Sound Transit seeks to understand cost failures

Light rail tracks running toward Northgate Transit Center (Lizz Giordano)

Sound Transit 3 is not going to match the stellar project delivery record of Sound Transit 2 barring a bailout from another government or the economy. In attempt to understand the cost estimation failures that got us to this point, on June 24th ST accepted the report of consultants asked to investigate why (report, slides, video).

The report points out parts of ST’s own cost estimation methodology that it did not follow during initial project estimation in 2015 and 2016. In particular, ST did not seek a second opinion on costs and did not sufficiently invovle its own Real Estate division in determining acquisition costs.

It’s a long report and hard to summarize. It identified eight key drivers of the increases between “phase 1” and “phase 2” estimates, and was able to assign a subjective importance to five of them:

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Realignment grinds towards a conclusion

On June 24th, ST Board Chair Kent Keel presented a proposed “realignment” plan that pushes back projects to account for dramatically inflated cost estimates (video, materials). This is a “starting point”, in his words, but we are past the point of staff-driven alternatives and indecisive argument about principles and priorities.

Virtually all projects have suffered roughly 2 years of Covid-related planning delay. Tier 1 projects are full-speed ahead except for that. Tier 2 projects will execute planning and right-of-way acquisition on schedule, getting them to “shovel-ready” as quickly as possible in case more money comes in. But the plan assumes up to 4 years of delay waiting for money to accumulate (for a total of 6). Tier 3 doesn’t pause until after purchase of “strategic ROW”, with up to 9 total years of delay. ST would pause Tier 4 immediately, leading to at least 10 years of total delay. The end of ST3 moves from 2041 to 2046 — a 30 year program.

If realignment skeptics like Dow Constantine are right, and revenue increases more than models currently say, we could expect all of the light rail and Stride to see no more than the current 2-year delay.

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Light rail cascades into Snohomish County

Light rail tracks running toward Northgate Transit Center (Lizz Giordano)
Lynnwood Link Extension (Sound Transit)

Light rail tracks now snake north along I-5, more than a year and a half after Sound Transit broke ground on the Lynnwood Link Extension. Stations take shape as crews place girders for light rail’s long-awaited descent into Snohomish County.

In late May, crews installed the last of the 188 columns that line the 8.5-mile Lynnwood Link Extension. Girder spans are 75% complete, with 94 of 126 in place. Sound Transit projects daily ridership along the four-station extension could reach 55,000 just a few years after opening in 2024.

The track towers over I-5 as it rollercoasters its way from Northgate to the first of two stations in Shoreline. A provisional station at NE 130th, part of ST3, will eventually bridge that gap.

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Few issues separate candidates in forum

Last night’s Seattle Subway/STB mayoral forum was narrowly focused on transit and land use issues. The moderator, Publicola‘s Erica C. Barnett, did a tremendous job keeping things on time and on track. As with most forums of this nature, the fundamental tension was between questions trying to elicit an interesting response and candidates trying not to say anything too interesting.

Watching the one-hour video is probably worth your time. If not, here are some impressions.

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YouTube LIVE FEED: STB’s & Seattle Subway’s Mayoral Forum


YouTube Live available above. Also streaming on Seattle Subway’s profiles on:
Twitter at:
Facebook at:

REGISTER TO ATTEND via Zoom at 7pm TONIGHT on Zoom:

With ST3 realignment looming, BRT and Center City Connector projects at stake, and an entire post-pandemic transit recovery to manage, NEW Seattle leadership from upcoming 2021 Mayoral election MUST deliver on critical transit investments for us to reach our 2030 climate change benchmarks, escape traffic misery, and equitably serve all people with public transit.

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Watch the Seattle Subway/STB mayoral forum tonight

We’re proud to co-sponsor a mayoral forum with a focus on transit and land use issues with Seattle Subway, tonight at 7pm. The seven candidates are Andrew Grant Houston, Jessyn Farrell, Lorena González, Lance Randall, Colleen Echohawk, Casey Sixkiller, and Bruce Harrell.

It will stream online on Facebook (Seattle Subway page), Twitter (@SeattleSubway), and here at the blog. You can also register in order to view it on Zoom and potentially get a question in.

You can join as early as 6pm.

Many thanks to Erica Barnett of Publicola for moderating.

Tacoma Link to be closed for 9 days starting June 21

Tacoma Link construction in the Stadium district (image: Sound Transit)

Tacoma Link light rail is expanding to the Stadium district and Hilltop. While the new stations don’t open until next year, work is well underway expanding what is now a 1.5-mile line connecting the Tacoma Dome to downtown. To support this expanded future service, Tacoma Link will be closed from June 21 to 29 to connect the existing line to the new, larger operation and maintenance facility.

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Link frequencies will increase on June 12

Sound Transit:

Good news, Link riders: light rail frequency will increase starting June 12. 

Link will run every eight minutes during peak hours and every 10 minutes during midday and weekends to help passengers get where they want to go – and return to their normal routines. 

During late evenings, Link will run every 15 minutes.

Currently, Link runs every 12 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, with frequency every 30 minutes in late evenings.

One more step towards normal.

Improving Metro bus schedules with Link connections

One feature of some of King County Metro’s paper schedules is the inclusion of connections to downtown Seattle as part of the timetable. It is also available on the PDF versions of the schedules, which is the same as the paper ones. This is done on certain routes where a transfer to downtown Seattle is common. Here is an example:

The timetable for route 187 includes connections to routes 577 and 578 (image: King County Metro)

While this example makes it painfully obvious that some connections just don’t work very well (such as the 29 minute wait coming from Seattle on the last trip), the fact that this is included does make it easier to use for someone who wants to get to Seattle. They don’t need to open up two different schedules to find how their trip will go; they just need this one. What if King County Metro did something similar for connections to Link?

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