One week after revealing new, sharply higher cost estimates for expanding light rail to West Seattle and Ballard (WSB coverage here), Sound Transit went public with another set of numbers, showing that the cost of tunneling into The Junction is suddenly a lot closer to the cost of the default elevated line. These numbers were presented to ST’s System Expansion Committee on Thursday, along with the revised cost estimates first shown to the Executive Committee last week; Thursday’s meeting video is above, and the full slide deck is here. Here are the new West Seattle tunnel-related numbers that were presented:
Those numbers reflect the estimated cost of the entire West Seattle segment, not just the station itself. The new estimate showing as little as $100 million difference between running elevated or tunneling to the heart of The Junction is a big change – previously, the difference was projected to be about $700 million, as shown in this slide from a 2019 presentation:
Whatever the cost differential is, it would require “third-party funding,” but Seattle Mayor and ST board member Jenny Durkan said during the Thursday presentation that she was “heartened” to see the new estimates, observing that they now had a better idea of what extra funding would be needed.
The biggest looming issue, though, remains the gap between ST’s pandemic-shrunken revenues and even the original price tags of the West Seattle-Ballard extension and other projects approved by voters in the ST3 ballot measure. So ST remains on a path to “realignment” of its plans, with a decision due later this year; board members have a workshop planned this Thursday. ST also is proceeding with an independent review of the new cost estimates, expected to be complete in April.
WHAT ELSE IS NEXT: The West Seattle-Ballard project remains in the environmental-study phase, with its Draft Environmental Impact Statement now expected in the middle of this year, opening a new public-comment period. Final routing and station-location decisions are expected in 2023. The extension’s projected launch date already has been pushed back a year to 2031, a date that the upcoming “realignment” could move further down the track.
P.S. You can catch up on what’s proposed, what’s being studied, and how the process works by checking out ST’s “online open house.”
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