Coalition for a Sustainable 520 federal lawsuit: What are the legal issues?

Image: WSDOT

Via the Coalition for a Sustainable 520:

What are the legal issues?

The judge will decide whether the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have complied with laws which govern construction of highways.

1)  Federal and State laws require an environmental analysis, to be used by decision-makers to compare reasonable alternatives. Our briefs have demonstrated that this was not done… in fact, the final environmental analysis looks at only one alternative, a 6-lane highway. We say they should have looked at other alternatives, including 4 lanes with tolls.

And the environmental analysis they did do is incomplete;

– example: adequate review was not done on a tolled 4 lanes. We now know that tolling 4 lanes has enabled traffic to flow freely.

– example: the state admits that there will be congestion on the Portage Bay bridge, as cars wait to get on the crowded I-5. Yet they did not analyze the impact of the air pollution right near all the homes in the area. And numerous studies now show that highway pollution causes increases in heart and lung problems, and cancer.

– example: there will be two lanes of traffic on top of the proposed Montlake lid, including 400 buses a day, and 6 lanes immediately adjacent, as well as the six lanes going under the lid. Yet the effect of this increased pollution and its attendant health hazards is not analyzed.

2) State law requires a cost-benefit analysis. This was simply not done.

3) State law requires analysis of highway expansion on the state’s goals to reduce greenhouse gases.  This analysis also was not done.

4)  Federal and state laws require disclosure of important impacts. We believe that the proposed design’s impacts on I-5 were not adequately presented to decision makers. The proposal is to reduce capacity on I-5, literally taking out a lane and creating a chokepoint on the express lanes just north of 520. And there will be a northbound weave, just like the one that now frustrates drivers going south.  WSDOT itself does admit that I-5 congestion will last longer. But the public, and the decision makers, really weren’t told how much worse I-5 will be!

5) Federal and state laws require that the decision makers consider impacts to wetlands and wildlife as they choose among alternative designs. This was not adequately done. The proposed 520 highway is up to 13 lane widths wide near Montlake, and more than twice the current width across Portage Bay. This is much more than a 6-lane highway! It covers much more of the water which is used by swimmers, kayakers, walkers, birdwatchers, etc. We believe that the final environmental documents did not enable decision makers to understand what they were doing to the environment or the alternative choices available to them.

We’ve retained excellent lawyers and expended countless volunteer hours providing them the facts and flaws of the current 520 project. Go to to read our legal briefs. Our arguments are strong and we have high hopes.

The Coalition lawsuit will be heard Tuesday, July 10th at 10am at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle.