The ruling confirms the legality of the work now underway to extend light rail across the I-90 center lanes to serve Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond.
With Sound Transit funding, the Washington State Department of Transportation is nearing completion of the second of three phases to prepare for light-rail construction by adding new HOV lanes, ramps and safety improvements across Lake Washington on I-90. Before the reversible center lanes are closed for light rail, these new lanes will provide 24-hour capacity for carpools and buses both eastbound and westbound, maintaining the current number of general purpose and HOV lanes and remedying the current lack of HOV capacity in the off-peak direction.
The court held that WSDOT had the authority to lease the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for light rail, rejecting the argument that the lease violates the 18th Amendment of the Washington State Constitution because Sound Transit is paying adequate compensation for the lanes.
The court affirmed that the East Link light rail project, approved by voters in 2008, is consistent with plans and agreements that have been in place since before the bridge was built. The ruling cites the 1978 federal action approving construction of the I-90 floating bridge, which contained an express condition that "public transportation shall permanently have first priority in the use of the center lanes."
Freeman filed the lawsuit in Kittitas County following a Washington State Supreme Court ruling against him in 2011.
As the region's population continues growing in the decades ahead, East Link will provide new transportation capacity to the I-90 corridor. Increases in the length and frequency of trains over time offer the capacity to carry from 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour in each direction, which would more than double the person-carrying capacity of I-90 and is roughly equivalent to seven to ten freeway lanes of vehicle traffic. By 2030, East Link is projected to carry more than 50,000 riders each weekday.
Riding East Link between Seattle and downtown Bellevue is projected to take less than 20 minutes. By comparison, in the afternoon peak period it can currently take approximately 45 minutes to travel between Seattle and Bellevue via I-90.