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.
Briefly, Link and BRT fill up the first two tiers. Sounder stuff is Tier 3, and Tier 4 includes all the parking and most bus projects that are not Stride. The exception is Kent, Auburn and Sumner parking and access improvements in Tier 1, the highest priority for the South King delegation and soon to arrive in absolute terms.
Overall, the Board saw this as a balanced response to their dilemma. Claudia Balducci said she is “closing in” on a modified proposal that focuses on “maintaining schedule as much as possible,” but didn’t offer more detail.
It’s regrettable that the second downtown tunnel, by far the highest-ridership piece in the entire program, slides to Tier 2. However, in 2016 Seattle convinced all subareas to fund the tunnel because it was in the interest of all. When asked to trade that off against their well-understood highest priorities, especially the spine, those subareas made an unsurprising choice.
Meanwhile, the environmentally inclined (as well as those optimistic about the future of autonomous vehicles) can applaud the deferral of parking garages into the far future.
The plan is to pass a resolution with the tiers in July.