Even as Sound Transit figures out how to deal with a revenue shortfall, it’s warning that future projects such as West Seattle to Ballard light rail will cost a lot more than originally expected. The ST Board’s Executive Committee was told today about what board chair Kent Keel described as “unprecedented cost increases”: Among them, the cost estimate for the West Seattle-Ballard light-rail extension have risen by more than 50 percent – it’s now estimated to cost more than $12 billion, up from $7 billion when the ST3 ballot measure went to voters. The numbers were part of a presentation to the committee about revised estimates for multiple projects. Here’s the slide deck:
The West Seattle-Ballard project overall is becoming “more complex,” ST’s Don Billen told the board; his part of the presentation starts 49 minutes into the meeting video. (You can read the accompanying memo to the board here.) These are still rough estimates, since the project remains relatively early in the planning process, but the increase is attributed mostly to the increased cost of property acquisition – since development has continued on the potentially needed parcels – and construction.
As an example of the former, the presentation cited the potential need for right-of-way on the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner, including the site of the two-building Legacy Partners project that’s now under construction, if that site were chosen for the Junction station (sites further west drew more attention during the public-comment process). The cost of that site, if needed, was previously estimated at $76 million – and now estimated at $252 million. (Board member Dow Constantine, the West Seattle-residing King County Executive, inferred underground development may look more attractive as a result of numbers like that.)
“While these numbers are sobering, they’re not catastrophic,” said CEO Peter Rogoff, promising that ST is still committed to all the projects. But overall, the increased cost estimate for West Seattle-Ballard (which includes a new downtown tunnel) and other ST projects is so dramatic that ST plans to hire a consultant for an “independent cost review” to be complete before April – as ST continues its “realignment” process, to decide how projects’ schedules will have to change because of the funding gap. (The West Seattle completion date already has been pushed back one year to 2031.) Board members are expected to get a closer look at the “affordability gap” when they meet for a workshop on realignment two weeks from today (January 21st). In the meantime, ST is still working on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the West Seattle-Ballard project, due out later this year.