The city of Lakewood has sued the state to stop the proposed rerouting of Amtrak passenger trains through the community in its tracks.
The city claims that the Washington State Department of Transportation’s environmental review of the project glossed over traffic and neighborhood impacts on Lakewood and, specifically, its isolated Tillicum neighborhood by using incorrect or insufficient information.
The city filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court.
The three-year environmental review, approved by federal officials on March 1, concluded moving Amtrak trains from the waterfront route around Point Defiance to an inland route passing through DuPont, Lakewood and south Tacoma, would not significantly harm the environment. The trains will not stop in Lakewood.
The decision was crucial because it frees the state to seek reimbursement from $89 million in federal stimulus dollars budgeted for the project to complete its design and construction. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015, and the first trains would run on the new route two years later, officials estimate.
The city’s lawsuit concluded WSDOT violated state laws that required the review by reaching a decision “which was not based on sufficient or adequate information with respect to a number of impacts.”
Here’s a copy of the full complaint:
The lawsuit seeks a court order voiding the state’s decision, slamming the brakes on a project that had been gaining some momentum in the last month after years of delay.
Melanie Coon, WSDOT’s rail spokeswoman, said the agency had received notice of the lawsuit and is reviewing it in concert with the Federal Railroad Administration and the state Attorney General’s Office. She had no other immediate comments.
Officials with the Washington Department of Transportation say rerouting passenger trains away from the Puget Sound waterfront would decrease travel times through the Nisqually-Tacoma corridor by up to 10 minutes, improve rail safety and allow two more trains to run between Portland and Seattle each day.
The project also would make safety improvements to several at-grade crossings in DuPont and Lakewood and on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They include stationary horns and other warning devices, gates, traffic signals and sidewalks.
But Lakewood has long maintained more is needed to safeguard the public from trains traveling up to 79 miles per hour through the community.
In January 2010, the council passed a resolution opposing the project and asked WSDOT to conduct a in-depth review to include grade separation between vehicles and trains. Amtrak trains would pass through seven at-grade rail crossings in Lakewood.
State officials have said constructing overpasses is too costly at this time. But the lawsuit points out that the proposed cross-base highway, which would connect Interstate 5 and State Route 7, envisioned such a project for North Thorne Lane, one of the at-grade rail crossings.
The lawsuit also identifies other conclusions that the city argued are “factually incorrect” and “makes clear that this (the environmental review) was merely a bureaucratic exercise.” They include that the Point Defiance Bypass would not alter neighborhoods, lower property values or cause significant traffic delays at some intersections.
The lawsuit suggests that the Tillicum neighborhood, where the city has made inroads of late to bolster its housing stock and revitalize its business corridor, has the most to lose from the project. The only ways to get and out of the neighborhood are from two I-5 exits, which would closed temporarily during the day to allow trains to pass.
“The Tillicum neighborhood, which proudly serves the needs of our mlitary service members and is home to one of the most socio-economically diverse populations in the state, will become even more isolated from the rest of the city because of this project,” city spokesman Jeff Brewster said.
Finally, the lawsuit charges that WSDOT didn’t account for Lakewood’s policies for rail traffic running through its community during the environmental review.
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