south bellevue station renderings
South Bellevue Station renderings, from Sound Transit

The Seattle Times reports ($) that the people who have tried to stop rail to the Eastside at all costs have found yet another pretext to sue:

Indeed, the petition that Bidwell, [Kemper] Freeman’s company, former Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson and the Building a Better Bellevue organization filed last month with the Shorelines Hearings Board to vacate the permits could tie the permits up until at least May. After the board issues a decision, the case could be appealed in court.

But to Bidwell, the petition isn’t about attacking light rail. It’s about preventing environmental damage to the Mercer Slough Nature Park, which he’s fought to protect for at least 30 years. Bidwell also co-founded the committee that fought to establish the park in the 1980s.

I can’t speak to the legal merits of this case, although I presume the long list of (failed) previous legal actions the article enumerates were more promising. And I certainly won’t guess what a judge will decide. However, I also presume the relevant environmental laws were intended to protect the environment. And in the big picture any environmental law that discourages alternatives to driving is perverse.

Moreover, for the specific welfare of Mercer Slough it’s clear that the thousands of cars passing by on the freeway and arterial every day, pouring the gunk and litter into the water there, are vastly more impactful than trains. Any serious attempt to protect the Slough would close the I-90 highway spans, not obstruct light rail. But of course environmental concerns are only used to obstruct environmentally sound projects, not to mess with anything important like the right to drive anywhere, alone, for free, at high speed.

37 Replies to “Yet Another East Link Lawsuit”

  1. Best defense? Good offense. Except that in blocking something offensive, call it initiative. In this case, adjust EastLINK to meet every possible provable environmental objection. Much easier than adjusting or living with an Interstate or its approaches.

    At this stage of the project, there are doubtless many things that can offer both environmental and operations improvements. With the art program for the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, every change the value engineers demanded to lower the cost, improved the art.

    Different magnitude, for sure. But major similarity is that public art is one percent genius- a little goes a long way- and ninety-nine percent civil and structural engineering. The life of any piece of outdoor art depends on its ability to withstand weather, earthquakes, and vandalism.

    Public fashion and art critics are less of a problem than regular vandalism. Places like the castles of Italy have outlived fashions in taste and criticism from crossbows to field artillery.

    In WWII, soldiers on both sides at Sansepolcro, whose town emblem is the crossbow, shot “bolts” over the walls, because why not? German commander thought about boiling oil. Read “The English Patient”- the book, not the movie that Elaine justly trashed in “Seinfeld”.

    British artillery commander called off the other weapons to save the art in the castle- and the allies still won the campaign and the war. So there’s precedent.

    Developers don’t last anywhere near as long. Suspect that fashion and economics, in the form of younger investors who demand light rail like they have back home, will go with environmental artistry and leave the crossbows the Bellevue art museum.

    Rust will eventually do same for Bertha. And moths for average pin-striped suit.

    Mark

  2. I agree: Mercer Slough could be a great place if it weren’t surrounded by extremely noisy roads.

    Put Link on elevated stilts above Bellevue Way all the way to the start of the proposed surface alignment and you won’t have to dig any new trenches. It’s not like that is some quiet residential street that is pleasant to walk next to. I doubt anyone will even hear the trains on the structure.

  3. I agree with the opponents on this. Just stop; the whole thing about the bridge modification and operation is a potential fustercluck, and neither Mercer Island nor South Bellevue wants the train. Maybe Microsoft does, but what the hell; there’s room for them in Seattle also.

    Wouldn’t it be just the coolest thing if Satya said to the Eastsiders, “I can’t get the people I need to compete with Google and Apple if you insist on keeping the area frozen in 1960’s amber. They don’t want to live like Ward Cleaver. We’re outa’ here!”

    1. The Umbrella Agreement between ST and WSDOT said the center lanes were going to be transferred to ST by early 2015. The new HOV lanes on the outside haven’t even been begun yet. Obviously there is some kind of problem — is it not feasible to convert the bridge so that light rail can use it?

      1. My posting must not have been clear. The 3A work began last year, but that just has to do with the HOV ramp in Bellevue. I was referring to “Stage 3” which is supposed to start about now — the creation of the two outside HOV lanes across the bridge and through the tunnels on either side of the lake. WSDOT hasn’t even hired contractors.

      2. Drew:

        That contractor on the page you linked to only is doing the “3A” work in Bellevue. It is not doing any of the “Stage 3” work — the adding of the two HOV lanes between Bellevue and Seattle. WSDOT was supposed to have completed that work already. WSDOT was supposed to be done with Stage 3 of R8A by the end of 2014. That is what the Umbrella Agreement says, in paragraph 2. My question is, why is WSDOT so late with Stage 3? Sound Transit can’t get the center lanes to convert them until the Stage 3 work is done by WSDOT.

      3. I got the impression that the Stage 3 work was delayed by the lawsuit concerning the transfer of the center lanes to ST. Plus ST has other issues they need to address like the track bridge (I believe the testing of that is done now), attachment methods to be used on the bridge deck and stray current protection. They were also wrangling with the fire departments over tunnel issues.

      4. Thanks for the reply aw.

        Sound Transit resolved those technical issues years ago. The point is, until WSDOT completes R8A Stage 3 (putting in the two outside HOV lanes) Sound Transit can’t begin constructing the rails. Sound Transit committed to pay WSDOT for that R8A work in 2011, in the Umbrella Agreement. WSDOT wasn’t held up by the Freeman lawsuit, and that thing ended a year and a half ago.

        Seriously — Lynn Peterson is dragging her feet. She’s too consumed with Bertha. That’s my theory. She’s been psyched out.

      5. Truth be told, I haven’t trusted Peterson since she refused to take the Sound Transit board seat. All the DOT secretaries before her served on the board.

      6. Kyle, I need to correct some misinformation:
        –Both Stages 3A and 3 have been awarded. Stage 3A was awarded to Midmountain on 3/12/14, and Stage 3 was awarded to Imco on 11/13/14. (See WSDOT 2014 Bid History)
        –Sound Transit has stated that the completion date for the HOV lanes is May 31, 2017. (See ST Resolution R2014-09) The project is moving forward.

      1. It’s those uppity south Islanders that don’t want us poor folk setting foot on their sacred land space. It’s marginally accepted that we drive past on I-90, from down in our ditch.

      2. djw,

        Thank you for that link. I stand corrected. At least in 2008 South Bellevue was for Link. Are they still? I hope so.

    2. The Eastside and most Bellevue precincts voted for ST2. Just because a vocal minority hates trains doesn’t mean everyone on the Eastside does.

  4. This reminds me of the lawsuits against the HART rail project in Honolulu. Legal delays approaching two years took the project out of that window when contractors were hungry for work. The resulting schedule slide pushed bidding into the more recent period when contractors are flush with work and bids are way high. The project is now over budget, and more taxes are the likely result.

    1. There are no accidents. When you want to “drown the baby”, boiling water will work as well. Though you’ll get more crying.

    2. Fun fact. Someone I know worked on both HART and is working on Eastlink. I can say that while this sucks, the issues with east link pail in comparison to the problems with HART. To put it bluntly, WSDOT may seem incompetent, but Hawaii DOT is a whole new level of incompetence that people on this blog would not even be able to comprehend. Trust me I hear about it first hand and they are clueless when it comes to mass transit.

      1. As an example,on Maui it has taken the HIDOT and its predecessors nearly 40 years to,plan, permit and construct to (halfway) construct a short by-pass east of Lahaina to get Highway 30 out of town.

      2. The psychic-phenomena community is still working on this one, but remember Hunter S. Thompson’s Hawaii-situated story called “The Curse of Lono?”

        It’s never been fully determined whether massive amounts of LSD and other ’60’s and even worse ’70’s recreational drugs can bring satirists back from the beyond to wreak havoc with civil projects. But could be HART troubles are evidence that Dr. Thomson wearing a Hawaiian god mask is not gone yet.

        Let alone Thomson’s almost definite influence on the Las Vegas monorail- what ever happened to that, anyhow? “Fear and Loathing” is generally a predictable early phase of any transit project, so our our legal department has plenty of precedent to draw on.

        “As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you’ll need the cocaine.” That way the clouds of screaming purple bats between Leschi Park and South Bellevue P&R should be less of a problem.

        MD

      3. Lloyd,

        That may be because land on Maui is some of the rarest habitat in the world. Maybe it’s a very good idea to wait as long as possible to build any road there.

      4. But HART is a quasi-independent agency appended to Honolulu city government (actually the City and County of Honolulu, which is all of Oahu). Yes, HART coordinates with HDOT but HDOT doesn’t run the agency. The HDOT director serves on the HART board, in a manner similar to the WSDOT director on the ST board.

  5. More money for attorneys. I have serious doubts this will do anything but delay the project and make some money for attorneys, environmental specialists and maybe designers.

    I think that a reasonable court would also likely first look for a mitigation to the complaint even if they determine that it’s warranted – not kill the entire project. that would again delay and increase the cost of the project — not kill it.

  6. “And in the big picture any environmental law that discourages alternatives to driving is perverse.”

    Well that’s an overly broad generalization.

  7. This suit is an obvious attempt to cause delays and increase costs. They know they’ll lose this challenge, and I expect they really don’t intend to win it. What they really want is for ST2 to be delayed and more expensive so they can use that as ammunition to argue against ST3 and other future expansions. Obvious obstructionist tactic.

  8. Yikes.

    I’m wondering if, between the lawsuit delays and the large windfall from the low-interest federal loan, Sound Transit shouldn’t be taking this opportunity to redesign the Bellevue tunnel and some of the other notably underwhelming aspects of this no-longer-imminent line.

    It would be nice, when all is said and done, if these efforts weren’t wasted in service of 20 miles of poor-access mediocrity and missed opportunities.

    1. Yep, back to Bellevue Way and a South Main station where people actually want to go. Underground, of course, because the city will never stand for at-grade. Maybe it only goes to 124th in ST2. Would MS raise a huge ruckus? I doubt it; how much does Connector really cost them? A pittance as a portion of their revenue per employee.

      1. Either that or as I advocated above, just drop the whole thing. I’m personally not convinced that the contracting track thingy on the transition bridges will really work reliably. So what if the East Side votes “No” on ST3? They’re probably going to anyway, and Seattle needs to hitch up it’s trousers and fund its needs itself. After all, if ST3 isn’t, there is the money that would have gone to amortize those bonds still in the Seattle economy. Just figure out some way to use the Monorail authority and get on with the job without the suburbs trying to thwart any real progress.

      2. Well, color me shocked. Such a rare occasion for me to find myself defending Sound Transit’s priorities.

        To me, there’s no question that an East Link is justified. People on this blog are constantly invoking the “capacity advantage” of rail over buses, even in places where smarter bus utilization could easily do the trick [cough, cough, West Seattle].

        Well, the 550 runs every five minutes at rush hour, and it really is packed. Truly. Non-hyperbolically. Mostly still in the “regular-peak” direction — tip of the middle finger to those who would siphon North King dollars by claiming otherwise — although downtown Bellevue and the concentrated job centers around Microsoft help to make some case for bi-directional capacity and for all-day demand.

        47,000 potential boardings isn’t the greatest thing in the world, especially given the costs of crossing lakes and building our great distances and dealing with the logistical complexities you mention, but it’s certainly not terrible. And if the line were revised for better outcomes, I could see that number being substantially exceeded.

        Tunneling below Bellevue Way and stopping at Old Main would certainly represent one ideal. But if one is willing to cut-and-cover and to use part of the low-interest windfall to pay mitigation to the handful of directly-abutting single-family owners, I might just send it straight up 108th. Basic, shallow stops at the high school and at Main, and a real multi-modal and geographically central station at Bellevue TC.

        Choosing 108th would cause less traffic disruption during construction, and would result in a slightly faster ride for through-passengers than either Bellevue Way or the 112th zig-zags. The Main Street stop would still be 70% closer to Old Main than the asinine South Of Red Lion stop in today’s plan.

      3. Oh, and for the record, I don’t work on the Eastside and I have the need to go there barely once or twice a year. So this isn’t a case of “personal experience bias” privileging East Link over something like Federal Way. My personal benefit is nonexistent either way.

        It is merely that the complicated balancing act of costs, distances, land uses, focal points of demand, geographical choke points, evidence of existing capacity constraints, etc, etc, etc.. clearly favors East Link as both necessary and likely to have some impact on mobility in the city and the most congested parts of the region, in a way that Federal Way Link and Anything Past Lynnwood Link cannot.

        And again, East Link’s impact could be magnified by choosing to do it right.

  9. The real story here is that the appeal is against the very first permit issued by the City of Bellevue for East Link. Hey, Bellevue issued a permit for light rail! That’s actually news.

  10. Well, color me shocked as well. I have to agree with just about everything d.p. says!

    And for many of the rest of you–exhibiting an immature “us vs. them” attitude about Seattle vs. Bellevue doesn’t advance the conversation at all. Microsoft has very good reasons for being on the Eastside. As does “Seattle’s” newest jewel, SpaceX. And there are many reasons that a lot of businesses choose a downtown Bellevue location over a Seattle office. Possibly the maturity of the locals has a little something to do with it.

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