LIGHT RAIL: Sound Transit board continues ‘brainstorming’ for realignment plan

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.

15 Replies to "LIGHT RAIL: Sound Transit board continues 'brainstorming' for realignment plan"

  • AA January 24, 2021 (11:24 pm)

    ST budget crunch- I may be misremembering, but I thought these projects were funded by the significant hike in car tabs. Unclear how the pandemic would be impacting that revenue stream, unless a whole lot of people aren’t paying their tabs.

  • CS January 25, 2021 (7:14 am)

    If construction is delayed due to this funding shortfall, good thing we didn’t tie the WS Bridge’s future to ST’s light rail plans. I’m all for lightrail coming to WS, but leaders rightly understood we need our bridge back.

  • M January 25, 2021 (8:31 am)

    Wish I also got to “decide how to decide” regarding paying my ridiculous car tab fee. 

  • HS January 25, 2021 (9:12 am)

    Well, it’s exasperating but interesting. I’m very curious how potential federal infrastructure monies might help our region. I imagine by July we will all have a better idea if those federal dollars will be available.

  • natinstl January 25, 2021 (11:35 am)

    Sound Transit is never on budget so the projected shortfall they already announced for WS will probably be double or triple in another year or two and if people continue to work from  home more I really can’t see how you justify the cost of ST coming to WS. They seem to be thinking the feds are coming through when every state in the country needs major transportation projects done, especially bridges.  They’re going to keep coming back  for more and more tax increases. 

    • Richard Bullington January 30, 2021 (11:25 am)

      Acctually U-Link came in well under the actual budget at the commencement of the extension project. Ditto East Link under construction now.  It’s roughly $900 million under budget with all contracts let.

      Now it’s true that these budgeted amounts are WAY higher than the Blue Sky “guesstimates” from pre-ST1 days.  But that’s pretty much the trajectory for any large construction project in an uabanized area, be it highways, sewers or transitways.  

  • Martin January 25, 2021 (11:51 am)

    Due to covid related revenue shortfall and cost escalations, ST3 has a budget gap of over $11B, that calls for some major realignment. Federal programs have thus far only covered up to 17.5% of the project cost. Board member Balducci called for “value engineering”. That’s exactly what SkyLink is, it could provide West Seattle with the same mobility earlier than currently planned and save Sound Transit $1-2B and avoid some of the delays and cuts of projects.

  • Bob Lang January 25, 2021 (12:18 pm)

    Only good idea I’ve seen in a year is this skylink.  Great idea.  Less displacement of residents.  Realistic timetable. 

  • Rick January 25, 2021 (1:00 pm)

    Appears to be more of a brain fart.

  • Buh-bye West Seattle Light Rail January 25, 2021 (4:07 pm)

    It does not look like the West Seattle Segment is going to score high enough.  It would be nice to know who they think is going to be the third-party funder(s) for more than 25% of the cost of the West Seattle extension.  Unless Sound Transit has something up their sleeve, I believe that Ballard Link will make the cut but not West Seattle.  But, it is a political process so “scoring rubrics” can change again.

  • JAG January 25, 2021 (10:11 pm)

    I like the skylink idea but is it possible to replace it with the rail without having to restart the whole planning review EIS process we have already spent years on? And any word if ST would be open to it? They like to bring up arguments like this is not what voters voted when it is something the community wants which is pretty comical considering the tab tax vote. 

  • eddiew January 27, 2021 (9:53 am)

    The SkyLink text estimates a 14-running time between Delridge and the SODO Link station.  Does not Seattle have the power to provide that for bus routes?  Today, SDOT has provided priority on the low level bridge; they could provide priority on the repaired high level bridge; the SDOT South Lander Street overcrossing is open.

  • RossB January 27, 2021 (12:21 pm)

    In my opinion, the best option is to build the tunnel first, from the Stadium Station to Elliot. Make it for both buses and trains. At first it will be just buses. Eventually (if they can afford to run a line from Ballard and West Seattle) they will kick out the buses and run trains. (They will never run together). Then make (relatively cheap) improvements so that the buses can go even faster to get downtown. For example, I could see making the Alaskan Way Viaduct a bit wider, and adding a lane to the outside, along with a ramp down to the SoDo busway. That shouldn’t cost a fortune (a couple hundred million, similar to previous work) and it would mean that once a bus would be in its own lane from West Seattle through downtown. This could probably be built ten, if not twenty years before light rail gets built. It is worth noting that the original plans called for West Seattle Link to be connected to a new downtown tunnel in 2035. Revenue estimates assume an across the board delay of 5 years. Further delay (caused by cost overruns) would push the project well into the middle of the century.

  • Marfaun January 31, 2021 (4:53 pm)

    1. Since 2015, West Seattle Transportation Coalition has urged SDOT to widen the exit lane & overpass from WS bridge to SR 99 N, and create a bus-only lane from WS Junction to downtown.  It would cost a pretty penny, but give WS direct bus access to downtown.  But SDOT said no — too expensive.2.  WS is also expecting a grade-separated pathway to downtown — or near it, via ST light rail.  SkyLink aerial gondola ( could provide that by 2025 — to SODO & the Int’l. District, with a seamless transfer by escalator to SODO tunnel (whenever ST builds it — 2035 or 2040?), and the current I.D. light rail line.  Cost:  80% to 90% less than light rail.  It would enable ST to deliver the pathway ahead of schedule & under budget.3.  With budget shortfall and reassessment of ST projects, WS Link scores low on the cost-to-ridership, equity & environmental scales,.  ST has already delayed WS Link until at least 2031, maybe til 2035.  At worst, ST may scrap it.   If we want a high capacity transit alternative that would score high on cost-to-ridership, equity & environment,  we’re better off building one that will carry more passengers than ST forecasts from WS in 2040, for 80%-90% less money.  That alternative is SkyLink.   It can can carry 4500 passengers per hour (more than ST’s predicted 27K-35K boardings per day), and not cost ST $300M-$500M /mile, not displace businesses and up to 200 Youngstown & Avalon residents, not interfere with Port of Seattle, maritime and Nucor operations, and not take 8 years to build.  

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