Washington State Supreme Court rules in favor of East Link light rail across I-90

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor

The Washington State Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to stop the construction of East Link light rail across Lake Washington on I-90.


Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman and other parties filed the suit against the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in Kittitas County Superior Court, which last year issued a summary judgment in favor of WSDOT and Sound Transit. In 2011 the Supreme Court rejected a previous challenge filed by Freeman.

The court affirmed that the East Link light rail project is consistent with plans and agreements that have been in place since before the I-90 bridge was built. The ruling cites a 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.” In 1976, a memorandum of agreement for I-90 was signed by the cities of Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island, King County Metro Transit and the State Highway Commission. It directed that bridge design and construction accommodate future conversion to rail and committed the two-lane center roadway for that purpose.

The court held that the WSDOT had the authority to lease the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for light rail, rejecting arguments that included a claim the lease violates the 18th Amendment of the Washington State Constitution. The decision is available at http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/872678.pdf

“Design work for extending light rail to East King County is moving forward and we remain focused on opening for service in 2023,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “We are grateful for the Supreme Court’s confirmation today that the I-90 bridge was built with the clear intent to use the center lanes for mass transit. Our partnership with WSDOT will make this longtime vision a reality while at the same time preserving the current number of vehicle lanes.”

Construction of East Link is scheduled to start in 2015, with work on the I-90 portion scheduled to get underway in late 2016 following the completion of new HOV lanes across Lake Washington.

Before the reversible center lanes are closed for light rail, the new HOV 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. Sound Transit is providing funding for the new lanes as part of its agreement with WSDOT.

Categories: OFF Track Maintenance, Rapid Transit/Light Rail