Responding to universal angst about the pace of the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) Draft Plan, this afternoon the Sound Transit (ST) Board introduced a series of amendments that propose a leaner, faster Sound Transit 3 measure. The Board will vote on each of these amendments at its Special Meeting on June 2, ahead of a final vote on June 23 to adopt the plan and send it to the ballot. Cumulatively, these amendments represent a dramatic improvement in nearly every aspect of the plan, and they indicate a clear responsiveness by Sound Transit on behalf of the public. Advocates won or at least saw movement on nearly every issue.
The amendments were preceded by presentations from CEO Peter Rogoff and CFO Brian McCartan on project delivery and the ST3 finance plan, respectively. Rogoff outlined his desired improvements in project delivery, including narrowing studied alternatives, bringing jurisdictions in earlier in the process, establishing schedules well ahead of final design, and looking at new procurement processes such as “Design/Build”. Rogoff seemed intent on sharing the burden for timely delivery with the host cities, and ensuring that cities and counties are more joint partner going forward rather than just permitting authorities.
But the real news came from CFO McCartan’s Finance Plan update. We’ll be getting more details in a meeting with ST finance staff next week, but staff told STB that Sound Transit underestimated its bonding capacity by up to 10%, with the recalculation centering on the tricky overlap period between the winding down of ST2 bonds and the ramping up of ST3 bonds. All other financial policies will likely remain intact, as will all other conservative planning assumptions (such as a 6-year EIS process per project). So the timeline improvements above reflect primarily financing considerations, and there would be considerable scope for further improvement via streamlined permitting and environmental review.
North King (Seattle)
- The Ballard Line would be fully grade separated and be delivered 3 years sooner, in 2035 instead of 2038.
- The West Seattle line gains 3 years, moving from 2033 to 2030.
- In a huge win for advocates, the 130th Street Station gets full funding, though it would open in 2031.
- Graham Street Station gains 5 years, moving from 2036 to 2031.
- Sound Transit will make a roughly 10% contribution to Madison BRT and pay for interim improvements on Rapid Ride C and D.
South King County
- The Federal Way extension gets bumped up 4 years to 2024, just a year after East Link and Lynnwood Link. The Angle Lake to Des Moines stretch would be delayed a year, from 2023 to 2024, and Angle Lake-Federal Way would be built as a single project.
- Boeing Access Road Station would be bumped up 5 years, from 2036 to 2031.
- The Federal Way-Tacoma Link extension would be bumped up 3 years, and would open with West Seattle in 2030.
- The Tacoma Link streetcar extension to Tacoma Community College would also gain 2 years, from 2041 to 2039.
East King County
- The Issaquah line would still open in 2041, but would gain an extension from Wilburton Station to South Kirkland, and trains would interline via East Main instead of Wilburton.
- Renton would get its planned parking garage and transit center relocation as part of I-405 BRT, and would add new direct access ramps at NE 44th Street in Newcastle/Kennydale.
- Kingsgate’s parking would be reduced and its TOD increased.
- Everett would see light rail 5 years sooner, in 2036 instead of 2041, and Snohomish County leaders get the Paine Field deviation. Trains would run via SR 526 and I-5 from Paine Field to Everett. Rather than opening first between Lynnwood and Mariner, the entire Lynnwood-Everett segment would open together in 2036.
Martin will be writing more about Sounder in the next few days, but the primary changes at this point are a dedicated capital program (funding level TBD), extension to Tillicum and Dupont, and the full funding of 10-car platforms, giving Sounder a 43% capacity boost on top of any new trips.
Downtown Tunnel Funding
While the draft plan allocated 80% of the cost of the new tunnel to North King/Seattle and 20% to Pierce County – reflecting the Ballard to Tacoma operational plan for the Green Line – the updated finance plan allocates the new tunnel’s costs to all 5 subareas as a “regional asset”, alongside such things as fleet acquisition and Operations and Maintenance Facilities (OMF). Though we had heard rumors that the tunnel funding would be proportional based on subarea revenue, we were surprised to learn today that instead it will be allocated based on projected ridership, or on the subarea origin of any rider using the new tunnel.
We’ll ask Sound Transit for more details on this, and we’ll be curious to hear the Expert Review Panel’s take, but it does seem to present some problems. It seems strange to allocate real money on the basis of projections that are informed by (inevitably flawed) ridership models that are themselves based on problematic population growth models such as those published by PSRC. On the other hand, it does seem to marginally increase North King’s financial capacity.
As outlined above, all 3 infill stations (Boeing Access Road, Graham, and 130th) would be fully funded and would open the same year, in 2031. Staff told us that they would be built concurrently to have a shorter (but more severe) service disruption period.
The gist is that, if passed, there would be continuous construction and incremental line openings over a 20-year period between 2021-2041:
- 2021: Northgate, UDistrict, Roosevelt
- 2023: 145th, 185th, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Judkins Park, Mercer Island, South Bellevue, East Main, Bellevue Downtown, Wilburton, Spring District, Bel-Red, Overlake Village, Redmond Tech Center
- 2024: Kent/Des Moines, Star Lake, Federal Way, SE Redmond/Marymoor, Downtown Redmond
- 2030: Alaska Junction, Delridge, new Sodo station, new Stadium station, South Federal Way, Fife, Tacoma Dome
- 2031: Boeing Access Road, Graham Street, N. 130th
- 2035: Ballard, Dravus, Smith Cove, Uptown, South Lake Union, new Westlake platform, Midtown, new International District platform
- 2036: Alderwood Mall, Ash Way, Mariner, Paine Field, South Everett, Everett
- 2039: Tacoma Link streetcar extension
- 2041: South Kirkland, Factoria, Eastgate, Issaquah
In the coming days we’ll have more in-depth reports on the ST Finance Plan, the planned Sounder improvements, and more.