New plan speeds up light rail project with $4 billion hike


SEATTLE -- After a month-long comment period, Sound Transit released its updated ST3 light rail project plan Thursday, which expedites the construction of several lines, including Everett, but increases the cost of the project by $4 billion.

The new plan would bring light rail to Everett in 2036, five years faster than the plan released in late March.

Under the new plan, Redmond and Federal Way will see light rail four years sooner (2024), and Tacoma (2030), West Seattle (2030) and Ballard (2035) 3 years sooner.

The new plan increases the project cost by $4 billion, bringing the estimate to $54 billion from $50 billion estimated in March. Seventy percent of that cost will be paid in cash with 30 percent coming from bonds.

Sound Transit says the new plan expedites the project using extra bond money the department learned they can obtain. Bond money will pay the extra $4 billion of production costs, and, as a result, the immediate tax request on the voters will not change.

This new plan comes after Sound Transit held a public comment period for the month of April, when they received around 35,000 responses. They also held several meetings attended by more than 1,200 people total.

They say the top critique they faced on the original ST3 project plan was the timeline. People wanted lines built faster, especially in Snohomish County, where, in March, legislators called the 25-year timeline "unacceptable" due to increased traffic problems and a growing population.

To cut costs, ST3 will also limit the construction of "interim terminus stations." That means that lines will open in their entirety upon completion, rather than having single stations along the line open as they're built. Terminus stations require unique features and track layouts to allow trains to turn around.

Sound Transit says this new plan makes only minor changes to the actual mapping of the lines. One comes up in Everett, where the end of the line will now run along I5, rather than the original design to have it run up along 99. They say this will allow them to finish the project sooner at a slightly steeper cost.

Along the Everett line, a station at Paine Field is now considered "provisional." Sound Transit estimates construction of that station would cost $100 million.

Sound Transit says the timeline could change if local governments aren't cooperative or flexible when it comes to the permitting process.

In a Sound Transit board meeting help Thursday, the board proudly announced that Sounder Transit ridership rose 15 percent last quarter, and U-Link has "trended up" more than expected.

The Sound Transit Board will vote on the updated ST3 Plan June 2nd. The completed language of the plan is scheduled for final adoption on June 23 to meet election submission deadlines.

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