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Sound Transit wins court case; COP issues mid-year assessment


Sound Transit is claiming a couple victories lately — including a court case involving moving telecommunications equipment and its Citizen Oversight Panels’ (COP) mid-year performance report.

A U.S. District Court ruling issued Aug. 7 stated that Qwest Communications — not Sound Transit — is responsible to pay costs involved with moving its equipment out of publicly owned rights of way.

"Qwest had initially refused to comply with repeated requests from the City of Tacoma and Sound Transit to move the utilities, which are located at no cost under city streets in Tacoma," according to a statement prepared by Sound Transit.

Sound Transit currently is constructing its Tacoma Link Light Rail system on 1.6 miles of downtown Tacoma streets.

Discussions about the relocation began years ago with Qwest predecessor U.S. West. In early 1999, Sound Transit and Qwest agreed in principal on a $400,000 solution, but Qwest later proceeded with design work for a $2.4 million equipment replacement and upgrade project.

Last November, Sound Transit offered to submit to binding arbitration to determine which company would be responsible to pay relocation costs, but Qwest declined. The two parties later agreed to mediation but, one week before it was to begin, Qwest filed suit against Sound Transit in an effort to force taxpayers to pay the relocation costs.

In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman stated that if telecommunications companies could refuse to pay relocation costs required by legitimate exercise of local police power, they could dictate whether publicly mandated projects should go forward. And giving that veto power to an entity "would be bad policy for the public at large."

Meanwhile, COP’s mid-2002 report establishes that the agency’s "regained the momentum it lost in the winter of 2000 and is moving forward on all fronts."

Regarding Central Link light rail, the agency has retraced many of the steps it had taken and plans to have a signed agreement for $500 million in federal funds by year end; Tacoma Link also is progressing well and is on schedule to begin service in September 2003; and Sounder commuter rail serves 12,000 riders weekly. Although an obstacle still remains to be resolved regarding an easement on property owned by the city of Renton, a third train could begin service in fall. However, negotiations to extend Sounder between Everett and Seattle have stalled.

COP also reports that, despite significant efforts to reinvent itself, the public in general still is mistrustful of Sound Transit and "opponents of every strip continue to use the agency as the poster child for government failures."

But COP also acknowledges that most of the areas where Sound Transit is having difficulty progressing are those that are out of its hands. Specifically, in those areas where negotiations have stalled. And COP claims to be surprised over and over by "the intransigence and narrow self-interest of some of the positions taken by Sound Transit’s regional partners."

"Citizens demand solutions but are unwilling to pay for them. Communities demand connections to a regional transportation network, but insist that their local needs be met first," said the report. "Local governments are faced with their own funding crises, yet somehow believe they can demand unlimited budgets of Sound Transit."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/9/2002