Will the light-rail plan for West Seattle be delayed or even downsized? The Sound Transit board is planning to make that decision in July, along with deciding the future of other not-yet-under-construction projects. Right now, they’re in the process of deciding how to decide. The board spent three hours in a workshop Thursday centered on what one member described as “brainstorming.” Here’s the video:
The board was planning on realignment even before seeing those recent numbers that showed a sharp increase in cost estimates for upcoming projects including the West Seattle light-rail extension (which is currently projected to open in 2031, one year later than the original plan that voters approved in 2016). As with most if not all public entities, ST’s revenue is suffering from the COVID crunch, and that makes realignment mandatory. Discussion topics at the workshop included not just options for making up some of that lost funding, but also for cutting costs without slashing projects, as shown in the slide deck (below and here):
Potential options are many – reduce the scope, suspend, or even delete projects, or increase revenue via raising fares and fees, raising the car-rental tax or raising their debt capacity, although that would require voters’ approval. Board member Claudia Balducci, current chair of the King County Council, argued that it seems way too early in the process to start deliberating potential tax increases’ merits or lack of them. She suggested the board might be “rushing to a solution … when we haven’t defined the problem.” The idea of possibly dropping projects got strong voices of opposition, as the board’s vice chair, King County Executive Dow Constantine, noted the “overwhelming” voter support for the full plan. He also noted that ST has reason to hope for more federal funding, given that a pro-transit administration has just taken over the White House. And board member Jenny Durkan, mayor of Seattle, urged her colleagues to keep their eyes on how our region will look 10, 20 years from now, as ST continues working to deliver “the entire network.”
WHAT’S NEXT: At the board’s monthly meeting, 1:30 pm this Thursday, they’ll talk with the consultant who’s going to review the cost-increase estimates. The agenda includes information on how to watch/comment. Meantime, your role in the realignment decision is currently scheduled to happen in April, when ST will ask for public feedback.