Opponents of the Lane Transit District’s rapid-bus expansion took action against the City of Eugene Thursday, filing a lawsuit demanding the decision to build an additional EmX route be put to public vote.

The plaintiffs — 16 local business owners — say the city charter’s Section 41 requires the project to be voted on by Eugene residents before construction can begin.

A press release distributed by opposition group Our Money Our Transit announced the lawsuit and questioned public support for the expansion.

“The fact that so many citizens were willing to join as plaintiffs in this action is indicative of the broad level of opposition to this project in the community,” the press release said.

However, in a council meeting last month, City Attorney Glenn Klein said the charter would not apply to LTD’s EmX project and that the city council’s approval of the expansion could not be legally challenged.

“I have no doubt that Section 41 does not apply to the council’s action and that if someone wants to challenge the council’s action, the city wins that case,” Klein said, addressing the city council.

Last month, the city voted in favor of the four-mile EmX throughway between downtown and West Eugene via West 11th Avenue.

But since LTD announced its preferred expansion route in October 2010, opponents have lobbied relentlessly against the addition, calling the project unnecessary and an infringement upon business operations in the area.

“The construction will affect every business — some more than others,” Our Money Our Transit said on its website. “Customers will avoid the area and develop different shopping habits.”

If the locally elected Metropolitan Policy Committee approves the project Thursday, LTD and the city will have the go-ahead to move the project to its next phase: evaluating the potential impacts of an expanded EmX system.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, a staunch advocate for the EmX expansion, acknowledged the lawsuit’s potential for stalemating the project’s development. She said the prospect of EmX not being expanded, however, “would indeed (be) dismaying and a huge step backward for Eugene.”

“Let’s hope good sense and foresight will prevail,” Piercy said.