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Judge clears way for tunnel vote

A vote on whether to build a tunnel to replace the aging Alaskan Way viaduct can take place, a King County Judge ruled today (Friday).

King County Superior Court Judge Laura Middaugh said some parts of the agreements that cover utilities, insurance, right-of-way and other issues can be in the referendum but others can't. She'll hear arguments next Friday on which parts could be included in an August vote and whether she has the authority to partially rewrite language in the referendum.

Had the Council simply voted to approve the agreements, then that vote would have been an administrative action following the 2009 policy decision and not subject to referendum, she said. But instead, the Council added language to its vote, saying that it would take another, final public vote that would officially launch construction.

The attorney for Let's Move Forward, a coalition of business and labor leaders supporting the tunnel said after the hearing that he expects to challenge the ballot measure on grounds that the judge doesn't have the authority to change a measure signed by 29,000 people. The attorney, Paul Lawrence told the Seattle Times that government would grind to a halt if every act were subject to referendum:

"The government has the right to make decisions, to spend money and time to move a project forward. Government doesn't work if you can take a referendum at every step along the way."

But attorneys forProtect Seattle Now and the Sierra Club, who sponsored the referendum signature gathering drive, argued that the city charter gives broad power to the people to challenge decisions by elected officials. Sierra Club attorney Knoll Lowney said the referendum is the only real opportunity for people to vote on critical and controversial projects.