Sound Transit Link Light Rail trainOn Thursday, November 14, the Sound Transit Capital Committee unanimously approved a revised Lynnwood Link Preferred Alternative that adds provisional stations at North 130th Street in Seattle and at 220th Street in Mountlake Terrace, with the full Board scheduled to ratify this on November 21. I introduced this proposal, which was developed with Everett Councilmember Paul Roberts. The goal is to ensure that light rail can serve new transit oriented development (TOD) in urban areas, rather than bypassing density and serving only already established communities. We were able to successfully find a way to fit the new provisional stations within the existing budget.

In the Sound Transit 2 (ST2) ballot measure approved by the voters in 2008, Lynnwood Link was designed with stations that are relatively far apart. Since its inception, Sound Transit has focused on the ‘spine’, a light rail system designed to connect the major cities in the region from Everett to Tacoma with an extension to Bellevue and the Eastside. The first Sound Transit vote was planned to connect the UW with the airport; ST2 extended that vision east to Redmond, south to Federal Way, and north to Lynnwood. Higher-than-expected costs for the initial segment caused delays and rescheduling, and the impacts of the recession meant that the south and east segments will fall somewhat short of the planned final destinations under the current financial scenario, but ultimately the funding provided in a Sound Transit 3 package should complete the ‘spine’.

However, as I pointed out to the Capital Committee, spines are designed to support ‘ribs’, and our goal should be to ensure that the system serves as many people as possible in our growing urban areas by filling in stations and building connecting lines to serve critical neighborhoods like West Seattle and Ballard. Over the last several years, the Sound Transit Board has embraced this vision that the rail system and the associated TOD should be considered as essential complements to each other. As part of realizing that complementary vision, I proposed adding a 130th Street station to Lynnwood Link, and the Snohomish County representatives proposed adding a 220th Street station.

The path for modifying a voter approved alignment and station system is a bit convoluted. Legally, Sound Transit can only add stations or deviate from the core alignment if it is clear that there are adequate funds to build out the system as presented on the ballot. This means that the new stations cannot be added unless and until it can be shown that the basic design will come in within the budget or new money is provided either through unexpectedly high revenues or an additional ballot measure.

It is also important to note that no final decision on the alignment and stations can be made by the Board until the EIS process is complete, so decisions relating to the Preferred Alternative are only recommendations that cannot be formal approved until the Board reviews the results of the EIS.

The Preferred Alternative that the Board used as a starting point is the least expensive, no-frills alignment, costed out at $1.267 billion compared to the $1.322 billion budgeted for the route from Northgate to Lynnwood. We had several options to consider as possible additions, including possible rebuilds of bridges at 117th and 185th Street ($26 million), adding a 130th Street Station ($24 million), and adding a 220th Street Station ($42 million). Providing for the 220th Street Station would also require alignment modifications costing $36 million, while adding either of the two stations would require additional train sets at a cost of $40 million. Thus, to do everything we all wanted would bust the budget, taking it up to $1.440 billion.

For that reason, we negotiated a compromise, which drops the bridge rebuilds, modifies the alignment so that it a 220th Street Station would be possible, and builds out the infrastructure so that the two stations can be added at a later date – just barely staying within the budget at $1.321 billion. It’s a good compromise.

If the Board adopts this as the final Lynnwood Link design after completing the EIS process, it will position Sound Transit to add the two stations at one of three points down the line:

  • If the engineering undertaken during the EIS project indicates that the project will come in significantly below budget or if revenues significantly exceed projections by the decision point, the Board could decide to add them during construction.
  • The Board could include them in the ST3 ballot measure.
  • They could be funded at a future date as the system continues to unfold.

It’s exciting to see light rail continuing to grow, and to see the convergence of thinking around transit and housing as decision makers realize how interconnected these are. The decision to include these two provisional stations in the Preferred Alternative is a major step forward.