Bridge foes keep up the fight — thank goodness

We were frankly surprised to discover last week that opponents of the plan to construct a second Tacoma Narrows Bridge were intent on keeping up the fight in the form of an appeal of the lawsuit they lost last fall.

After all, literally within hours of Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel Berschauer’s decision in September to dismiss Citizens Against Tolls’ suit, the state plunged in and sold $158 million worth of bonds to pay for the project — bonds, by the way, the state would be required to honor whether the bridge is built or not.

If you think it was more than a little presumptuous of the state to put so much of the taxpayers’ money at risk before the case had even been heard at the appeals level, let alone the state Supreme Court, we’re inclined to agree — and we said so at the time.

But state transportation officials, who desperately want to build the bridge and use it as a pilot project for future tollroads and bridges all across the state, decided that was a chance worth taking.

Even if the state loses the case on appeal — as happened 18 months earlier, when the state Supreme Court unanimously overturned Judge Berschauer’s ruling in a previous Narrows Bridge lawsuit — bridge backers assume the project will somehow have to be preserved, if only to make sure the state gets a return on the $158 million it’s already invested.

Faced with that reality, most assumed Citizens Against Tolls would simply fold its tent and surrender to the inevitable. Instead, the judge’s ruling, the bond sale and subsequent commencement of construction work appear only to have emboldened the bridge opponents.

CAT spokesman Randy Boss claims the group has received contributions from 2,000 donors over the years and, following Berschauer’s ruling, rather than dropping the fight CAT took in another $20,000 to fund an appeal.

CAT officials believe their strongest claim in the current lawsuit is that the Referendum 49 bonds being used to fund the bridge, by law, can be repaid using motor vehicle excise taxes, license fees and gas taxes — but not user fees, such as tolls.

If they’re right, and the state Supreme Court rules in CAT’s favor, the state will either have to abandon the bridge project altogether, divert funds from other transportation projects, or once again go back to the Legislature and rewrite any laws it may have broken.

None of which would be a happy prospect for a state already faced with huge transportation needs and a budget shortfall of $2.5 billion. But if it happens, the blame will rest squarely with those who broke the law, not those who stood up and refused to let them get away with it.

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