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Legal questions confront proposed Seattle referendum on tunnel

Seattle's Alaskan Way viaduct remains the focus of political controversy.
Seattle's Alaskan Way viaduct remains the focus of political controversy.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has filed a legal challenge to a citizen referendum on Seattle's proposed deep-bore waterfront tunnel.

Holmes has asked a judge to rule on whether the construction agreements between the city and the state that targeted by the referendum are “administrative actions” which can't be overturned by the vote. 

Holmes says he wants a declaratory judgment to clarify the issue before spending time and money on an election that might be declared invalid. It’s not yet clear if filing the suit will stop the referendum from going forward until a ruling is issued.

In a statement, Holmes said he believes the agreements in question are, "...more likely adminstrative than legislative..."

Tunnel opponents have filed nearly 29,ooo signatures for a referendum that would overturn viaduct construction agreements approved by the city council. That’s well over the number required to place the measure on the ballot. 

Mayor Mike McGinn has supported the referendum, sponsored by the group Protect Seattle Now. 

The Seattle Times' Lynn Thompson reports the potential for a delay drew quick response from the state:

State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said Monday that delaying the project to wait for a vote on a referendum would cost $54 million through August plus $20 million per month for every additional month the agreements weren't in effect.



Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.