SEATTLE — Soaring costs for labor, materials and land have plans for a light-rail extension to Lynnwood running $500 million over budget.
The previous budget estimate of $2.4 billion for the long-awaited project now stands at $2.9 billion, according to documents released at a Sound Transit board meeting Thursday, the Seattle Times reported .
In addition, the line is expected to open six months later than planned, in mid-2024 instead of late 2023.
Peter Rogoff, the chief executive of the regional transportation agency, said Sound Transit is working with communities along the line to simplify the design to save some money. But, he said, it won’t ultimately stop light rail’s expansion to other communities, as approved by voters last year in the massive $54 billion Sound Transit 3 measure.
“It’s certainly a disappointment to everyone,” Rogoff said. “What is not in question is whether we will get to Everett, get to Redmond and to Federal Way, or Tacoma, to Ballard and West Seattle.”
Voters approved the 8.5-mile extension from north Seattle to Lynnwood in 2008. The completed line is expected to serve 70,000 daily riders by 2035 and to provide a reliable 28-minute trip between Lynnwood and downtown Seattle.
The looming half-billion-dollar increase wasn’t telegraphed last year, as voters considered Sound Transit 3. The costs became clearer only in the last few months, Rogoff said, through work with the construction-management firm to complete 60?percent of the design.
“No one was hiding the ball here,” Rogoff said.
Other high-cost regions, including Los Angeles and Portland, are seeing similar increases, he said.
Among unforeseen problems: A budgeted 25 percent hike in land costs turned out to be 44 percent, from 2014-17. These expenses include buying out downtown Lynnwood landowners who will be displaced by the trackway and station.
In addition, it’s expected to cost $32 million to replace 7,000 trees that must be removed along Interstate 5.
The Lynnwood expansion’s delay is driven partly by uncertainty in the federal government. During the Obama administration, it was expected that the federal government would deliver $1.2 billion, half the estimated cost of the Lynnwood project. Congress appropriated the first $100 million, but Rogoff said he can’t sign construction contracts until a Federal Transit Administration “full funding grant agreement” is signed, hopefully in July 2018.
President Donald Trump proposes halting the big transit grants, but key senators, including Washington state Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, are fighting to keep them.
Sound Transit also released some better news: Light-rail ridership for spring quarter increased 6.8 percent from a year earlier, averaging nearly 74,000 weekday riders, between the University of Washington and Angle Lake.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com