The opening of three light rail stations in 2016 made for a busy year for Sound Transit. And with 58 more Link stations coming online by 2041, along with 21 new bus rapid transit stations, the transit agency is streamlining the project development process to expand the transit system quicker than initially proposed.
To speed up project timelines, one of the key strategies of the System Expansion Implementation Plan is to shrink the amount of time each project spends in the planning phase.
The biggest change in the planning process moves the identification of the preferred alternative to much earlier in the process, prior to the completion of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Rather than the board choosing a preferred alternative from a set of options, after all, are studied in the draft environmental impact statement. The transit agency said this change will avoid the “time-consuming necessity of studying numerous other alternatives.”
ST has set a goal of choosing a preferred alternative in 18 months, which in the past generally took 2-3 years.
“This streamlined process came out of public feedback during development of the ST3 Plan, when the public and stakeholders indicated a strong desire to deliver projects earlier than proposed,” wrote Kimberly M. Reason, spokesperson for ST in an email. “As a result, we identified what it would take deliver projects earlier, and, after more work, committed to more aggressive timelines.”
Reason pointed to the East Link Extension when 24 different alternatives were studied. “Time and dollars are consumed with chasing alternatives that have little possibility of being carried forward,” she said.
According to ST, “early identification of the preferred alternative will jump-start the public debate about station and alignment decisions, revealing areas of broad agreement as well as areas where project leadership needs to focus problem-solving efforts.”
The new streamlined process also includes working closely with local jurisdictions to expedite the permitting process, hiring a customer experience officer who will report directly to ST CEO Peter Rogoff, and by developing a public dashboard to track the progress of individual projects.
ST said the goal of the dashboard is to provide greater transparency and accountability so milestones are clearly understood by the public and local jurisdictions. The dashboard will illustrate key project milestones, outline when public input and feedback is being taken and highlight when local city permits or approvals are required. This dashboard will be available on every project web page.
Another key component to speeding up project timelines is increasing external collaboration to expedite project permitting. Moving forward ST plans to execute project partnering agreements to establish project scope and timeline with local officials which the agency says will provide “greater transparency and broader understanding of alternatives being studied and when permits will be issued by local jurisdictions.”
The ST3 package, which will expand the current ST system by a factor of five, is as big as Sound Move and ST2 combined. When introducing the new streamlined planning process to the ST Board, Rogoff told members the multitude of projects in the Sound Move and ST 3 package happening all at once was the number one reason a new development process plan was needed
Rogoff said the new implementation plan will help ST reach expedited deadlines approved by voters with the passage of the ST3 package in November 2016. According to Rogoff, the timeline for the light rail project in Redmond was cut by almost a third between the March 2016 draft of ST3 and the final package.
According to ST the West Seattle and Ballard Extensions, Tacoma Dome Link Extension and I-405/I-522 BRT projects are all currently in early startup mode — with most of the work until the end of the year focused on selecting design firms.
Public engagement will be based on the schedule for each project and will be communicated through traditional and social media, project updates and home mailings.