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Proposed legislation would force Sound Transit to foot utility relocation bills


If a proposed Washington state bill is approved, Sound Transit might have to start paying to relocate private utilities — such as phone lines in public rights of way — costing the agency up to $50 million in Link light rail and Sounder commuter rail funding.

Under current law, private utilities install lines in publicly owned rights of way at their own expense. The new bill proposes an exception pertaining to relocation costs necessary for Sound Transit to complete its regional mass transit network.

The proposed legislation was suggested by Qwest Communications, a Denver-based communications provider that recently filed suit against Sound Transit and the city of Tacoma to avoid paying for utility relocation when the agency built the Tacoma Link light rail line. After losing its case, Qwest officials told Washington legislators it would have to increase customer fees to pay for the relocation costs.

"This would be a dangerous precedent that could cost cities and counties throughout the state millions and millions of dollars, and end up with our taxpayers footing the bill," said Sound Transit Board member Chuck Mosher in a prepared statement.

In addition to fiscal implications, the legislation would effectively give private companies veto powers over designing and locating future transit projects, establishing negotiation requirements utilities could use to cause project delays and further increase costs, Sound Transit officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/21/2003