April 30th is the deadline for the public to comment on Sound Transit’s various options to make up for the current mismatch in projected costs and revenues for ST3. Here’s where we stand:
There is no effect on the Sound Transit 2 projects (Link to Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way) and these are expected to arrive in accordance with current schedules, and roughly 1-2 years after the timeline voters were given in 2008.
Updates to the economic model have reduced the funding gap from $11.5 billion to “only” $7.9 billion. $527m from the first Biden stimulus, plus $4.6 billion more in projected tax revenue is partially offset by $595m more in cost inflation. The NE 130th St Station alone has increased $64m as engineering went from 30 to 60%.
This handy graph shows how other considerations have more than made up for lower tax receipts, and it’s exploding capital costs that have put the project in doubt:
These are Year of Expenditure dollars, so overall numbers are highly sensitive to assumptions about construction inflation, economic growth, and so on.
So that’s the budget hole. How might ST fix it?
One strategy to seek more money. Federal dollars don’t really involve difficult tradeoffs. State grants might, and any local revenue source will take political or statutory capacity from other transit projects.
The other strategy is to deliver some things roughly on time and build others much later than planned. The survey asks you to prioritize projects within each subarea you care about. The staff has tried to attach some sort of higher principle to assigning priorities, but it’s likely that a mixture of these principles is used to justify a plan that matches the balance of interests on the Board, which is really the only way in can be without the powers of Robert Moses. Your input in the subarea in which you vote is especially useful in this exercise of making as many happy as possible.
The good news is that the new revenue forecast is roughly equal to a $4 billion infusion in staff scenarios (1, 2). These scenarios place projects into 4 tiers. The first tier would be about 2 years late, a product of planning and Covid delays not really related to the budget gap. The second tier was facing 5-8 years of delay, but now 2-4. Tiers 3 and 4 sometimes gain a few years, and in other cases is still stuck opening 14-15 years later than planned.
If you ask me, the second downtown tunnel is the most urgent thing here. Many projects are serving areas with development potential, but the bit from Westlake to Lower Queen Anne is already at rail densities, and with destinations of regional importance.
The Board is supposed to decide on a plan in July.