Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.
That could rise even more, between about $500 million and $2 billion, if Sound Transit decides to enhance the routes beyond the basic alignment approved by voters.
“Tunnels are really more expensive, said Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s Executive Corridor Director for West Seattle and Ballard.
The costs of the representative alignment are creeping up.
The accompanying video segment is excellent as well. The content won’t be surprising to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s really well put together and does a good job of explaining the high-level tradeoffs.
Watching it I was struck by how far we’ve come as a region: zero minutes of airtime are given to light rail opponents. Everyone interviewed supports the project. 10 years ago this same piece would have had at least one person talking about how buses are better and light rail is a waste of money.
See also: Seattle Magazine touting the best neighborhoods near light rail. Remember when the Freeman-backed Bellevue City Council fought like hell to keep Link away? You don’t hear much about that anymore.
33 Replies to “KIRO on ST3”
Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.”
This soft-pedals the cost increases. $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars in $6.2 billion in 2018 adjusted for general inflation, not $6.8 billion.
The difference, presumably, is that ST is adjusting for the much higher rates of inflation in capital inputs and right-of way in getting to the $6.8bn number.
Less clear is how even the representative project has somehow gained another $700 million in higher costs beyond that.
$1.3 billion in added costs over general inflation before we even start to contemplate the tunnels and other plus-ups that are surely coming. Then add whatever mitigations are found necessary after the EIS. It’s a large enough cost over-run that people should be more nervous about the schedule.
“This soft-pedals the cost increases….The difference, presumably, is that ST is adjusting for the much higher rates of inflation in capital inputs and right-of way in getting to the $6.8bn number.”
Agreed. See my comment below.
If I needed to estimate the value of my 2018 expenditures against my 2014 expenditures, I would use CPI.
If I needed to estimate the value of my 2018 wage against my 2014 wage, I would look at area wage inflation.
And if I needed to estimate the value of 2018 construction costs against my 2014 construction cost estimates, I’d probably look at a long list of inflation factors by category, like construction wages, materials expense, land costs, etc.
I’m shocked, SHOCKED! to read that construction inflation exceeds consumer price index changes.
Really, Just Some Guy? You think the average KIRO listener who is a consumer, but not in the business of buying steel or tunneling machines, is going to deflate by the capital cost price index?
Or that when Sound Transit says that real estate acquisition is much more expensive than it used to be, they mean that their ROW is appreciating more than the ROW index (hint: it isn’t).
There’s a plain English meaning to the words “which the agency considers equivalent”, and what you’re suggesting isn’t it.
Essentially a ‘better educated guess’ at what the YOE costs will be, compared to the Budget dollar amounts that are used to evaluate options.
“You think the average KIRO listener who is a consumer, but not in the business of buying steel or tunneling machines, is going to deflate by the capital cost price index?”
That’s why we have an agency dedicated to building and operating transit in charge of ST3– and not the average KIRO listener.
Light rail opponents who concern trolled in favor of BRT aren’t around to help implement real-life BRT? I’m shocked! Shocked, I say. Well, we can at least look forward to them opposing any ballot proposition to help buses, even when light rail is not on the ballot.
Ross is still here, fighting the good fight for his bus tunnel.
Ha! Like a L. A. Laker fan, though, I know when it is hopeless. But like so many things (First Hill station, Ballard to UW line) stories like this just remind me of how poorly we are doing things. I find it telling that no one is talking about spending extra money on the new downtown tunnel (by adding a First Hill station). Instead we are thinking about spending billions to make changes that won’t save anyone any time. When all is said and done it is quite possible that a bus tunnel, along with some cheap fixes next to the Ballard bridge and the Spokane Street Viaduct would have had better end to end times for the majority of riders, while providing just enough money to build a Ballard to UW subway. Like the Lakers betting their franchise on Mozgov and Deng, it was a bad move. It isn’t that they aren’t good, it is just that you could build something much better for way less money.
Don’t worry, Ross – you are much more reasonable than a Lakers fan.
Ross is not a light rail opponent in all circumstances; his threshold of need is just higher than the STB average. It’s still based on sound transit principles (match high-cost rail to high-volume needs, consider whether a BRT alternative with good transit lanes can realistically meet demand). Ross has supported Link to Lynnwood and Redmond, and he would vote for all BRT lines he advocates.
That’s different from the concern trolls who never want light rail because BRT is less expensive, then when you propose BRT they move the goalposts and say BRT is too expensive. And when you ask them what they would support instead of BRT it’s “Nothing that increases taxes.” Never mind how long it takes to travel without a car in the current network.
Thanks Mike. Yeah, there really are three proponents of BRT. The first are folks that think it is always better than rail. John Niles is a member of that group. Then there are the folks that Brent is talking about — people who support it only as a means to destroy or weaken rail projects. They are the ones that disappear when it comes to actually funding bus improvements. Then there is the vast majority of transit supporters (including transit experts) who believe that rail makes sense in some cases, and improved bus service makes sense in others. I’m definitely in that last camp. It is really hard to confuse me with the other two groups when I have pushed very strongly for an improved bus system (including BRT on Madison) as well as a Ballard to UW rail line. But then again, political stereotypes and oversimplification of issues is common these days.
When has John Niles actually advocated for a real-lift BRT project that was actually on the table?
Graham is the rare TV guy who goes in depth and cares about accuracy rather than a drive-by, “some say this, some say that” approach. We’re lucky to have him in this region.
YOE$ is what I want to see. Today’s $, or even worse, a prior year $ estimate, doesn’t represent the eventual true cost and, imho, isn’t all that helpful in the bigger context. Yes, it may make it easier for some to grasp the financial details in the here and now, so to speak, but such individuals need to recognize the discount of inflation at play in such a discussion. Otherwise, why do we even bother with the YOE$ cost estimates in the first place, such as what was done for ST2 and ST3? (RQ)
FWIW….I would love to see Sound Transit’s math on that $5.8B/$6.8B issue. A quick back of the napkin calculation gives an inflation factor of only about 4% and I was under the impression that ST3 was drawn up with more conservative financial plan parameters than the previous two transit measures.
The All Items Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers is +6.97% cumulative for Dec 2018 vs Dec 2014. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CPIAUCSL/
it’s annoying that these things have to be double-checked. Using the higher price index for the inputs that Sound Transit consumes is perfectly defensible if they were more clear about what they were doing. But a regular reader of the KIRO report would take it to mean that there has been a billion dollars of general inflation since 2014 and that’s not close to being true. I didn’t use to pull out a calculator every time I saw a conversion to YOE$ but now I do.
“Using the higher price index for the inputs that Sound Transit consumes is perfectly defensible…”
So what are you yelling about?
“… if they were more clear about what they were doing.”
Oh, OK. But I think we know ST is in the business of building and operating transit…?
“But a regular reader of the KIRO report would take it to mean that there has been a billion dollars of general inflation since 2014 and that’s not close to being true.”
Ah, so you’re yelling about the average KIRO reader, not Sound Transit. Carry on!
None of this would be a problem except ST went against the FTA recommended contingency of 30 percent at this stage and chose 10 percent — presumably to make the package convincing for the voters.
Had ST followed FTA guidance, the headline would be “Higher ST3 Costs Absorbed by Contingency Budget”.
+1 Frankly, I don’t see ST even coming close to their ST3 YOE$ estimates. Additionally, once our economy hits another recession, the entire narrative at ST will change to one of paring down and delaying projects.
Not sure where you got the 10% estimate from… Isn’t consistent with this document:
Thanks for the dry tails!
The document describes the unallocated contingency as 10 percent. That’s the number I’m referring to.
The allocated contingency is more vague. At 15 percent more, it’s still short of FTA 30 percent guidance. That may seem ok, but with tunnels running through high-rise districts with station vaults, it’s pretty dang risky.
Finally, that’s not accounting for any design enhancements beyond the original RA. That seems quite naive or negligent.
Dry tails = details
I am all for an opposing point-of-view, but frankly….
a) Eastside Transportation Association can’t decide if transit isn’t capable enough or necessary
b) The “Washington” “Policy” Centre has serious credibility & fiscal transparency issues on this file. Education, not so much ;-).
c) Tim Eyman is under multiple criminal investigations and has almost as much credibility as Donald J. Trump
d) I think the voters spoke in 2016 loud & clear and the region’s riders are voting with their feet. Sound Transit really should open up a Pro Shop… the 12s for transit are getting louder.
That said, I do see merit in an opposition bench. Preferably stacked with smart folks who will respect the voter’s will at the ballot box and the feet of the riders.
I just hope we don’t saw our own feet off and blow up Sound Transit–and Seattle’s added transit–funding come this November.
That’s one thing that terrifies me a little: I don’t see many in the transit community talking openly about defeating I-976 since it will probably make all of these grand plans either moot or a hell of a lot more difficult.
Am I just worrying too much?
I’m worried too, but we have to deal with the state legislature in Olympia first. Then the one in some guy’s basement in Mukilteo.
I know there will be a sustainable counter-campaign to that mad initiative. Stay patient, stay tuned. Anxious too!
Costs for the representative alignment are creeping up because they did about 1% design to come up with their far-fetched numbers… In some cases you wonder if the planners did anything more than open Google Earth on their desktops because it doesn’t make sense. So some of these “extras” being proposed by neighborhoods may end up costing the same or being cheaper.
RE: ST3 survival:
It seems that many people are ignoring the giant elephant in the room. The stupid Eyman initiative. I predict that it will easily pass because most people want to pay less tax. Does ST know something about the legality of this initiative that they are not sharing? Because they seem to be flighting the bills in Olympia to change the car valuation method. Changing the valuation to something more realistic will go a long way to tell voters that they are listening, and maybe even help defeat the Eyman $30 car tab initiative. In my opinion the initiative isn’t legal because it is recruiting state-wide voters to overturn a local district, voter-approved tax. But a legal mind I do not posess.
This latest Eyman initiative will not survive judicial review because it too violates the initiative single subject rule. (Frankly, if one reads the language of the entire initiative, one quickly realizes what a muddled mess it is.) You would think that by now Eyman and his team would be able to figure out how to construct a legitimate initiative, but that just isn’t the case here.
With that being said, I could easily see the initiative passing this November. The legislature really should just address the MVET valuation issue by fixing the 2015 legislation. HB 2123 seemed to be a reasonable step in that direction.
A concern that I have about ST3 budgeting is that constrained budgets usually mean that rider benefits are the first cost-cutting things to go. Pedestrian walkways and tunnels to get across streets, escalators, elevators and stairs get cut. Meanwhile parking garages are built to the guaranteed max number of spaces and art is fully funded as a percentage (thought: Why can’t a walkway be built as part of art? Why can’t the exteriors of stations be counted as art — like San Francisco did with their jail?)
I don’t have a good suggestion on how to protect rider convenience and I wish I did. The last-minute Lynnwood Link station convenience cuts (dine without community input) is a harbinger of things to come unless there is political pushback.
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