    1. Thankfully, we don’t make technology decisions based on what gives you “the willies”.

      1. The U.S. Government responded in a comment letter on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, “The degree of movement and rotation of the I-90 floating bridge joint substantially exceeds that of a typical suspension bridge. While we agree that this is probably the best comparison to make since there are no floating bridges that have light rail, we do not agree that there has been enough work done to justify the conclusion that this comparison demonstrates that it is feasible to design a light rail track system to accommodate the movements of the I-90 floating bridge. We think there is additional work to be done to determine if it is feasible to design an expansion joint to accommodate light rail.”

      2. Luckily that additional work is already being done. Sound Transit recently shipped a couple of LRVs out to a full-size test track in Colorado.

    2. I think I’ve read on here before that the lake is way too deep for tunnels. Trust in physics and damn good engineers is about all I can offer to calm the nerves.

      1. And really, someone whose nerves are disquieted by the idea of something getting built that they will never use doesn’t really have a case of nerves. ;)

      2. The Seikan Tunnel (青函トンネル Seikan Tonneru or 青函隧道 Seikan Zuidō) is a 53.85-kilometre (33.46 mi) railway tunnel in Japan, with a 23.3-kilometre (14.5 mi) long portion under the seabed. The track level is about 140 metres (460 ft) below the seabed and 240 m (790 ft) below sea level.

      3. Bailo. You are forgetting that in order to get under Lake Washington in a tunnel you’d also have to have extremely long approach tracks that would get the trains to that depth. Which would be tremendously expensive, problematic, and generally unfeasible considering our geography.

      4. Given the geography, the only feasible crossing solutions I am aware of are a suspension or floating bridge. The suspension bridge was ruled out a generation ago when the engineers looked at the numbers and realized how expensive and complicated a bridge over the lakes would be… these were people who also bridged the narrows, so its not like there was a fear of suspension bridges.

        Given these facts I think its pretty clear that we are looking at floating bridge or go around. I don’t see any other viable options on the table.

        For the record, the animations of the rails on the bridge also creep me out a bit, but I will still probably ride it now and then. I mean, I drive across the bridge now and then and barely think about how silly it is that I am driving on a giant concrete boat…

      5. I don’t think the depth is the issue; I think it’s how steeply the depth increases and how mucky the soil is there making it hard to put down pier foundations. There was a group a few years ago actively proposing the notion of floating tunnels, but imagine what would happen if something rammed into it!

      6. Well, maybe the direct route across the Lake isn’t the best. How about a ring tunnel that ran along the edge but out a bit in a kind of U-shape. Then it wouldn’t have to be so deep. Yes, it would be longer in distance, but at max speed (say, what, 60 mph?) getting from one side to the other shouldn’t take that long.

      7. Interestingly, Seattle to Bellevue, taking the long way around the Lake, via Renton, is only 22.9 miles, compared to 10.4 miles for going across I-90 as this map shows:

        If say, a LINK express were going 60 mph, it would only save about 10 minutes by using the bridge versus going through Renton and then back up north again.

      8. So John, you would add 12.5 miles to the route and then not even bother to stop in Factoria, Newcastle, Renton or Georgetown? Meanwhile Mercer Islanders get to keep their personal express lanes to Seattle.

      9. There might be other geotechnical problems, but the lake is not too deep to tunnel under. The water depth is about 200′ at the deepest point and the silt depth is about 375′ at the deepest point. Beneath the silt is material that has been compressed by glaciation. Even if the deepest silt is not stable enough for tunneling and the deepest area of silt is close to the western shore, the grade would only be around 6% to the deepest part from a station at Madison and 23rd. (400′ tunnel depth, less 50′ depth of Madison and 23rd station for a total 350′ grade change in about 5800′ from station to low point close to western shore.) A 6% grade is too steep for regular trains, but subways have no difficulty with a 6% grade, and the grade up the eastern slope would be less. This would be a deep tunnel, but not unusually so – the Seikan Tunnel is far deeper. The Deep Bore tunnel is around 200′ deep, and part of University Link has around 310′ of cover.

        The big advantage of a tunnel would be the huge operational advantages:

        – Travel time between downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue of around 13 minutes.

        – Diversion of buses from the 520 and I-90 to the train which would save time, decrease bus traffic in downtown Seattle and decrease operational costs.

        – Direst connection from downtown Seattle to Broadway and Madison which would be vastly superior to the First Hill Streetcar.

        – Totally separated right of way would allow for automatic operations and 2 minute headways.

        – Better station locations in Bellevue.

        It is true that there might be other geotechnical problems with a tunnel, but this is something that ought to be subject to a full geotechnical and financial evaluation.

    3. I would think that being in a train when the bridge sank would be just about the same as being in a car when the bridge sank. Unless one is driving an old VW beetle, of course.

    4. John,

      These are not tidal waters. The bridge hardly moves vertically, and that’s the direction that offers difficulty to a fixed guideway. Rails are more than flexible enough to accommodate any side-to-side movement that might occur in such a massive structure.

      Look at the rail trains used to deliver quarter mile sections of up to 156 pound per yard continuously welded rail to deployment sites throughout the land. They consist of semi-permanently coupled flatcars with four levels of eight rails each with roller-equipped “trestles” every ten or fifteen feet to hold the rails. This TREMENDOUSLY rigid structure is hauled on main-line tracks of up to four degrees curvature for hundreds of miles. Even the great stiffness of the multiple rails does not cause derailments because the rails bend sinuously as the train passes through curves.

      No, they don’t go very fast in order to allow the rails to do that very bending, but they do pass through curves of up to four degrees’ curvature.

      When the delivery system was proposed derision that it would work filled the rail industry. It’s hard work for track crews to bend a single rail to fit a curve; how could such a train of 32 rails go around ANY curve?

      It amazes me still, but they can and do. Nearly every day of rail operations somewhere in the US a rail train is delivering a shipment of CWR to some rail replacement project.

      So even in a high windstorm coming straight north or south across the lake, which would certainly cause the structure to “wiggle”, the flexibility of the trackway will be more than sufficient to accommodate the lateral movement.

      Now if the lake varied in elevation above sea level significantly, THAT would be a problem, because the bridge rising would necessarily squeeze the trackage at the bridgeheads or falling stretch it.

      But the lake level is very nearly constant, and varies not more than a few inches a year, because it’s controlled by the Ballard Locks.

      So don’t worry your pretty little head about some giant tsunami ripping the trackway apart. It’s not going to happen.

      1. Doesn’t the design currently being tested at the DOT research center in Colorado also allow for vertical movement?

        I thought that it did to account for the “bow wave” created by the LRVs transiting to/from solid ground.

      2. The lake does vary in elevation seasonally by about 2′. The Corps of Engineers lowers the lake level (through the Chittenden Locks) during the winter months for maintenance of docks and walls. The design work done by takes into account, lake level, sway, surge, and roll. Using a beautiful CESURA design, the designers have added enough movement that accounts for all of these movements simultaneously, providing a smooth transition at both ends of the bridge. Here’s a discussion of the expansion joint by the engineer along with animation of how it works.

      3. The lake varies in elevation about two feet – on an annual basis. Hardly an impossible circumstance to design for.

      4. Thanks, Pete, that was a great link. I have to admit to being surprised that the lake level changes by two feet. I used to go to the Foster Island trail and the lake level always seemed quite the same. Well, so much for personal observation.

    5. Yes, John, the Seikan Tunnel exists and is transited by trains daily.

      It also portals almost nine miles inland on both Honshu and Hokkaido in order to accommodate the great depth of the strait under which it passes.

      Lake Washington is nearly as deep, so to build a tunnel we’d either need corkscrew tunnels at either end to attain the appropriate depth or perhaps we could use the Downtown-Ballard Link Tunnel, should the Queen Anne route be chosen to get down seventy five feet under the Ship Canal, then junction and keep diving under North Seattle in a big loop.

      Microsoft might appreciate being at the east portal of the tunnel; the line could then loop back to downtown Bellevue, making the whole trip long and tedious enough that it would no longer frighten your patron, Lord Kemper of the Bad Temper.

      1. Let’s not let physical reality inform opinions here. The maximum depth of Lake Washington is just over 200 feet (which is not located in between Mercer Island and Seattle under the I-90 bridge…)

        So, a tunnel under the lake bed (or how about resting on the lake bed the way Bart crosses San Francisco Bay over to Oakland), with a 2% grade, needs less than 2 miles of approach on either side. Hardly a need for cork screw tunnels, or portals in Redmond.

      2. The BART tunnels do NOT “rest on the [bay] bed”. They lie in a partial trench which was dredged and leveled and are covered by overburden to protect them against vessel anchors or sinkings.

        San Francisco Bay is remarkably flat-bottomed, which makes the “drag and drop” immersed tube practical there. The bottom of Lake Washington is not, since it was gouged out by a glacier.

        So I used some hyperbole to illustrate one of the main reasons why such a tunnel was investigated and rejected as too costly. So sue me.

      3. There is a deep layer of silt on the bottom of Lake Washington. A tunnel would need to be a tube immersed in that, basically a floating tunnel, or you’d need to go even deeper to actually bore a tunnel under the lake.

      4. @Paul,

        Thank you; I thought that the “tunnelable” depth was greater than 200 feet. If the silt is also 200 feet thick (as a “for instance”) a tunnel would have to be more than 400 feet deep at its deepest point, which is similar to the strait between Honshu and Hokkaido.

        The whole concept of a “floating tunnel” in a silt bed is far creepier than a bunch of huge concrete boxes floating on the surface.

        As long as the manhole covers are kept closed on the boxes, of course……

      5. >> There is a deep layer of silt on the bottom of Lake Washington.

        Paul is correct. Lake Washington has no bottom. The water just gets thicker and thicker as you go down. At the top, it’s milfoil soup. At the bottom, it’s solid rock.

    6. Well, John, even if the trackbed proves unworkable there will be a line from Overlake Station to south Bellevue P&R, and the larger line on the westside. With frequent connector bus service over the bridge, the light rail systems will be linked.

    7. Out of curiosity, can you elaborate on what freaks you out about trains on floating bridges that doesn’t also apply to cars on floating bridges?

      I assume you’re not so reckless in your desire to spend other people’s money that you wouldn’t go so far as to suggest we taxpayers spend several billion dollars on a manifestly unnecessary tunnel to avoid giving you “the willies”? I’m a damn dirty socialist, but that suggestion brings out deeply repressed inner Eyman.

    1. I think Freeman and his team. But I don’t think what they’re charged really covers everything.

      1. “Costs” are irrelevant. Each side pays its own attorneys fees. The last part of the decision is the court saying no, Kemper, you’re not the prevailing party so you don’t get your fees paid.

  2. The irony is breathtaking. Kemper may be the #1 property owner benefitted by East Link. So he will profit greatly from this loss!

    1. Hardly… Many people can and do make the trek from BTC to Kemperland but Kemper has worked to push transit as far away from his mall as possible. The one stop that does service the mall is located on a blank wall with only emergency exits. It basically says “go away” to anybody who rides the 271 there.

      Kemper could have pushed for a world class BRT system or demanded a Link station for his empire. He likely would have won those battles with ease. Instead, his obstinance has resulted in Link’s passengers being a half mile walk with moderate hills from his mall. It’s doable, but he could have had so much more. No WE could have had so much more.

  3. I think Kemper has actually turned me against this project. As Rob eluded to I hate the idea of people having easier access to Kemper’s shopping malls and restaurants. I would actually now prefer to see massive traffic backups and congestion preventing people from going to his property and helping to encourage the use of Amazon or shopping downtown (Seattle or Bellevue) instead.

    1. But I do enjoy watching him burn through millions of dollars on costly litigation so maybe we should continue to propose new rail lines, homeless shelters, bike lanes, and parking restrictions around Bellevue on a weekly basis until he goes bust.

      1. The flip side to that argument is that someone else’s millions have to be spent to defend this type of litigation. If that expense is paid by ST, it reduces what they can ultimately spend on transit.

      2. Perhaps ST should explore extracting their legal costs out of Kemper’s hide as penance for frivolous nuisance suits.

      3. Not happening. The rule is basically a one-way rule: if a person claiming the constitution was violated wins, tax money can be used to pay that person’s attorneys fees. But if they challenge and lose, unless the claim was so out of bounds it was brought in bad faith, they don’t pay the other side’s fees. That’s called the “American” rule on attorneys fees.

    2. Everyone on the Eastside should suffer because you’re mad at Kemper? What about people that have nothing to do with Kemper but just want to get around?

    3. I don’t think Kemper owns P.F. Chang’s. They pay him rent, but the check is written for the same amount every month regardless of how many people go there to discuss the secret plan.

  4. As we discovered there are limitations placed on N.Link due to ventilation issues at Montlake.
    What are the design limitations placed on trains going across the lake?
    The photo shows 2- three car trains passing, but I’ve heard will be limited to X fully loaded cars passing a point on the floating section due to buoyancy issues. I don’t have a link for that, so was wondering if anyone knew the design ST is working from for maximum throughput.

    1. I thought that they proved that the bridge could more than take the load of the equivalent of two fully loaded 4-car link trains passing each other years ago when they simulated it using trucks.

      1. 4 minutes is fine, as that’s all the tunnel will be able to take when South line trains are doing the same thing (for 2 minutes combined).

      2. 2 minutes combined? I wish. Wasn’t there this argument a while back about how Sound Transit was now planning to restrict themselves to 4-minute maximum headways in perpetuity?

      3. That’s 2 minutes counting both ways together. Not 2-minute headway each way.

        The bridge will have to be tested for max headway, coming from both directions at once, and the various possible harmonic waves that could result.

      4. I’m drawing a blank and can’t find it in the documentation, but if trains are limited to one on the floating section at a time, the timing of interlaced trains is effected in the DSTT. It may be my imagination that further limits on future headways may be one outcome of borrowing someone else’s bridge for 35 years.

      5. Currently, headways are constrained by the street running on Central Link. When University Link comes on line further restrictions arise because there aren’t enough ventilation shafts. The worry here is that East Link is going to add yet more headway restrictions because of using the I90 bridge.

        Central Link could be fixed by eliminating at grade road crossings. U-Link’s could be fixed by drilling the missing shaft. Any I90 constraints would presumably be fixable with a new bridge. Of the three, U-Link’s sound like the easiest to fix, then Central and finally any bridge related East Link issues.

        My understanding about U-Link is that the missing ventilation shaft on U Link was tactical decision to avoid the project getting delayed by litigation. Moreover, my understanding is that there is little reason that the required missing shaft could be added at a later date, or even that doing so will be ridiculously difficult or expensive.

      6. Dare I ask, would adding the missing shaft require the U-Link tunnel to be shut down for an extended period of time? How would litigating now interfere with the construction that is proceeding along nicely?

        And to mic: Look at the picture. There are no plans to limit the bridge to one train at a time. If it comes down to it, ST could buy one of those defective SR 520 pontoons at auction.

      7. Kemper actually owned property in Seattle, and it was right where the ventilation shaft would have been, at the convenience store in Montlake next to 520. ST was afraid that touching that property would add fuel to Kemper’s campaign against East Link and also harm University/Central Link. Now that ST and Bellevue have formally agreed on East Link, that may no longer be as much of an issue, and i think I read the property has different owners now (?).

        I don’t know how much it would cost to drill the shaft or how long train service would be interrupted, but I doubt ST would be willing to reconsider it before ST2 is finished. It really comes down to when/if University Link starts to get overcrowded, and ST probably wants to wait until Lynnwood has been open for a couple years to see how it goes. I do know some ST staff are concerned the north side may reach capacity soon after Lynnwood comes online. (I can hear DP choking on his lasagne and shouting, “Lynnwood and Shoreline will be almost empty off-peak!”) That could give an incentive to dig the shaft and squeeze some more frequency.

  5. One good outcome of the suit is that WSDOT can now sell off the failed SR 520 pontoons for scrap, instead of storing them as “highway infrastructure” in perpetuity.

  6. I have been analyzing this post’s “The HOV and East Link” drawing. I am confused by a few things. Judging from the shadows, it’s around noon in in the winter. But where is the snowpack on the Cascade mountains in the background? Climate change? I don’t think so. Also, why is ST running a three car train at noon? And that bus I see. What route is that? Why isn’t truncated? Also, according to the shadows coming off the cars, shouldn’t the Cascades be front-lighted? Why is their western face in shadows?

    1. You’re wrong on the shadows. They’re about 45 degrees which is just the equinox angle. If it’s showing the Fall Equinox in September there would be no snow pack on the Cascades. And I’m simply speculating that the artist chose to show the mountains as they often appear: with a haze in front of them. Especially in fairly windless September the haze can sometimes be significant.

      Nobody said every bus crossing Lake Washington was going to be truncated at a Link Station. Many will, but certainly not all. The bus should probably be in ST blue and white, not Metro livery if it’s noon, but there will buses crossing the lake all day. ST has all-day service to Eastgate and Issaquah which is supposed not to be truncated at South Bellevue.

      And why would ST NOT be running a three car train at noon once North Link is operational, which will certainly come before East Link does? If ST can run ten minute headways on East Link and South Link as base period service (five minutes north of IDS), it would probably require twenty three-car trains cars per hour (3600 seated pph) to haul the loads between the U and downtown Seattle.

    2. I am apparently wrong on the existence of mid-day buses on the bridge. On the Lynnwood Link discussion immediately following this one, the assertion is made that ST and Metro are both considering truncating I-90 routes at South Bellevue or Mercer Island in the base period, if they can get agreement from the respective cities.

      But, in the artist’s defense, this is a rather old illustration and certainly pre-dates the current thinking about cross-lake buses.

      1. You can tell it’s winter around noontime because of where the sun is. It’s in the south. Look at the shadow being given-off by the train wire posts.

        One additional thought. This isn’t a smart drawing. ST should have told the artist to make the vehicle lanes clogged with traffic. Subliminally suggest to the viewer that they’ll want to be on the unobstructed train, not stuck in a traffic jam.

  7. I’m disturbed that there are any judges on the WA Supreme Court who thought that Kemper Freeman’s ludicrous arguments had merit. When are the two “loser” judges up for election? They’re clearly [ah] and should be removed. Under their bizarre “pave the earth” theory, it would be impossible to ever decommision or relocate a road ever!

    1. It was rather evident when I watched the proceedings live, that at least one of the justices based on his line of questioning was far more interested in helping his rich and powerful friends than following the law.

      But I will also say that is also the nature of our system, they sometimes as a body get it wrong. Like when the court on the challenge to the state Defense of Marriage Act made the tortured and bizarre argument in their holding opinion that LGBT persons had the right to marry… people of the opposite sex and that was in there view sufficient. The person who wrote that opinion sits as our Chief Justice today.

      Today, she and the majority of the court followed logic correctly and ruled against Freeman.

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