(Added: Sound Transit meeting video)
Right now, Sound Transit is looking at a possible $11 billion “affordability gap” between the projected cost of what it has planned for the next two decades – including West Seattle light rail – and the projected funding it can count on.
So – as we’ve been reporting since last June – ST is moving toward “realignment” this summer – potentially delaying or downsizing some of the projects for which construction has not begun.
On Thursday, ST staff presented the board with “illustrative scenarios” – stressing repeatedly that these were NOT recommendations or even potential precise options – just the type of scenario that could help cover the gap. Here’s the full slide deck:
They started the discussion with a quick recap of finances, complicated by the January news that not only are revenues down, but projected project costs are up. An independent consultant is reviewing those projected project costs right now, and while the final report isn’t expected until April, they’re presenting a status report at next week’s meeting of the board’s Executive Committee.
Potential state and federal funding increases were recapped by CEO Paul Rogoff and chief financial officer =Tracy Butler. She also pointed out what ST could pursue with voter approval in its jurisdiction (parts of King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties) – an increased debt limit, and/or a $2/month employee head tax.
At that point, board member Claudia Balducci, chair of the King County Council, spoke up to say what she’s said before – she feels this is all premature, that it is way too soon to make huge decisions (from changing projects to possibly asking voters to approve a tax) when the future financial picture is very much in motion.
The presentation proceeded after that. ST’s Don Billen showed four tiers into which the projects could be categorized – or phases of projects, with potential delay timelines. See the full slide deck above for the full systemwide look; of note for our area, one possible scenario could involve completing light rail to Delridge first, then adding Delridge-Junction a few years later.
Right now, pending “realignment,” light rail to West Seattle is supposed to open in 2031, a one-year delay from what the ST3 ballot measure envisioned. ST staff said the potential delays in the “illustrative scenarios” are from the original ST3 timeline, so a two-year delay, for example, would mean 2032.
WHAT’S NEXT: The aforementioned Executive Committee discussion of the project-cost review status is set for next Thursday (March 4th), 10:30 am. Watch for the agenda and viewing info here. The realignment decision is expected in summer. Before then, ST promises “public engagement” this spring.