The Washington Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee is meeting this morning to hear testimony from an independent expert hired to determine what, if anything, Sound Transit might owe the state for the right to cross the I-90 bridge, and I’m guessing some legislators aren’t gonna like what they hear.
Over at Seattle Transit Blog, Ben Schiendelman has a great recap of the issue and the consultant’s preliminary report, but the takeaway is this: Sound Transit owes the state squat. Under the terms of agreements signed by federal, state and local authorities, “the I-90 center lanes have been permanently committed to transit use since 1978,” and would only be used for cars until a transit agency needed them. Furthermore, the consultant determined that WSDOT only contributed to 2.5% of the cost of the relevant, impacted portion of the I-90 corridor, and thus any claims for compensation would be limited to that.
But as Ben points out, even that 2.5% figure may be a stretch:
Whenever Sound Transit builds an improvement, such as an HOV lane, on WSDOT property, some portion of the value of that improvement is ‘land banked’ — such that if Sound Transit needs highway right-of-way, it can draw from this land bank rather than have to actually pay. Sound Transit has quite a bit in this land bank, and that as well as the Sound Transit contribution to R8A could both be considered credits if WSDOT were able to charge for use of I-90.
The Land Bank Agreement considers full payment as the value of 20 years of use. While the land bank agreement may not apply to this particular transaction, it’s still interesting here: as the center lanes have been used by “highway vehicle , including single occupancy vehicle, travel” (pg. 26) for over 20 years, it’s also arguable that the state investment for the center lanes may have already been fully returned.
The report doesn’t bode well for legislators hoping to slow or kill construction of the voter-approved East Link light rail line, or for, say, House Speaker Frank Chopp, who reportedly hoped to extort a billion dollars or more out of Sound Transit to help offset the outsized costs of his Mountlake Tunnel. It’ll be interesting to see how legislators react.