WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Build in phases? ‘Illustrative scenarios’ shown to Sound Transit board

(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.

10 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Build in phases? 'Illustrative scenarios' shown to Sound Transit board"

  • Al King February 26, 2021 (2:29 pm)

    What about fares??? I’m betting the fares they’ll charge will come nowhere close. Are they afraid that if they charged fares that actually came close to covering costs that nobody would ride??

    • Jeff February 26, 2021 (4:25 pm)

      And if roads were funded with vehicle registration fees and gas taxes instead of (with a few exceptions) the general fund, nobody could afford to drive.   Neither point is particularly relevant. 

    • skeeter February 27, 2021 (9:58 am)

      Al King – the majority of our road costs are paid for with sales taxes, property taxes, and B&O taxes.  Believe me – the most subsidized form of transportation is the single occupant vehicle.  By far.    

  • Matt P February 26, 2021 (2:33 pm)

    And every delay means the project costs more because of inflation land acquisition costs.

  • DB40 February 26, 2021 (4:21 pm)

    Blah, blah, blah, blah…BLAH!…blah, blah, blah…BLAH!…blah, blah, blah…ca-ching! That’ll be another billion dollars! Blah, blah, blah…

  • Joe Z February 26, 2021 (4:26 pm)

    Enough with the delays–release the draft EIS already and keep the process moving forward. Voters approved light rail over 4 years ago. Those of us in the path of the proposed line are tired of the uncertainty through endless rounds of “alternatives scoping” etc etc which only leads to more uncertainty with additional lines drawn on a map. Pick an alignment and start the construction on schedule. There are no issues with financing for almost 9 more years. These realignment decisions do not have to be made for at least 5 more years and possibly longer. The project does not need to be altered unless there are issues within the draft EIS, which we do not know because we can’t see it.

    My general view is that this whole realignment project seems like a typical overkill Seattle process exercise where it will take several years to decide on a realignment and by the time a decision is ready to be made the assumptions from the beginning of the process will have changed again. Especially in the middle of the pandemic. There’s a cost to realignment. There’s a cost to delays. Release the draft EIS and pick an alignment on schedule. If construction needs to be delayed, address it in 2028 or 2029.

  • Martin February 26, 2021 (4:29 pm)

    Depending on the scenario, it may take until 2055 until all the projects are done and it may take until 2039 until light rail connects West Seattle. By then WS residents have paid taxes for 25 years. A gondola alternative could connect West Seattle by 2025 and the savings would help finish the remaining projects earlier.

    • Bob February 26, 2021 (7:08 pm)

      Give WS a gondola.  It will be done before we retire, unlike the light rail.   Oh ya and it will be 100s of millions cheaper.  No brainier.

  • Don Brubeck February 26, 2021 (5:03 pm)

    Fares for transit are like tolls on roads and bridges. If they charged tolls that covered all the costs of roads and bridges, nobody would drive.  The stuff required for all modes of travel, even walking, are mostly paid for by taxes that everyone pays for the common good.

  • skeeter February 26, 2021 (6:21 pm)

    WWJD.What would Jort do?

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