East Link construction, by Atomic Taco / Flickr

Mike Lindblom at the Seattle Times has the scoop:

Project staff mentioned a potential start date of February 2024 in a presentation Tuesday to King County Metro Transit rail-division employees. Metro personnel operate and maintain the trains.

“That information is a bit premature,” Ron Lewis, director of design, engineering and construction management, said in an interview afterward. Lewis said he can’t provide a reliable opening date until after a new study of risk factors, which he said should be ready by June.

This isn’t the most surprising development, albeit a disappointing one. Construction in 2021 and 2022 has been riddled with mishaps and the concrete drivers strike. Unfortunately, the technical complexity of the extension means that all the project float is likely to be eaten up. This places East Link opening three years behind what was projected in ST2.

The silver lining is that the delay buys some extra time to work on an optimal Eastside restructure that takes into account the post-COVID future. Eastsiders have also resiliently waited 14 years since ST2 approval; two more will hopefully feel like a breeze.

47 Replies to “East Link opening likely delayed until 2024”

  1. I have a tough time keeping track of when things were originally scheduled. I’ve looked them up, but reliable sources (e. g. Wikipedia) aren’t too revealing. Searches tend to reveal newer numbers. Anyone have a run down of when they originally expected to do things, and when they were done (or when they now expect them to be done)? I’m not just thinking of East Link, but others as well.

    1. if you click through to the pdf https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/agency-progress-report-capital-program-february-2022.pdf there is a “project float” section that details the planned revenue service date and the float or buffer, or projected delay as well as a forecast of eating float or extending delays. e.g.
      East Link was baselined with 273 days of program float, and
      is currently forecast to finish 48 days behind the target
      Revenue Service Date of June 30, 2023. based upon what is
      currently known.
      Additional work is required to advance a complete and
      integrated schedule, in order to capture and analyze all
      elements required for revenue service. This analysis will
      likely reveal a trend towards an increase in negative float.
      The continued loss of float is attributable to ib several
      factors, including increased requirements for operating
      preparedness, design changes, contractor performance issues,
      COVID and the concrete strike.

      1. OK, but sometimes there is an original estimate, and then a revised estimate that is much later. Then they meet that revised estimate, and it looks like they are ahead of schedule, when they are actually well behind (the original) schedule. For example, that document shows the revenue service date for Lynnwood Link as July 17, 2024. It was supposed to open in 2023 (https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/news-events/news-releases/november-2008-mass-transit-ballot-measure-provides-near). Thus they are on schedule (just barely) for the revised estimate, but way behind schedule for the original estimate.

        I’m guessing that didn’t happen with East Link, and they are simply behind schedule with the original estimate. I’m just thinking it would interesting to look at a chart with the original estimates on there, and when they were actually built.

    2. Don’t know about opening date – but my two cents. This won’t open until 2025. The issues with the I90 trackway/concrete are going to come out to be more severe/serious than anyone had imagined. Also, ST3 will likely not open until mid century. In my opinion, transfer all ST3 funds to operations – and eliminate all future expansions. Telework and self driving cars/buses will make light rail less important in the future. As it is, ST3 won’t open until mid century.

      1. You have to at least finish the Redmond part of ST3 expansion. It’s only two more miles and it’s already under construction.

      2. Even Smarter Transit (an anti-ST-rail organization) believes we should finish what we started. Or at least they imply it in their annual update (https://smartertransit.org/smarter-transit-annual-update-march-2022/):

        No extensions of light rail beyond what they have currently started.

        We have our disagreements, but I actually agree with all four of those bullet points. I will say that infill stations (which aren’t extensions) should be built as well (even questionable ones, like Boeing Access Road). Infill stations are relatively cheap, so even if they don’t live up to expectations they are likely to be worth it.

        In any event, no extensions beyond what is being constructed right now would mean East Link to downtown Redmond, and the main Link line from Lynnwood to Federal Way. The north and south ends make great terminal points, as they have excellent HOV freeway access for buses. While I think Seattle should have more rail, I think the current plans are so bad that they should be abandoned, and we should start over (which would mean a new vote). That probably won’t happen, but it is nice to dream.

      3. No “direct election”. You’ll have “The Sound Transit Board Member From Concrete Interests”, “The Sound Transit Board Member(s) From The Auto Dealers” and members from oil, steel and so on, plus lots of rich NIMBY’s.

        I will stipulate that the current board membership is spotty at best, but at least they aren’t “bought” by hostile industries.

      4. I disagree. If you look at the various boards locally or around the country (school boards, Port of Seattle, etc.) there are definitely some wackos, but they are no more less guided by special interests than the existing Sound Transit board. West Seattle Link was guided by a special interest, it is just that the interest was regional. In an open election, the newspapers — even the Seattle Times — does a good job eliminating such riff-raff.

        It is common for people running for these positions to tout their expertise. For example, a school board member may be an educator, or at the very least, a PTA chair. (These are the folks that get the endorsements.) The ST board has no one like that. There are plenty of people with transit skills (each agency has planners, for example) but not a single one is on the board.

        I would also be OK if we had an appointed board. We need people on the board who have a clue as to what they are doing.

      5. Tom, you complain about the makeup of the Board, but what different decisions would you have made considering subarea equity?

        My subarea has subsidized N. King Co. to the tune of $2 billion when including $275 million for DSTT2. Plus our trains — on our dime — will increase frequency from DT to Northgate to 3 minutes when East Link is limited to 8 minutes.

        I agree with your proposal to eliminate the subsidy to DSTT2 by the four other subareas (including extensions for our projects we can afford in order for WSBLE to meet the debt ceiling) and let only N. King Co. Board members vote on Seattle projects (which are the stations at 130th, Graham St. and WSBLE), but I think that will be necessary anyway if Seattle passes a $7 billion SB5528 levy to complete these projects.

        It isn’t the non-King Co. Board members who are driving the decisions, it is project cost in N. King Co. (after all East Link cost $5.5 billion to Redmond), ST’s underestimated cost estimates, and inadequate revenue in N. King Co.

      6. Ross, most school boards don’t control 20 billion dollar piggybanks ripe for rape by industrial interests. Remember “The Senator From the Pennsylvania Railroad”, “The Senator from Standard Oil”? When megabucks are on the table and all that’s needed is an election to get access to them, the corrupt will “invest” the relative peanuts to ensure a “profitable” result.

        An appointed board with oversight from the electeds of the region might be a great compromise: get people on the ST Board who know something about transit and its operations to deep-dive when the construction flacks go off the deep-end.

        Daniel, if you had kept up, you’d know that I pretty much agree with what both you and Ross advocate: stop at Lynnwood and Federal Way. “North Snohomish” would just be served by a strong network of buses, but Tacoma and Puyallup would get all-day Sounder and some sort of quality access to Sea-Tac. That’s their main ask of SoundTransit.

        I don’t have an idea what that might be.

      7. “Tacoma and Puyallup would get all-day Sounder”

        What’s the threshold for “all-day” service? That determines how many time slots we’re talking about. Before covid Sounder had “almost” all-day service with a 1-2 hour gaps in the late morning and early afternoon. Some like myself have suggested a goal of half-hourly service. These timeslots would be expensive because BNSF has a monopoly on them. I wouldn’t assume that cancelling the Tacoma Dome extension and Pierce’s share of the tunnels would be enough for all those timeslots. Also, the Port called and said that any loss of freight capacity and jobs.

        “some sort of quality access to Sea-Tac”

        What does that mean? On the one hand, there’s a technical question of, “What’s wrong with the 574?” What frequency would make it quality? Does it have too many stops? On the other hand, there’s an aesthetics issue: is it really about the convenience of the trip or the shininess of a train? Would employers be willing to locate to Tacoma if it has a frequent express bus to the airport instead of rail like the cool cities have?

      8. Mike, “all-day Sounder” would require double-tracking the UP between Black River Junction and Tacoma Junction, with the diversion of a significant number of BNSF freights headed to or from Tacoma and south to the UP trackage. ST should own the second track so that it could keep the wheelage fees reasonable.

        Make the 574 twenty-four hour, skip Federal Way and increase the frequency and have it run through downtown Tacoma as a start on good airport service. If that’s not good enough, make a Sounder stop at BAR.

        Also add direct Tacoma-Bellevue service via Federal Way and the STRIDE stations.

      9. Ross, most school boards don’t control 20 billion dollar piggybanks ripe for rape by industrial interests

        Yeah, but ports do. We are talking huge bucks, and most of it silent to the public. If ever there is a commission that is ripe for the sort of thing you fear, it is the port.

        But take a look at commission president’s endorsements: https://www.ryanforport.com/full-endorsements. He has endorsements from The Seattle Times, The Stranger, the Sierra Club, the Transit Riders Union, and damn near every local Democratic organization. Does that look like the type of guy you are afraid of? Of course not. There might have been someone running against him that was in the pocket of big business, but he certainly wasn’t. Even the losers look pretty good: https://info.kingcounty.gov/kcelections/Vote/contests/candidates.aspx?cid=6545&lang=en-US&pamphletson=true. I’m pretty sure I voted for the other guy, but Degginger isn’t an idiot, nor is he in the pocket of big business (or if he is, he is doing an excellent job of hiding it).

        You are basically suggesting that someone will run for office and be able to fool the entire region (or whatever districts elect them) in terms of their motivation. I just don’t buy it.

    3. Oh surprise! ST is late again. Once that the whitest parts of the state are built, I doubt there will be a ST4.

      We are only good at building highways

      1. We’re good at building highways?

        Galloping Gerdie, the I-90 portion that sank, and Bertha have entered the chat.

      2. The same type of construction issues have happened recently to highways, too.

        The big difference is that the likes of Daniel, Dori, and their ilk aren’t banging the big drum demanding the project be stopped, nor having a re-vote, because… well…
        We don’t get to vote on big highway projects.

        The Roads guys are riding free on my nickel.

    4. My memory isn’t exact, but when ST2 passed in 2008 I think Lynnwood Link was scheduled for 2020, East Link in 2021 (to Redmond Tech), and Federal Way Link in 2023 (to 272nd).

      After that, East Link slipped a year during planning because the stakeholders demanded so many alternatives in south Bellevue, and the Bellevue City Council and Kemper Freeman kept obstructing it. It slipped again in the covid recession or just before it.

      Another East Link milestone was the turn track at Intl Dist that made the tunnel incompatible for buses. East Link couldn’t start a year of testing until that was built even if the track and stations were finished. The convention center expansion took out the other end of the tunnel. The convention center expansion was going to take place in the late 2000s but the 2008 recession postponed it. The turn track was scheduled to be installed in 2019; I don’t know if it was ever earlier. Untimately they both happened in early 2020 if I remember, just before the covid shutdowns. Or did the convention center expansion kick buses out of the tunnel in early 2019?

      Lynnwood Link slipped to to ordinary cost overruns. It may have slipped a year due to the 2008 recession too.

      Federal Way Link was hit hardest by the 2008 recession because South King has the lowest tax base. It was truncated from 272nd to 200th, then later re-extended to 240th in 2023. 200th opened in the mid 2010s. In January 2016 they were still planning to truncate ST Express at KDM (240th) . In ST3 everything south of 200th was folded into the 320th extension and postponed a year to 2024.

      1. Your memory is pretty good Mike. Here’s the Sound Transit 2 news release: https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/news-events/news-releases/november-2008-mass-transit-ballot-measure-provides-near

        The original published dates were:
        – Lynnwood by 2023
        – East Link to Overlake Transit Center by 2021
        – Federal Way (S 272nd St) by 2023

        The big items that I remember delaying East Link previously were the path through South Bellevue along with the downtown tunnel and how to pay for it.

      2. Yes, at one time ST asserted that East Link would end joint operations; STB covered it in the early teens. But later, ST figured out how to construct it without ending joint operations. It was delayed until 2020; it was termed Connections 2020. The East Link work did close the bus layover just south of IDS. The county sale of CPS to the WSCC ended joint operations prematurely. Joint operations could have continued until Link headway was too short; at six-minute Link headway, there were 45 bus trips per hour per direction. Link headway is now longer; why? The proponents wanted the end in 2018; Councilmember Balducci led the Council to delay it until 2019. The WSCC proponents and ST used circular illogic to set their dates. The Seattle Council had a debate between March and September; SDOT estimated they could not get the surface improvements ready in March. Councilmember Rob Johnson led the March five-vote majority; Mike O’Brien led the losing four-vote September side. So, joint operations ended in 2019; downtown transit was slower and less attractive; DSTT service had longer waits and was less attractive; ridership was significantly lower in 2019 than it had been in 2018. All before Covid.

      3. “at six-minute Link headway, there were 45 bus trips per hour per direction. Link headway is now longer; why?”

        Because ST never promised six-minute headways long-term before East Link starts. The six-minute headways were a temporary expediency to increase capacity between the end of the ride-free area and the start of U-Link or the arrival of the Northgate Link trains.

      4. Here’s what I couldn’t remember and why 2020 was in my mind: “Northward expansion of light rail from the University of Washington to Northgate by 2020, with a further extension to Lynnwood by 2023.” Northgate Link slipped from 2020 to 2021.

      5. Promises? Short headway and waits attract more ridership and help CT and Metro with network changes. They are good; waiting is what intending riders like least. Several consecutive ST service implementation plans showed the six-minute headway continuing until East Link when two eight-minute lines, East and South, would be joined for a four-minute North line. The Link headway and waits were increased with Covid.

  2. Do we know how much of this mistake will be paid for by the contractor? Why did it take so long to notice the error? I’m inclined to blame the contractors for this but Sound Transit should have been inspecting their work. This is just more red meat for the anti-transit crowd, hopefully we can find a way to salvage the leadership at ST and get them back on track (pun intended).

  3. This is very disappointing, but I’m really surprised in the huge jump from -48 days of float to what seems to be an additional six months all at once. Is that 6 month delay really new info or have the project float estimates been bad for a while?

    If Lynnwood and Federal Way still open in 2024, that’s going to be a huge year for Link. Hopefully they are not also delayed.

    1. According to the report up above, Lynnwood Link has 75 days of float left for their opening in July 17, 2024 and Federal Way Link is reporting 97 days of
      project float remaining for an opening in December 2024. They’ve eaten up a huge amount of the float, but it seems likely they will make it, as this includes the delays caused by the concrete strike. For Federal Way they think they can get back some of the float. It is weird to think that all of these projects (including the extension to downtown Redmond) may open within a few weeks of each other.

    2. My drive-by observation is that the I-90 segment (especially the bridge) has been in “pause” for many months. It would seem that there is some reason that this has been happening which is still not fully revealed.

      While the delay doesn’t surprise me, I am surprised and concerned that there are reasons for the delay that still are not being made fully public. I won’t feel confident about the opening date until I see a test train regularly on the Lake Washington Bridge.

      Finally, I’ll note that light rail projects in San Francisco and Los Angeles have been similarly plagued by delays that have pushed opening dates back a few years (as opposed to a few months here). I have to wonder if there are structural reasons for these delays like sloppy oversight, contractor neglect leading to errors, major rail engineering companies monopolizing the marketplace with unrealistic schedules and budgets and similar systemic problems.

    3. My experience with projects with issues this leads me to believe that because there was some major slippage in some essential work, all the other managers realized it was a chance to ease pressure, and offered up higher estimates to allow for greater chance of success. These estimates lead to a new evaluation of dependencies and that lead to more padding. This is good and bad. Good because this may result in higher quality work, bad because they probably wouldn’t have slipped this much if they had been pressured not to.

  4. If the I-90 bridge turns out to be a bear to get ready due to surprises in testing, fixing construction flaws etc…hear me out, they should go ahead and open Mercer Island-Overlake first. And then when ready, open the west connection. No reason to hold it all up. An all-at-once, 10-station opening would probably be a mess anyway.

    1. It would be good to see ST doing something like opening part of the line if it is ready.

      However, if they can’t come up with a technical reason not to do it, they’ll probably say something like “the voters didn’t approve a partial line and therefore we can’t do it”.

    2. I could see a scenario like this happening. I’m thinking that ST will do this if the bridge ends up taking longer. It would give them better PR to say that they weren’t hugely late on delivery. The demand may be lacking — so the frequency may be less.

      Given Mercer Island as a hit button, they might just run from South Bellevue Station to Redmond Tech Station.

      I’ve wondered how smoothly the reversal of trains will be at Northgate too. Plus, the signal and signage changes will be needed from CID to Northgate.

      Before the pandemic, I wondered if ST would also open 2 Line between Judkins Park and Northgate early as well. It seems an easier effort to get 2 Line signals and real-time signage working first — unlike opening the whole line at once.

    3. Supposedly they can’t do it because of electrical reasons. But if they complete the electrical work (which shouldn’t be behind schedule) there should be absolutely no reason they couldn’t open East Link from RTC to MI because the system was designed to turn back trains at MI in the event of I-90 bridge closures. The next canard might be they can’t do it because OMF-E lacks some of the capability of the main OMF. I’d hope major maintenance wouldn’t be common in the first year of operation and if it’s required they can (and have) trucked the light rail cars. They should also have extra rolling stock since it doesn’t require as large a fleet to run the same frequency on a shorter line.

      1. An excellent refutation of ST’s possible excuses. Thanks, Bernie.

        I think it might be a “hit”.

    4. go ahead and open Mercer Island-Overlake first

      That would definitely have its merits. I think you would hold off on any bus restructure until the train can go to Seattle. Given that, I would probably just go Downtown Bellevue to Overlake. It seems like there would be very few riders going between Downtown Bellevue and Mercer Island, especially since the 550 will follow that route (until the train gets to Seattle). But there should be sufficient people on the eastern section to warrant opening before the rest of it.

      1. Oops, I should have read Bernie’s post about turning back at Mercer Island first. Yeah, that is the big reason they would have to go that far.

      2. If they ran from RTC to MI they could nuke the 550. It has anemic ridership now anyway. Then increase frequency of the 554 to match East Link. Or, Express route the 554 to DT (skip MI) and use the hours from the 550 for a dedicated Link shuttle/bridge from MI to DT via Rainer/Jackson. Extra points for timed transfers.

        If there’s decent ridership BTC to RTC then some subset of that ridership at least will be interested in going to DT Seattle. And with parking rates going up at SEA more people are going to want to use Link to the airport. Plus you don’t have the worry of getting back from your trip only to find you no longer have a catalytic converter.

      3. check the track diagrams; turnback operations would require a crossover.

  5. This is annoying, but pretty much every rail project in the country is behind schedule and it could be a lot worse. Just look at Honolulu…

  6. When will the construction around u district station be done so that bus routes can finally operatethere as designed?

    1. The overhead trolley wire for the 44 is installed, not sure if it’s energized but it seems like it’s getting close. I don’t ride Link often so the best part about it will be avoiding the left-turn-of-death at 15th, which is exacerbated by Metro running empty 60′ buses on the 20 which for some reason have to follow the same detour as the 44 despite not being trolley buses.

      1. The 20 serves the same east-of-I-5 neighborhood as does the 44, so it makes sense for them to share stops at the connection to the trunk line.

  7. Al, at the risk of being too “political”, I’ll tell you what the problem is: contracting. Yes, yes, State Highway Departments have a reputation for “featherbedding”, but they rarely under-build. They have to live with the consequences when they screw up.

    Contractors, however, have a huge incentive to under-build as much as they can: fewer materials and worker-hours for the same contract balloons the Net Income. And of course, they’re off to the next bid job.

    ST should have put together its own tunneling team and hired a core of fifty or so heavy construction leads to build the stations. It would have cost less, even with the state retirement and health care costs, and the result would be FAR better.

    1. I agree. Contracting is a big reason why so much of what “the government” builds is so expensive. Since it really isn’t the government building it, it is a contractor. Often it is just a matter of doing all the paperwork that other companies don’t want to do.

      A great example is Obamacare. My guess is IBM could have done a much better job building the Obamacare website, but instead it went to a Canadian company. Instead of costing $93 million, it cost over $2 billion. And it sucked when it opened, giving the public a negative view of the project. It should have been done open source (with a team of government workers contributing and overseeing any third party contributions).

      There is no exact equivalent when it comes to construction, but shoddy work at low prices (or high prices because no one wants to deal with the paperwork) is common in the governing/contracting world.

      1. Yes, for sure on Obamacare and generally on everything else. People without skills are embarrassingly envious of those who have them, and are particularly jealous of government employees who they think are getting a featherbed ride. They’ve been told that by every Republican since Dwight Eisenhower — who understood how important expertise actually is to a large endeavor — left the Presidency.

        So, to get public buy-in on needed projects that benefit everyone, Democrats have to agree to these criminal “contracting” fiascoes. America gets exactly what its hard-hearted, selfish, suspicious soul deserves from a government it doesn’t trust and resents mightily.

  8. This is why my first priority would have been to put light rail along I-405 from Bothell or at least Kirkland to Tukwila, leaving the I-90 express lanes for the express buses that cruised there for years. An I-405 alignment could have been open sooner, in stages, and with less complications than crossing a large lake has shown.

    1. FWIW, we are using that exact logic on 405 itself … a rail line on the ERC may (or may not) have been better than Stride, but Stride is clearly a massively cheaper and quicker Mode to launch due to existing & underway WSDOT investments.

    2. It would have had much lower ridership. East Link connects the two largest business districts in the region and has most of the other higher-ridership locations in the Eastside. 405 Link would have one dense center and the rest where transit ridership and acceptance is minimal, lower than anywhere on East Link. ST considered Bellevue-Renton light rail and said it would take decades for a sufficient ridership base to emerge. It went with Stride instead as an intermediate measure to pre-build that base and verify its potential.

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