Sound Transit estimates three rail and facility projects could see cumulative cost increases of up to $6.2 billion

Jan. 11, 2021
The cost increases are due to conditions in the real estate and construction markets and agency leaders do not see those conditions improving in the short term.

Sound Transit has released updated cost estimates for proposed projects, which are running between 42 percent and 50 percent above 2019 estimates. Sound Transit Deputy CEO Kimberly Farley outlined the cost increases and cited rapid population growth, urban development and economic growth with driving the cost of real estate and construction up.  

In a memo outlining the cost increased to Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, Farley noted that the agency remains on track to nearly triple the reach of its light-rail system by 2024, but design advancements have shown significant cost estimate increases involving three of the agency’s next round of expansion projects between 2019 and 2020.

These include:

  • The West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions, which experienced an increase of $4 billion or 50 percent;
  • The Tacoma Dome Link Extension, which experienced an increase of approximately $300,000 or 10 percent; and
  • The Link Operations and Maintenance Facility South, which experienced an increase of $408 million or 54 percent for the low option and an increase of $1.1 billion or 77 percent for the high option.

Cumulatively, the increased cost estimates for these projects are between $4.8 billion and $6.2 billion. Two bus rapid transit (BRT) projects, the I-405 BRT and SR 522 BRT, experienced cost estimate decreases in 2020 compared to 2019 of seven percent and 17 percent, respectively.

In a blog discussing the increased costs, Sound Transit wrote: 

"While estimated construction costs are up as we learn more during the project development process, the largest single cost driver is the need to acquire right-of-way while real estate prices continue to rise unabated, even during the pandemic, and new development occurs near projects.

" Three parcels near the West Seattle Junction offer one example impacting the West Seattle extension. These parcels, which are being redeveloped into a mixed-use site with 306 apartments, were initially estimated at $76 million to acquire but are now estimated to cost over $250 million, including relocation of 306 households." 

Sound Transit is undertaking a realignment process for its proposed expansion program to address increasing costs and revenue shortfalls brought on the by the COVID-19 pandemic. The realignment process is expected to conclude in July following a period of evaluation and stakeholder engagement.  

The board will investigate ways to secure additional financial capacity to close the gap. Another course being considered would be a delay in project delivery, opting for a phased project delivery or reducing project scopes. Sound Transit explains the board could also opt for “the most extreme option,” which would be suspending or deleting projects. While this option is available, the agency notes the board has not discussed pursuing it.

The agency says it remains committed to delivering these expansion projects and that there is a strong case for infrastructure investments.

“Building infrastructure not only improves peoples’ lives in the long term but in the near term provides one of the best sources of economic stimulus for our region and nation. Expanding our regional transit network will provide thousands of family-sustaining jobs and in turn support many more service and retail jobs in the region. Growing regions like ours have few realistic options for dramatically expanding their transportation capacities beyond expanding mass transit,” the agency said.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.

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Sept. 26, 2013