Afternoon Jolt

Today's loser: Bellevue megadeveloper Kemper Freeman.

The state supreme court has rejected a lawsuit backed by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman yesterday, in a 7-2 decision ruling that the state has the authority to fund projects other than highways with highway dollars if that money gets reimbursed by another agency—in this case, Sound Transit. The ruling clears the way for light rail across the I-90 bridge—and, most likely, ends the Freeman-dominated era of light rail opposition in Bellevue. 

Sound Transit wants to convert two high-occupancy vehicle lanes on I-90 across Lake Washington into light rail lanes and reimburse the state's motor-vehicle fund that built the lanes. Freeman and his anti-rail co-plaintiffs argued that under the 18th Amendment to the state constitution, the motor-vehicle fund, which comes from gas taxes, can only be spent on highways. 

Image via Sound Transit.

The court concluded that because Sound Transit agreed to pay the state "an amount equal to the State's share of the cost of the center roadway [HOV lane] investment and the fair market rental value of the lanes," it has the right to convert the lanes to light rail. 

"WSDOT plans to lease the highway facility to Sound Transit," the ruling continues. "As consideration, Sound Transit will reimburse the [motor vehicle fund, or MVF] for the money spent by the State in constructing that portion ofl-90, along with the fair market value of the lease. WSDOT will not expend money from the MVF on light rail, a nonhighway purpose. Because no money from the MVF is being expended on a nonhighway purpose, and any money that was previously expended from the MVF will be reimbursed, the [18th Amendment] is not violated."

Additionally, the court concluded that since the state plans to add new HOV lanes on the outside of the bridge before light rail takes over the center (currently-HOV) lanes, the Freeman camp's argument that light rail would take away lanes intended for cars (or, as they put it in their complaint, that "automobile drivers generally want more and better highways, leading to more places, rather than fewer" is invalid. "There will be no net loss of lanes," the ruling concludes. 

In his sharply worded dissent, judge Jim Johnson argued that the majority "again erodes the guaranties of the Washington State Constitution's 18th Amendment, which prevents the diversion of gas tax, vehicle registration, and related funds for nonhighway purposes.

"Here, the majority once again puts the motor vehicle fund (MVF) at risk of legislative and administrative pilfering for projects outside its constitutionally prescribed purposes."

Johnson also argued that the state underestimated the value of the center HOV lanes, in effect under-charging Sound Transit for its takeover of the lanes.

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