The $2.09 billion cost estimate has jumped by $460 million to $2.55 billion, executives reported at a board meeting Thursday. That’s a 22 percent spike.
Runaway construction and land costs are afflicting yet another transportation megaproject, the Sound Transit light-rail line from Angle Lake to Federal Way.
The $2.09 billion cost estimate jumped by $460 million to $2.55 billion, executives reported at a board meeting Thursday. That’s a 22 percent spike.
Despite that setback, CEO Peter Rogoff said the agency can find enough money to launch passenger service there in mid-2024, as promised in the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure two years ago.
But a second threat looms that would cause delays — a possibility the Federal Way extension won’t get its proposed $500 million contribution next year from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
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The big federal grants, to support as many as 54 capital projects around the country, have been delayed this year, despite a congressional budget to distribute $2.4 billion by next year. Transit is a local matter, the Trump administration has said.
A $1.2 billion grant has yet to be approved for Sound Transit’s Lynnwood-Northgate route, where inflation along with increased noise walls, trees and station entrances helped drive the $2.4 billion cost estimate to $3.1 billion. That new total includes $170 million contingency money the FTA demanded this year — specifically to guard against even more spiraling inflation.
Rogoff is soliciting construction bids for Lynnwood before knowing if the FTA will deliver money for the project. Board members agreed that delays and inflation are riskier than breaking ground before the money is nailed down.
Rogoff said Thursday he met recently with FTA officials in the nation’s capital and is cautiously optimistic about eventually winning grants for both Lynnwood and Federal Way.
The Federal Way line would add three stations and 7.8 miles of trackway to carry 36,500 daily passengers. A trip from Federal Way to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport would take 15 minutes.
For years, transit customers and taxpayers in Federal Way, notably board member Pete von Reichbauer of the Metropolitan King County Council, have grumbled about Sound Transit’s yet-unfulfilled promises.
Trains to north Federal Way were promised by 2023 in the ST2 ballot measure approved by voters in 2008, but the recession led the board to defer and scale back the project.
The agency regrouped in the recent economic boom, promising a longer line to downtown Federal Way by 2024 in ST3. About 51 percent of Federal Way voters opposed that measure.
Officials on the 18-member transit board, chaired by Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, took the $460 million hit in stride Thursday without griping or asking many questions. Several had received personal briefings earlier in the week.
For about a year, senior staff warned the Federal Way line could fall victim to the overheated economy.
The agency largely blames construction inflation for a $361 million boost in future contracts, and land costs are $107 million above estimates made two to three years ago.
The trackway would include 6 million pounds of copper, whose price is escalating fast, said Dan Abernathy, executive project director; it’s about $3 per pound. Tariffs are blamed for a 10 percent boost in structural steel and 18 percent hike for reinforcing steel since late 2017.
Diesel prices climbed 53 percent over the past year. Labor costs are rising with an aging workforce, Abernathy said.
Board member Ron Lucas, the Steilacoom mayor, suggested Sound Transit create its own cohort of young workers, by paying for them to learn construction trades at technical colleges.
Local tax income for rail and bus projects has increased too, but South King County revenues earmarked for the Federal Way project lag the region as a whole, said Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick.
The latest financial models show a $113 million shortfall in South King County over two decades, compared to pre-election projections, Rogoff told the board.
Behind the scenes Sound Transit’s staff and consultants are running economic stress tests, among 94 finance-plan scenarios released to The Seattle Times.
What if state lawmakers reduce car-tab taxes for ST3? What if a recession hits? What if the FTA spurns the Federal Way and Lynnwood grants? What if new financing tools can raise cash faster?
Some tense discussions are looming within Sound Transit’s board about whether some parts of the region will make loans of their abundant taxes to Federal Way or other areas that need cash flow.
Snohomish County is also cash poor, and Somers will seek to rein in costs and debts for the Ballard and West Seattle ST3 lines, that would constrain Sound Transit’s financing flexibility to reach Everett by 2036 as promised.
And perhaps an even bigger fear is this: You can’t make tracks to Tacoma without reaching Federal Way first.