Sound Transit board members continue to disagree over whether ST needs a full “realignment” plan, which could delay/downsize voter-approved projects including West Seattle light rail. The video above is from ST’s Executive Committee meeting on Thursday morning. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci (from Bellevue) – all board members who are part of the committee – continued to argue the points they made in a letter to Board Chair Kent Keel (from University Place) reported here last month, saying it’s too soon to decide. Keel in turn recapped his reply, insisting the realignment plan – currently scheduled for a July vote – is necessary.
First the board got an update on more possible realignment “scenarios” as well as the latest stats on the “affordability gap,” all shown in this slide deck:
What’s in that presentation is not a complete list of possible scenarios – they’ve been looking at various concepts over the course of multiple meetings in recent months. Possibilities for West Seattle include building to Delridge first – maybe on a 2-year delay beyond the original 2030 plan – or a 5-year delay for the entire extension.
The big point of contention, intensively discussed on Thursday, remains whether a realignment is even needed. When this all first came up last year, the big problem was a pandemic-fueled revenue drop. That started bouncing back, but then came news of dramatically increased cost estimates. Now the latter is more of an issue than the former, according to ST staff, but Durkan argued on Thursday that they don’t have enough cost information for realignment decisions. She also noted that the gap has shrunk by billions already and could shrink further. “The affordability gap could be less and we could build what the voters want and what the climate needs.” Balducci, who has long argued against making these decisions now, said that since this has become much more of a cost gap than a revenue gap, “project-based approaches” might be a solution to the higher cost estimates. Constantine warned that officially setting “lowered expectations” now could “become the default.” Keel contended that whatever they decide would be a “flexible framework” and could be changed. Balducci countered that even if that’s technically true, a realignment vote “would essentially adopt a revamp of our program.” Keel said not responding to the current gap predictions by creating an “affordable plan” via realignment would make ST look financially irresponsible.
The discussion will continue at two upcoming meetings – the System Expansion Committee (which Balducci chairs) on May 13th and the full board meeting on May 27th, which is also when the board is scheduled to hear more about the results of recent community opinion-gathering, which brought in just under 10,000 survey responses, ST staff said on Thursday.