The News Tribune Editorial Board recently called out the importance of staying on schedule in extending light rail from Federal Way to Tacoma.
At Sound Transit, we wholeheartedly agree. We have zero desire or intention of moving away from this critical priority of extending our light rail spine to Tacoma by 2030.
In our view, that extension can’t come soon enough. Last year no other county in the nation saw more new residents move within its borders than Pierce County. The population growth will exacerbate the punishing traffic that drivers and bus riders already face on I-5 and elsewhere. That is why we are making investments throughout Pierce County.
In the coming months, we will move forward with new parking structures in Puyallup, Sumner and Auburn to better serve the rapidly increasing number of Pierce commuters boarding Sounder trains. On Monday, we will add two daily Sounder trains, bringing total daily roundtrips to 13.
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This winter we will complete the rebuild and double tracking of the Tacoma Trestle to facilitate these increased trips and the relocation of the Amtrak Station to Freighthouse Square.
We are in the final design process to extend light rail to Federal Way, the next major step in our journey south to Tacoma.
Additional future projects include extending Sounder to JBLM and DuPont, lengthening Sounder platforms and trains from seven to 10 cars, and adding yet more trips. We will also extend Tacoma Link to Tacoma Community College.
The Editorial Board also made reference to the recent cost escalation on our light-rail extension to Lynnwood, viewing it as a cloud over our ability to deliver light rail to Tacoma on time and on budget.
First, please know that no portion of the cost increases burdening the Lynnwood project will be borne by Pierce County taxpayers.
Second, we take great exception to the suggestion that we were somehow less than competent or fully transparent on the increased cost estimate, or that the updated estimate should or could have been known earlier.
As a rule, Sound Transit updates cost estimates and adopts a baseline estimate when design is 60 percent complete, a milestone we reached only recently.
In the case of Lynnwood, some of the most noteworthy cost increases are based on construction and real estate markets. We initially estimated the heated real estate market would boost prices 25 percent. The reality is that they increased 44 percent.
Public agencies across the Puget Sound region – not just Sound Transit – are finding that the red-hot construction market is translating into rapidly escalating bids.
Every project goes through the same process. Later this month, the Sound Transit Board will establish a baseline budget for the 2.4-mile Tacoma Link extension from downtown to the Stadium and Hilltop districts.
Now that the design has advanced far enough, we can tell the public we have a 90-percent confidence level we can deliver the project within the funding range identified in the ST2 ballot measure, adjusted for inflation, and 80-percent confidence of opening the project in 2022.
I do want to highlight the threats that funding uncertainties in Washington, D.C. and Olympia pose to building light rail to Tacoma and other projects around the region.
The new administration in Washington D.C. has proposed the elimination of federal funding for transit expansions around the country. Fortunately, our congressional delegation is working to maintain this critical funding that residents have a right to expect as a return on federal taxes they pay.
In Olympia, the state Senate passed a bill no less than three times in 2017 that would have blown a $12 billion hole in our financial plan and endangered our capacity to deliver projects on schedule. Fortunately, the bill never became law.
The light rail extension from Federal Way to Tacoma is on track to begin with public involvement on alignment alternatives early next year. Establishing early community consensus on route and station locations will be important to staying on time.
Sound Transit will continue to do its part to deliver these critical projects without delay.
Peter Rogoff is the CEO of Sound Transit and a former U.S. undersecretary of Transportation in the Obama administration.