Your hopes of taking light rail from Capitol Hill to visit friends in Ballard and West Seattle are going to be even more expensive.
Sound Transit officials have unveiled new cost estimates for the “Sound Transit 3” package of projects including light rail connecting to West Seattle and Ballard that have risen nearly 50% from previous forecasts — a potential $5 billion to $6 billion surge.
The estimated cost of extending Seattle’s light rail system to Ballard and West Seattle, as well as several other components of the Sound Transit 3 plan adopted by voters in 2015, has risen dramatically since last year, Sound Transit staffers told the agency’s executive committee Wednesday. The main factors driving the increase, according to the agency, are higher than anticipated property acquisition costs, higher costs for labor and materials, and unanticipated “soft costs,” including additional funding for contingencies.
The the new numbers likely mean new timeframes for the projects.
If realized, such costs would make it very difficult for Sound Transit to complete Link extensions to both West Seattle and Ballard anywhere close to the ST3 timeframe, even if Seattle forgoes more expensive tunneling and other options that could add up to $1.7 billion more to the price tag (though the relative cost of below-ground vs above-ground shifts in favor of tunnels as above-ground land acquisition becomes more expensive).
Voters across King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties approved extensions to the light rail system in 2016 as part of the “Sound Transit 3” package in a plan hoped to dramatically expand light rail in the region. The then $53.8 billion package included a plan to extend light rail lines to Redmond by 2024, Ballard by 2035, and West Seattle by 2030. Extensions into Everett and Tacoma would come in the following years. The expanded system will require a second downtown tunnel and an overhaul of how Sound Transit organizes its lines and systems — when the system is complete, link light rail will have five lines 1, 2, 3, 4, and T. The plan had been for the projects to be operational by 2041.
Despite the likelihood of new timelines for the coming ST3 construction, light rail riders won’t have to wait too much longer for more service options in Central Seattle. Judkins Park Station — and its Hendrix inspired design — is slated to open in 2023 along with the rest of the 10-stop, voter initiative-funded East Link light rail line that will dramatically expand Sound Transit rail service in the region. The Central District station, tucked into I-90 between Rainier Ave and 23rd Ave, will be the first stop on the line that will connect Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle across the I-90 bridge.
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