Public Interest Transportation Forum -

Promises Made; Promises Broken

(This page is from 2004, for the historical record.)

Despite the 1996 promises to voters in the ten-year Sound Move Plan, Sound Transit has lately claimed that it can take as long as necessary, and spend as much as necessary from the existing tax rates to build Link Light Rail Initial Segment.

Sane Transit disagreed, and sued.

However, both King County Superior Court and the Washington State Supreme Court have ruled that Sound Transit exercised authorized discretion in the face of unforeseen circumstances. Resolution 75 governs. While Resolution 75 was not discussed in the 1996 campaign for "Regional Express," voters should have known that this is what they were approving, according to the courts.

Sane Transit sued Sound Transit in 2002 to put the Sound Move light rail plan from 1996 up for a new vote by citizens, because the budget, schedule, and length of the system have been changed considerably.  The first phase of light rail is 14 miles instead of 21 miles, and takes until 2009 to build instead of 2006.  Sound Transit argued that as long as the agency builds light rail, they can take as long as they want to and spend as much as they want to by collecting the approved taxes for as long as needed.

Following a lower court decision in favor of Sound Transit resulting in an appeal from Sane Transit, the Washington State Supreme Court agreed with Sound Transit on March 4, 2004.  The Court ruled 6 to 3 that voters had authorized Sound Transit in 1996 with discretion to build the light rail Initial Segment as it is emerging, even though it is shorter in length, takes longer to build than ten years, and costs more than what was claimed in selling the program to voters in 1996.

bulletThere were two dissenting opinions that accepted Sane Transit's argument. 
bulletThe majority opinion was written by Justice Alexander.
bullet Reaction from Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives (CETA)
bullet Statement from Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer
bullet Eric Pryne's news coverage in Seattle Times
bullet Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial: "Voter Beware"

The majority ruled that Resolution 75 passed by the Sound Transit Board and mentioned in the 1996 Ballot description provided Sound Transit with the flexibility to do what they are doing.

The oral arguments for the appeal of Sane Transit vs Sound Transit were heard before the Washington State Supreme Court on June 10, 2003.  A recording of the arguments (about one hour) can be heard on a recording in the archive.

Sane Transit had appealed King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick's ruling of  November 1, 2002 in favor of Sound Transit. He wrote, "this Court concludes that there is no immediate and irreparable harm in allowing Sound Transit to proceed with implementation of the Regional Transit Plan because there has been no showing that Sound Transit has acted outside the scope of its authority."  The ruling is posted full text clicking here. 

Sane Transit's Reply Brief for the Appeal filed April 8, 2003 is online here.

This case first went to court May 17, 2002. On behalf of SaneTransit,  Helsell Fetterman LLP in Seattle filed a complaint in King County Superior Court to prevent Sound Transit from using taxpayer funds on its light-rail project because the expenditure has not been approved by the voters.

Download a copy of the original complaint, pdf format, 37 kilobytes

The lower court hearing was on September 27, 2002, described in front page stories on Saturday September 28 in The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Jane Hadley of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer prepared an informative report on this case, November 2, 2002.

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Last modified: February 07, 2011