Facing Shortfalls, Sound Transit Seeks Public Input

Written by Bill Wilson, Engineering Editor; and Editor-in-Chief, Railway Track & Structures
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Through April 30, Puget Sound regional residents are encouraged to provide input to the Sound Transit Board of Directors on priorities for managing an unprecedented financial environment in its work to advance voter-approved transit projects that are not already under construction.

Sound Transit faces two major, simultaneous challenges. A pandemic-driven recession has severely reduced consumer spending and agency tax revenues at the same time that real estate and construction market pressures continue to drive project estimates to levels significantly beyond previous assumptions. These factors result in a currently projected $11.5 billion affordability gap to complete the full expansion program as originally planned (the Board will update this forecast on April 22).
 
Through a process called realignment, the Board is working to determine how plans and timelines for voter-approved projects will need to change to address these financial pressures. The approved Sound Transit 3 ballot measure requires this process when it is clear the program is not affordable. 

Alongside identifying options to manage costs, the first emphasis of the realignment is pursuing federal grants and other alternative revenue sources to help close the financial gap. To the extent the agency cannot secure sufficient new resources, establishing realignment plans this summer will help ensure affordability under updated projections for current revenue sources. The Board’s options include delaying the delivery of projects to provide longer periods to collect revenue; delivering projects in phases; and reducing project elements.

“The input that residents provide will help the Sound Transit Board establish a framework for managing whatever affordability gap remains after continuing our intensive work to secure additional financial capacity,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and University Place City Councilmember Kent Keel. “Our focus is on opening these projects with the least possible impact to when they will greatly expand our residents’ travel options and create thousands of jobs.”

Projects now under construction—including light rail extensions to Northgate, Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way and Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, as well as the Puyallup Sounder garage—are not subject to realignment. Sound Transit is poised to open all of these projects on schedule, almost tripling the reach of the region’s light-rail system in the next four years from 22 to 62 miles. This construction, as well as future projects, will help our region’s economy recover from the COVID-19 recession, just as transit construction helped fuel our recovery from the Great Recession. Family-wage jobs offered by Sound Transit’s construction projects will help thousands return to the workforce, and in turn will support even more jobs in communities across the region. 

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff is a featured speaker at the April 22 Railway Age/RT&S Virtual Light Rail Conference.

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