Cost of building light rail to West Seattle, Ballard is much higher than first estimated

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The cost estimates for extending the Sound Transit light rail to Ballard and West Seattle have increased by about $ 4 billion – more than 50 percent – the agency’s deputy CEO told agency board members on Thursday.

The cost of building a light rail between Federal Way and the Tacoma Dome, as well as building a maintenance facility planned in South King County, has also increased dramatically, according to Sound Transit.

“While these numbers are sobering, they are not disastrous,” said Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit. He wanted to assure the board members that the agency has time to control the scope of the projects and to build them up in phases as money becomes available.

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Sound Transit blames the higher costs primarily for soaring property prices in densely developed areas where projects are to be built and a hot hardware store that has driven prices higher than expected – even during the pandemic.

For the West Seattle and Ballard light rail lines, more than half of the increase is due to higher land prices than anticipated in 2015 before the $ 54 billion transit ballot was approved by voters.

The projected cost of these two lines rose from a total of $ 7.1 billion to $ 12.1 billion to $ 12.6 billion, depending on where the stations are and how they’re being built.

When Sound Transit surveyed the hardware store, staff found that some contractors were increasing quotes for other projects and extending inquiries for the planned project completion time to attract enough labor.

The agency took on cost increases in the offerings for Lynnwood and Federal Way light rail extensions currently under construction, agency spokesman Geoff Patrick said.

The costs were also driven by project upgrades, such as replacing surface storm water management with underground facilities. Environmental conditions and additional inquiries from local jurisdictions and members of the public also add to the higher cost.

The higher prices come despite the Sound Transit Board’s consideration of foregoing a $ 450 million tunnel to Ballard, a $ 200 million tunnel through a neighborhood in West Seattle, and an elevated railroad track in Sodo, which would have blocked existing light rail traffic during construction, of cheaper options. However, these options have not been eliminated. The Sound Transit Board will make final decisions after reviewing a final environmental impact statement.

Jenny Durkan, Seattle Mayor and a member of the Sound Transit Board, said she had concerns about the cost estimates and the schedule on which the board was informed.

“Some of this information was obviously available at a time when we should have been when we decided on and approved higher costs for projects last year,” she said.

Durkan called the climb a “major leap” and also said board members should be more flexible in choosing locations for stations, especially if land costs continue to rise.

In 2016, voters approved the Sound Transit 3 tax measure worth $ 54 billion to expand regional rail and bus services. The agency had promised stints in West Seattle in 2030 and stints in Seattle Center and Ballard by 2035.

Board members will meet for a workshop on Jan. 21 to determine how to adjust project plans and plans based on the declines in sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the equation will depend on Sound Transit’s ability to raise additional funds through state and federal sources, Patrick said.

Three stations in West Seattle and one larger station in Sodo are expected to serve 35,000 boardings a day, while 52,000 drivers are expected daily at five stations between Ballard and South Lake Union.

The cost estimates for ST3 were based on the price of light rail extensions to Lynnwood and Federal Way and previously completed projects. The initial estimates were “conceptual in nature” and “were based on very limited design plans,” said Kimberly Farley, the agency’s assistant manager, Thursday.

Patrick said the actual projected costs become clearer as the projects advance to around 60% of the final design.

An independent assessment reviews how Sound Transit makes cost estimates to understand where the approach worked, where it didn’t, and what explains the differences. A consultant who will determine whether Sound Transit should adopt a different methodology in the future will conduct an accelerated review scheduled for April.

Sound Transit is also considering three locations for its future maintenance base in South King County. The facility is scheduled to open in 2026 and will serve 140 light rail vehicles. A larger area is now needed to accommodate a larger building and additional tracks.

One location that includes Dick’s Drive-In in Kent was previously a contender, but later ceased to be a transitory based on public outcry and concern from Dave Upthegrove, a Sound Transit board member and a member of the Metropolitan King County Council Prioritizes development, such as housing, retail and offices, rather than a maintenance base.

The cost of the route between Tacoma and Federal Way has increased by more than a third from an original US $ 2.4 billion to US $ 3.3 billion, largely due to the new requirements for rainwater collection and the height of 3 miles of track due to Interstate 5 was previously scheduled to be in class.

The realignment will minimize the impact on the Hylebos Creek system and key cultural and historical areas that staff have identified as sensitive through investigations and tribal meetings.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit is building new fast transit bus projects on budget along Interstate 405 and Highway 522, thanks to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s existing road and changes in design to reduce the amount of land to buy .