Good news for North Link:

Sound Transit today opened six bids for the contract to mine 3.4 miles of twin light rail tunnels between Husky Stadium at the University of Washington and the Northgate Mall area in Seattle.

The engineer’s estimate for the work was $594,803,500. The six bids opened today ranged from $440 million to $517 million.

The apparent low bidder was JCM Northlink LLC, a joint venture formed by Jay Dee Contractors of Livonia, Mich.; Frank Collucio Construction Company of Seattle; and Michaels Corporation of Brownsville, Wis. with a bid of $440,321,000. JCM recently completed work mining the light rail tunnels between downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill Station as part of the University Link project.

Another reminder that this is a great time to be building infrastructure. We should do more of it!

43 Replies to “Northgate Tunnel Bids Coming in Low”

  1. With sub area equity can we use that $154 million in savings towards a downtown to ballard rapid transit line?

    1. Not so fast. Before we go spending this surplus, let’s see if the matching revenues actually materialize.

    2. Like any big project, expect overruns. Anything after the bid + overrun that comes in under the engineering estimate is the good stuff.

      1. Wes– Any dollars not spent on the ST2 plan in North King are be used (including bonded) to support ST3 project, but only after a public vote. Martin is right to be wary, though. This is a big project.

        Having said that, adam, “expect overruns”? Link Initial segment: no overruns overall. U-Link: trending $100M+ under budget.

      2. No overruns so far? Fabulous! Plan for the worst, hope for the best; that’s all.

      3. From what I’ve seen, ST learned their lesson in the late 90s and early 00s about underestimating construction costs, and tends to overestimate now, along with maintaining lots of padding time and budget to account for time/cost overruns. It’s a good problem to have, hopefully it keeps paying off.

      4. I think, if ST has money left over after ST2, it can apply it to projects on its long-term plan. That’s my understanding of how University Link got in before ST2. But there won’t be enough money for anything like another line, just maybe a station or bridge or amenity.

  2. Cool, maybe the savings can be funneled to SHARE/WHEEL for prepaid Orca cards!

  3. Good to see a contractor who worked on the U-Link tunnels have the low bid.

    1. Makes sense, actually. They can probably have a lower contingency in their bid since they’ve been through the process before and know what to expect. Doing something the second time is usually easier than doing it the first time.

      1. Plus, they already own a TBM. It’s got to be less expensive to refurbish an existing machine (new cutter heads, etc) than to have a new one built from scratch.

      2. I’ve heard that used TBMs are pretty nearly used up. And for the TBM used for the Cap. Hill -> Pine Street tunnels, they’ll need a new shroud since that one was abandoned in-place. Maybe some of the trailing gear can be reused.

        The tunneling contract requires three TBMs, so even if they already have one that can be refurbished, they will need to acquire two more.

  4. “Another reminder that this is a great time to be building infrastructure!”

    True, but this is a statement one should read with great care. Just because the time is now doesn’t mean that we’ve planned the right opportunities to invest in (see: this year’s transportation budget proposals). Definitely a case to be careful what you wish for.

    Invest now, but invest smart!

  5. Some of the savings should go to fill the $ shortfall for the pedestrian/bicycle bridge across I5

    1. I agree. It should also be built sooner, rather than later. There is no reason to wait until the train gets there. There will be immediate benefits for the people in the area as soon as the bridge is built. It would also spur development (Bridge-Oriented-Development or BOT if you will).

    1. I agree, but a push for Gondolas won’t happen until after the election. McGinn already has a “flaky” reputation (“McSchwinn”, etc.). The last thing he needs is a misunderstood proposal that a lot of ignorant people will consider “out there”. He is proposing the streetcars because streetcars are easy to understand and the claims are easy to make, even I consider them dubious (it works great for Portland, it revitalized South Lake Union, etc.). If he is reelected, along with guys like Conlin (who understands transit as well as zoning) then I think we have a chance to push for Gondolas.

      Just the other day I was talking to someone who works at the UW Hospital. She mentioned that some of her colleagues go back and forth to South Lake Union. But a lot of them refuse to go to meetings over there, because of the traffic. The buses and shuttles are slow while driving (and parking) is a mess. These are the sorts of problems that should spur a city into action. States and municipalities spend billions every year trying to induce companies to locate here and we already have that business. We just need to make it easier for people to get from one spot to another. A gondola from the Capitol Hill station to South Lake Union would do that quite nicely and cheaply.

  6. This is an example of why Seatte dilly dallying sometimes pays off. Tunnel boring technology has improved exponentially, contractor experience is higher, so costs drop. In theory. The downtown tunnel project about to start was supposed to be near double current project estimates. This one looks to be a third less than estimated, for this phase. So three cheers for procrastination. Remember the Northgate phase was supposed to be done already, but was dropped because Central Link costs were way off.

  7. Each drop in the cost of tunneling makes a tunnel under Queen Anne more feasible. Now if we could only get the politicians to realize it’s such a high priority…

    1. As long as Queen Anne remains mostly single family and has only 40′ height along a short stretch of Queen Anne Blvd, I’m not sure a Queen Anne station IS a priority…

      1. Queen Anne is not just upper Queen Anne, and a tunnel under Queen Anne implies a train going to other places too… like Ballard.

      2. Beacon Hill met the cut for a deep underground station, and it’s not like the area above the station is super-dense there either. If we wanted to, we could have saved quite a bit of money by bypassing Beacon Hill. Just have south link exit downtown along the proposed east link route, and build a junction at Rainer freeway station. Then, have Link run elevated along Rainer to Mt. Baker station. This would have avoided the tunnel and allows more infrastructure to be shared between east link and south link. It also would have greatly improved the connection for Bellevue->airport trips, by avoiding the backtrack into downtown. The price would be not serving Beacon Hill or SODO. How much dense development actually happens at Beacon Hill in the future will determine whether or not the actual Link routing was worth it.

      3. What about the stadiums? We already constructed an overpass that makes the walk to the stadiums from stadium station only very slightly closer than the walk from International District Station.

  8. I guess Seattle is really building itself a subway under the guise of calling it light rail (which is called “light” because its supposed to be fast and cheap to implement) because doesn’t this mean that one-fourth to one-third of it will be underground?

    Not a criticism, just an observation.

    Also, since they are building a subway, why not go all the way and make it all tunneled? Crosstown to Ballard.

    1. A significant fraction of NYC’s subway isn’t really underground. It’s the grade separation that makes it subway-class, IMO. Same with ballard – if what we build can go fast and not get blocked by traffic, it might as well be a subway, even if not underground. It’s just that this grade separation is pretty hard to do on the surface in a built-up area.

      1. Thanks for reminding me…I grew up in South Ozone Park were the ends of the A train (both of them) were elevated. The ride to Rockaway Beach being a very scenic high in the air ride across Jamaica Bay.

      2. Not bad timing for your reference, actually, since what you’re describing pretty much washed away in Hurricaine Sandy, with the rebuild only entering into service yesterday.

      3. @Bailo – Ozone Park, eh? I grew up just the other side of JFK Airport in Nassau County. Funny!

      4. @dp

        Guess they were taking the Q43 (or whatever it’s evolved into since then) using Crossbay Blvd.

      5. Nope, Cross Bay Boulevard was submerged as well, and between repair work and the train being out, it was traffic-logged for months.

        Transit passengers took a shuttle bus the long way around JFK airport to Far Rockaway, where they could switch to an “H” shuttle train back as far as Beach 90th Street. (The rest of the Rockaway Park branch was pretty well destroyed.)

    2. “which is called “light” because its supposed to be fast and cheap to implement”

      Uh, no. It’s called “light rail” because of the weight of the vehicles. They weigh less because they avoid weight requirements on rail vehicles imposed for safety by the FRA. The regs apply to trains that operate on tracks shared with heavy freight rail cars and locomotives. LRT is also able to run in streets with cars, so lower weight is beneficial for safety and road maintenance. They usually aren’t built to the standard of completely seperated metro systems like NYC, Chicago, ATL, etc that are also known as heavy rail (along with commuter RR’s). Of course, most of Link is being built close to that standard because of the focus on travel times for long distance regional trips. Running LRT on an infrastructure that looks and functions a lot like a Subway/Metro costs more to build but locks in operational and maintenance savings from pushing lighter weight vehicles.

      The term has nothing to do with how fast or cheap it is to build. It falls on a spectrum with other technologies where ranges overlap. Vehicle weight is it’s distinguishing factor.

      1. Eric, you are wholly and completely incorrect. Light rail vehicles typically weigh more than their heavy-rail counterparts because of additional safety features to accommodate mixed running and/or self-propulsion.

        The term “light rail” refers to the mode: the system is designed for lower capacity, frequency, and use than heavy-rail (aka “rapid transit”) systems.

      2. If we’re being completely honest, the pre-FTA Urban Mass Transportation Administration coined the term purely for the sake of euphemism, at a time when “subway” reminded more American voters of scary New York conveyances covered in graffiti and filled with brown people.

        “Light rail” was intended to imply not that. That it also implied quieter running and lower expense was an extra marketing bonus.

        Only retroactively was the term applied to existing subway-surface lines in places like San Francisco and Boston (where absolutely no one uses the term) or adopted for projects elsewhere around the world, where the tones of frugality and ease of implementation are the primary reasons for using the term.

      3. correct… sort of like ‘RapidRide’ as was meant to imply true BRT, before it went through the spin cycle.

      4. Indeed, Mike, which has absolutely nothing to do with which terms describe the trains, and everything to do with an inculcated fear of cities becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to white flight, total economic disinvestment, and punitive political practices. Racism, plain and simple.

        “Light rail” had as much to do with invoking a different skin shade as a different capacity or “weight” of investment.

      5. What is the difference between “light rail” and “streetcar” or “tram”? Is the Seattle streetcar considered light rail?

      6. …UMTA adopted the term light rail instead. Light in this context is used in the sense of “intended for light loads and fast movement”, rather than referring to physical weight.

        The investment in infrastructure is also usually lighter than would be found for a heavy rail system.

        Transportation Research Board (Transportation Systems Center) defined “light rail” in 1977 as: “a mode of urban transportation utilizing predominantly reserved but not necessarily grade-separated rights-of-way. Electrically propelled rail vehicles operate singly or in trains. LRT provides a wide range of passenger capabilities and performance characteristics at moderate costs.”

  9. The low bidder is also the same group who has the experience of doing the U Link tunnel under budget and ahead of schedule? Perfect. Sign that contract.

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