Anti-Tunnel Campaign Sues State DOT for Finance Plan

By Erica C. Barnett August 4, 2011

At the King County Courthouse this morning, Protect Seattle Now attorney Gary Manca filed a lawsuit on behalf of the campaign seeking to force the state department of transportation to release the latest version of its financing plan for the deep-bore tunnel.

Arguing that the finance plan is not, as WSDOT has argued, exempt from the state's public disclosure law under the "deliberative process" exemption to disclosure, Manca said, "the state, by refusing to disclose the financing plan, has decided it's not good for the public to know the details" of the plan. "On the eve of this election, we think this is important that voters understand the financing of this project."

Yesterday, tunnel project manager Ron Paananen told PubliCola that the numbers in the finance plan are essentially the same as those WSDOT released in an email in 2009, which showed a $4.2 billion tunnel with about $1.9 billion in interest on 25-year bonds, paid for largely by gas taxes, financed at 5.8 percent. He also told Fizz this morning that he isn't concerned about state projections showing gas sales declining steadily over the next 20 years. "I can’t think of one project to date that’s been canceled because of a revenue problem," Paananen said.

Manca said the finance plan is far more detailed than the brief email from WSDOT planner Amy Arnis, which the anti-tunnel campaign distributed earlier this week. And he predicted that the revenue projections in the plan must be "pretty bad," based on the fact that the state refuses to release them. "WSDOT's most recent comments indiciate that they know it's bad," Manca said. "I think it's quite likely, based on what we've seen from other transportation projects---the monorail comes to mind---that the finance plan will show that the interest is higher" than 5.8 percent. The monorail plan failed largely because it relied on extremely long-term (50-year) junk bonds sold at a very high interest rate.

"The Washington State Department of Transportation told PubliCola this morning that WSDOT has never canceled a transportation project due to insufficient resources. ... But we seem to cancel funding for human services, health care, services for the most needy, and education."

Manca said the campaign is "aiming for a decision before the election" on whether the court will order WSDOT to release the documents. However, given that ballots have gone out already, it's unclear what impact the release of the finance plan would have on the election. Ballots must be mailed by August 16. WSDOT says it plans to release the finance plan late this month.
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