Swift picks a Link extension

Community Transit

After almost four months of consideration, Community Transit announced that it has picked the route to extend the Swift Blue Line to intersect with Link. It will maintain a stop at Aurora Village Transit Center, as shown above. Alternatives would have continued on Aurora, skipping the transit center.

Meridian is a residential street less likely to experience traffic. Survey respondents prioritized “maintaining bus-to-bus connections at Aurora Village Transit Center.” However, most, but not all, routes that serve the Transit Center would still have had easy transfer points had Swift continued on Aurora. It’s ultimately hard to gauge the transfer opportunities until Metro chooses a service plan after Lynnwood Link.

Moreover, an Aurora Avenue/185th routing would have been more direct, used existing and planned BAT lanes, served a wider variety of land uses, and conveniently connected them to the Link station. Some of these benefits assume that CT would place relatively expensive Swift stations to serve riders to which it is not accountable.

While the relative travel times with 2024 traffic patterns are uncertain, it appears the speed advantages of an Aurora alignment are more likely to be more important for future CT riders than the transfer opportunities, despite the survey conclusion. While by no means a catastrophe for anyone, most future riders are likely to regret this decision.

Photo Tour: Lynnwood Link, quarantine edition

The state’s message to motorists on Interstate 5

It’s been 9 months since Sound Transit broke ground on Lynnwood Link, the first step towards a light rail spine in Snohomish County. While the past few months have gone in an unexpected direction, there has still been visible progress along the I-5 corridor from Northgate to Lynnwood.

As with past photo tours, these shots were taken in the past few weeks from areas that are open to the public, but such access may be changed as construction continues. As we are still under stay home, stay healthy orders, please follow health guidance and limit trips to essential journeys. For the record, this photo tour was completed using a personal vehicle instead of short bus rides between the future stations.

Continue reading “Photo Tour: Lynnwood Link, quarantine edition”

Federal Way Link cost estimate to increase by $460.3 million

Guideway for the Angle Lake extension under construction in 2014. Credit: Atomic Taco

Sound Transit staff will inform the agency’s board today that the Federal Way Link extension’s official cost estimate will increase from $2.088 billion to $2.549 billion. The notice comes a year after the agency announced similar budgeting problems for the Lynnwood Link extension.

According to Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson, the Federal Way cost increase is driven by the same issues that drove up Lynnwood’s budget. The Puget Sound region’s gobsmacking real estate market has increased the price of land acquisition. Right of way, stations, and parking garages are all much more expensive than the agency’s 2015-16 cost estimates predicted.

Construction is similarly pricey, as the development boom has created a hypercompetitive contracting bid market, especially for technically sophisticated projects like light rail. According to construction firm RLB, the U.S. average for construction costs increased from 2017 to 2018. Seattle had one of the highest local cost increases, trailing only Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles among major markets.

Cost reduction and mitigation

Fortunately, ST was able to reduce the Lynnwood cost increases by $200 million to $500 million. Cost cutting measures included removing down escalators, changing the concrete used to build stations and guideways, and shrinking platforms. Similar mitigation could presumably happen for the Federal Way project.

ST will also introduce a new cost cutting method: combining the design and build contracts for Federal Way into a single bid. According to Thompson, ST is confident that the new bid method will reduce costs, but said it was too premature to say how much money the new bidding process will save.

If current real estate and construction trends continue, more cost increase announcements are likely to follow.

Correction: The Lynnwood project’s cost increase was decreased by $200 million, not to $200 million.