Gig Harbor group still slowing Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Opponents of the plan to build a new Tacoma Narrows Bridge will have their day in court sooner rather than later.

Attorneys for Gig Harbor-based Citizens Against Tolls were notified on Tuesday the group’s lawsuit against the bridge will bypass the Appeals Court level and be heard by the State Supreme Court in an expedited manner.

The Supreme Court did not specify a date on which it would consider the case, but CAT officials are expecting it could come in 90 to 120 days.

“We’re delighted the Supreme Court has chosen to take this matter up quickly,” said CAT spokesman Randy Boss. “It saves us a considerable amount in legal expenses and, since we expect to ultimately win the suit, it will also save the state money that would have been wasted if they had continued unchecked down the same dead-end road.”

CAT’s suit, originally filed last spring, hinges on two key points:

• The state Department of Transportation plans to sell Referendum 49 bonds to fund the project and repay the bonds using toll revenues. CAT officials believe doing so would violate a state law that says R-49 bonds can only be repaid using gas taxes.

• CAT also insists WSDOT did not adhere to competitive bidding requirements before awarding the contract to build and maintain the bridge to Bechtel Corp.

The suit was first heard in September by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel Berschauer, who summarily dismissed the case. Two days later — with CAT vowing to appeal Berschauer’s ruling — the state treasurer authorized the sale of the first $158 million worth of construction bonds, effectively clearing way for work to begin.

Ground was broken on the bridge in January and has proceeded at a furious pace all spring.

Boss estimates $400 million worth of bridge bonds could be sold by the time CAT’s lawsuit is heard by the Supreme Court. If the justices rule in CAT’s favor that R-49 bonds cannot be repaid with toll revenues, lawmakers will have to rewrite the statute when the Legislature reconvenes next January.

Even so, the revised law could not be applied retroactively to the bonds already sold — meaning the state would have to assume responsibility for half the cost of the $800 million bridge, with tollpayers taking care of the rest.

If the court rules in favor of CAT on the second point — competitive bidding — the entire contract would be invalidated and the project would have to be re-bid, which could halt construction work for months or years.

Boss and CAT attorney Shawn Newman were key players in an earlier lawsuit filed by the Peninsula Neighbors Association. In that suit, which was also dismissed by Berschauer, the citizens group appealed its case to the Supreme Court and won, delaying the project for two years.

“The failure of our legislators to obtain fairness and equity for the tollpayers on the new Tacoma Narows Bridge is the reason we were forced to seek judicial relief,” Boss said. “Our case is very strong and we expect to win this lawsuit and achieve the equity we’ve so far been denied.”

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