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Decision day due on Narrows Bridge lawsuit

"The day of decision may be at hand for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge project.Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel Berschauer has announced he will issue a ruling at 2 p.m. Friday on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Peninsula Neighborhood Association, seeking to halt construction of a second suspension bridge alongside the current span.Regardless of whether the Gig Harbor-based citizens group or the state prevails in the case, the decision will almost certainly be appealed and the battle will continue. Still, there's little question Berschauer's ruling will have an enormous impact on the future of the project. Even after the project was approved by voters in Kitsap County and other parts of western Washington in an advisory election in November 1998 and signed off on by the state Department of Transportation, officials on both sides of the issue predicted the final battle would be waged in court. Peninsula Neighborhood Association challenged the bridge on a variety of grounds. Most significantly, the group hopes to show the Public-Private Initiatives Act by which the bridge is being built is unconstitutional. The measure, which allows the state to contract with private companies to build and maintain roads and bridges, has never been subjected to legal scrutiny before.The association filed its lawsuit last July, and the state responded in September with a request to have the case thrown out. Berschauer had intended to make a ruling in November, but delayed his findings until this month because of the complexity of the case.On Friday, Berschauer has three basic options: He can uphold the state's plea and dismiss the case, rule against the state and order that the suit be heard in a jury trial, or issue a summary judgment in the association's favor.Should the state win, the association would face longer odds in appeals court, and the group would be hard-pressed to keep its legal efforts funded. If the judge rules in the citizens' favor, however, the state could be forced to start all over again in its efforts to build a second bridge, delaying the project for years."

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