When we last left Lynnwood link, the light rail extension was $500M over budget. Now, per Mike Lindblom in the Seattle Times, that number has dropped to $300M:
By nipping here and tucking there, a Sound Transit manager says his team located $200 million in potential savings to ease a budget crisis in the Northgate-to-Lynnwood light-rail extension.
No major features such as stations or park-and-ride garages were slashed in the latest proposals, which include about 100 changes along the 8.5-mile corridor, said Rod Kempkes, executive project director for Lynnwood Link.
His team negotiated so-called “value-engineering” ideas with suburban staff and mayors since summer, when the voter-approved $2.4 billion cost estimate soared to $2.9 billion.
Even assuming the trimming works, there’s a roughly $300 million gap, which could wind up plunging taxpayers deeper into debt. A preliminary finance update is expected soon.
To fully close the $300M gap, there’s really only one option: defer the 3 proposed parking garages. The garages cost as much as $212M in total, or $88,000 per stall, an order of magnitude more than any of the other cost savings proposed.
To recap, Shoreline’s two stations (145th and 185th) are set to get 500-space garages. Lynnwood’s current 1,400-space surface lot would be replaced with a 1,400-space garage plus 500 surface spots. That makes for a net gain of 1,500 spots across the three stations (Here are all the parking lots planned for the full ST3 build out), or 2,400 total.
We understand that free parking (like free anything) is politically popular. Lynnwood link will run through cities that in many places lack sidewalks, let alone bike lanes or frequent East-west buses, making non-motorized access a challenge. For many residents, especially those who have never experienced the freedom of living within walking distance of rail transit, park-and-ride is the only way they can conceive of using the system.
Spending on parking now is a zero-sum decision. The cost overruns in Lynnwood have already delayed the Link extension by six months while a portion of the budget gap is closed. Every dollar in a Lynnwood garage delays the extension to Paine Field and Everett. At a minimum, we believe parking for a small fraction of future Link users deserves to go to the back of the line in Snohomish County funding priorities.
This is where civic leadership can have a huge impact. And indeed, Shoreline and Lynnwood governments have both stepped up to the plate with ambitious proposals for building urban villages around their stations – reconnecting the street grid, activating the space with a mix of commercial and residential uses, and increasing zoning capacity. Lynnwood will allow towers as tall as 35 stories, dwarfing the height limits around many of Seattle’s light rail stations.
Both cities deserve kudos for seizing the light rail opportunity to build vibrant, all-day communities around their stations. So why settle for a field goal when a touchdown is within reach? Let’s defer the decision until we see what can be done with surface parking. If all goes well, perhaps officials and residents may decide they’d prefer the space for jobs, housing and retail, along with the tax revenues those uses provide.
In either case, before embarking on a massive garage building project, these cities should seek to do everything they can with existing space and investing heavily in non-vehicular access. Sound Transit ought to make it as easy as possible by improving the pedestrian, bicycle and bus transfer experience in the new designs. Carpool spots, paid parking options, and privately-owned parking lots should be discussed as well. Community Transit and Metro should commit to frequent feeder bus service.
Even if Sound Transit can scratch together enough for the garages, they will end up uglier and less useful than originally envisioned. Some of the cost saving ideas for the garages include removing the decorative external facades, shrinking the size of the parking spaces, and blocking some spaces with support beams.
If leaders in Shoreline and Lynnwood won’t commit to stations forever without parking, they may consider deferring the structured parking and build less expensive surface lots. Those keep options open for adding structured lots later as funding permits, or converting to other transit-oriented development if future leaders find that more useful for their communities.