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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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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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.

News roundup: coming back

1173 (118X) and 3713 (119X) onboard the MV Cathlamet

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First youth ORCA now free

4 ORCA cards

Starting June 1st, the first youth ORCA a child gets is free with proof of age. Subsequent cards (to replace ones lost or stolen) still cost $5. This now matches the policy for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit.

Youth cards are available at customer service offices, or more conveniently via mail.

This continues the gradual ratchet of reducing and eliminating fares without threatening the core of revenue provided by employer passes. Through low income fares, ultra-low-income fares, free passes for Seattle Public Schools students, and periodic ORCA giveaways, there are many ways to chip away at what for most is already a modest fare bill.

Charter Amendment contains good surprises”>Alaskan Viaduct Homeless

Homelessness is a complicated problem for which STB, with its narrow transit-and-land-use focus, would not claim to propose a full solution. [1] The proposal in Seattle Charter Amendment 29 (“Compassion Seattle“), which may be on the ballot later this year, attracts the usual complaints from those who insist on zero tolerance or zero coercion. Money for housing is good, though unfunded spending mandates aren’t so good.

But, like any worthwhile op-ed, this anti-amendment argument ($) by three former Councilmembers gives us enough information to learn there is at least one piece that I feel qualified to say is very good:

· CA 29 waives the land use code to site housing projects. Zoning, height limits, setbacks, greenbelt designations, notice and “due process” will not apply. This means new housing units or multifamily projects could be added in all zones, including single family.

and indeed, right there in the fifth bullet of Section 1:

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The future is condos

Seattle - big new Eastlake view condo building

Heidi Groover takes a break from the scary ” home” price beat to point out that it isn’t all that hard to buy a condo in Seattle ($).

There is a lot of media directed at people shopping for single family homes, but the number of possible houses within a certain distance of Seattle is finite. It’s natural for a growing metropolitan area to have a center city where single family homes become rarer, and the only way out is to allow denser forms of housing. Despite shortcomings,, Groover’s reporting suggests policy is basically working to provide ownership opportunities.

More reporting like this, please. Single-family homes will be a less important part of the market, and statistics that reflect that will be critical to understanding how our policy mix is working.

News roundup: do better

Metro South Base

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News roundup: part 2 of 2

A @SoundTransit Link Train  Stretching Under Intl District Station Skylight

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News roundup: part 1 of 2


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Public input on ST3 realignment this week

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:

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News roundup: limited edition

Pioneer Square

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Northgate Link opens Oct. 2nd

Airport Link Opening Ceremony (4198862959)

On Friday, Sound Transit announced that Northgate, Roosevelt, and U-District stations will open for service on Saturday, October 2nd. There is no word about any celebration for what, with luck, will be a nice symbol of our emergence from the pandemic. We might not get one, with ST having endured bad-faith critiques about marketing expenses for the U-Link opening, and potential public health restrictions lingering.

It is a cause for celebration. The U-District is an obvious place to put a subway station. Roosevelt is the rare fashionable neighborhood where some growth is legal. Northgate is simultaneously a transportation hub, a blank slate for major redevelopment, and a logical interim terminus for buses coming from further north. Link will provide an alternative to the very worst bit of I-5 congestion, 5 minutes to the U-District and 13 to Westlake.

Better yet, this is the first major Link deliverable from the Sound Transit 2 vote in 2008. It arrives only one year after the proposed date at election time (2020). Combined with East Link 1-2 years late (with City of Bellevue dithering) in 2022 or 2023, and Lynnwood and Federal Way also a year late in 2024, ST2 is going to have an excellent delivery record after weathering an unprecedented recession, far better than Sound Transit 1 and a testament to the abilities of former CEO Joni Earl (2001-2015).

ST3, in year 5, is already in quite a bit of trouble on these terms. Thanks to poor cost estimation, the most likely outcome is some major projects suffering a couple of years delay, and either a large new infusion of cash or the other projects sliding over a decade.

News roundup: fresher air

KCM 4602 (Proterra) at Eastgate P&R

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Delay ST3 parking to save the rest?

Projected years of delay to ST3 projects if parking is the lowest priority (NP = No Parking)

As Sound Transit grapples with escalating costs for ST3, one emerging option focuses on delaying parking construction to prioritize transit. In the past month and a half, we have:

Delaying parking has a number of advantages. It allows ST to complete the “lines on the map” that captivated most voters with the least delay. Parking is an expensive way to acquire riders, averaging $128,000 per net new space in ST3. By comparison, upzoning and selling the land to a market-rate developer adds riders and is revenue positive.

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News roundup: return on investment

Sounder at Lakewood Station

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News roundup: access

Technicolor of a Skagit Transit Bus

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