On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board approved the baseline budget (in other words, the budget for when we can say a project is truly under/over budget) for Lynnwood Link, which has been under its own financial problems for a few months, and set it at $2.77 billion. As we covered earlier this month, a few of the cost-saving measures have been incorporated into the plan, reducing the $500 million shortfall to $200 million.
While Lynnwood Link is still under final design, with station and garage work not planned to be finalized until December of this year, the board action was moved up in anticipation of the FTA’s expected approval of the project’s full funding grant agreement (FFGA) this summer. The budget assumes that the FTA will award the full $1.17 billion requested by Sound Transit in its New Starts application, which would use up a significant portion of the $2.6 billion in capital investments allocated to the FTA for fiscal year 2019 by the House Appropriations Committee (and to move onto Congress) this week.
By an odd quirk in the federal funding process, Lynnwood Link’s FFGA application also includes a 41 percent share of costs for the satellite operations and maintenance facility currently under construction in Bellevue for East Link and costs for the 34 light rail vehicles needed to run part of Lynnwood Link, bringing the total “budget” up to $3.26 billion. This has been misreported by other outlets as a massive inflation of the project’s original $2.4 billion budget and has certain pundits frothing at the mouth, but the figures are not part of the baseline budget for Lynnwood Link and should not affect its chances of being awarded the FFGA.
Beyond the major change at Shoreline North/NE 185th Street Station discussed in our previous article, the cost-saving measures also include narrower platforms, removal of the down escalators at stations (to be replaced by the already-planned stairs), and changes to the concrete used in guideways and sound walls. Further refinement of the cost-saving measures is expected to be evaluated by the Sound Transit Board in July, after a series of public open houses that may present the last opportunity for the public to air their grievances over the long-term effects of these decisions.
The board action also set the project’s baseline schedule, with early demolition of the former Black Angus and McDonalds furniture store in Lynnwood set to begin next month. Sound Transit will submit its land use permit applications to the cities of Seattle, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood in late summer and award the project’s major two-part civil construction contract (split down the county line) in November, although the contracts could be let out for bidding earlier under the assumption that construction costs would climb a significant amount during a few months of waiting. Sound Transit’s proposal to nail down a winning bidder before the FFGA is officially awarded could carry some risk, especially under the currently volatile federal government, but could keep costs from rising any further.
Construction is set to finally begin in January 2019 and last just over five years, and revenue service is expected to begin sometime around July 2024. The schedule has 8 months of built-in float time, which could help bring up the opening day closer to the traditional March service change date that Community Transit could use to unveil its revamped commuter bus network.
With planning on Lynnwood Link finally nearing an end, a renewed push to wrap up Federal Way Link’s budget and FFGA should be coming soon. The FTA reports that Federal Way’s $499 million FFGA is still on track for an early 2019 signing, which could mesh well with the scheduled award of a design-build contract midway through next year.