July was a very productive month for Sound Transit! This month Sound Transit:

  • Approved a $440 million contract to build the tunnel from the UW Station to Northgate;
  • Defined choices for the next extension to Lynnwood, with the Board scheduled to select a Preferred Alternative in November;
  • Approved a turn back track in the Downtown Transit Tunnel for East Link that sets 2019 as the date when buses must leave the tunnel because it will be full of trains;
  • Held a workshop to evaluate strategies for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) on its surplus properties; and
  • Appropriated $6 million for consultant contracts to study possible routes for inclusion in a 2016 ballot measure.

Lynnwood Link route options

The Northgate contract is one of the largest Sound Transit has ever entered into. The great news is that the approved bid is some 25% lower than the estimate made by Sound Transit engineers, and that the contractor has already successfully completed the UW to Capitol Hill tunnels, so presumably knows the real costs for tunneling in the Seattle environment. While we can’t count the savings until the project is completed, this is an excellent way to get started!

The extension from Northgate to Lynnwood is fully funded from the 2008 vote, and is ready to go into the final environmental process. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement leaves choices for the Board to make when it selects a final preferred alternative. These include whether to be at-grade or elevated coming out of Northgate, where to place the station in Lynnwood, and which stations to include between Northgate and 185th St, and between 185th and Lynnwood. The line is scheduled for construction beginning in 2018, opening in 2023, and serving between 60,000 to 70,000 riders by 2035. The Board will select the preferred alternative in November. I am particularly interested in whether we will have a station at 130th St, between the planned stations at Northgate and 145th. While there is not much current development around 130th and I-5, this station would be very convenient for Lake City and Bitter Lake residents, and I have asked DPD to evaluate the potential for zoning changes that would create additional TOD opportunities.

As East Link proceeds into the next stages of engineering, it became clear that a turnback track is needed at the International District station. The construction needs for that and for connecting East Link to the downtown tunnel will require several weekend and one full week closure of Airport Link sometime between 2017 and 2019. Sound Transit’s agreement with Metro forecast that buses would have to be out of the tunnel around 2019, and this confirms that date. That means the City and Metro will have to figure out how to accommodate the additional buses on the surface, possibly by making 3rd Avenue transit only or by adding bus-only lanes on other downtown streets.

Sound Transit holds some 2000 properties that were acquired for various projects. While many of them are small remnants left over from construction, there are sizable properties that would be suitable for TOD (like those at the Capitol Hill Station), and the Board is developing new policies to make these available in a timely fashion in cooperation with local governments. I hope that the Capitol Hill Station Development Agreement will be a model for future surplus property policies, and the Board is working out how to make that possible.

If Sound Transit is to go to the ballot in 2016, we must have an array of possible routes to select from. The Capital Committee has approved $6 million in three contracts to study I-405 BRT; Redmond to Kirkland and on to the U-District; Kirkland, Bellevue, Issaquah; the Eastside Rail Corridor; Lynnwood to Everett; Renton to Tukwila, SeaTac and Burien; and Downtown Seattle to West Seattle and Burien. These studies will provide information on possible options and future costs and ridership. They will complement two studies already underway, Ballard to Downtown and SeaTac to Tacoma, to provide core information on what the Board can reasonably consider for the next ballot measure.