Construction of the Lynnwood Link light rail extension in Mountlake Terrace on Dec. 16. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Construction of the Lynnwood Link light rail extension in Mountlake Terrace on Dec. 16. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Purchase Photo

Leaders want pledge that Everett light rail will be on time

Sound Transit faces rising costs. Talk of “hard decisions” has Snohomish County officials concerned.

SEATTLE — As Sound Transit leaders confront surging cost estimates of expansion plans, Snohomish County officials are urging against saving money by delaying the extension of light rail to Everett.

The regional transit agency says the tab for Sound Transit 3 projects, including the Everett Link light rail extension, could be $11.5 billion more than when voters approved them in 2016.

Soaring prices for real estate — which is needed for right-of-way — plus higher costs for labor, materials and environmental work are the driving factors. Decreased revenue during the pandemic further complicates the equation, though the agency will receive $460 million in federal aid to soften the blow.

“There’s more project than money. We are going to have to make some hard decisions,” said Everett Councilman Paul Roberts, a vice chairman of the Sound Transit Board of Directors and one of three Snohomish County representatives on the panel.

Those decisions could be far-reaching to ST3. They’re looking at such steps as not building parking facilities or delaying extensions. What concerns the Snohomish County contingent of Roberts, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith is that Everett — the farthest point north on the “spine” originally envisioned to connect it to Seattle and Tacoma — could see Link light rail arrive after 2036, the date promised to voters.

Months ago, the transit agency board agreed on core criteria to guide their decision-making, including ridership potential, socioeconomic equity, connecting urban centers, completing the spine from Everett to Tacoma and responding to the climate crisis. Earlier this week, Roberts delivered a written proposal to fellow board members arguing that the planned extension to Everett meets the criteria to be a priority.

“Sound Transit is building infrastructure for the next 100 years and beyond,” he wrote. “Sound Transit should complete the initial mission for which it was created, and do so in a manner that recognizes the climate crisis we face, meeting the transportation needs of the greatest number of people in the region as soon as possible.”

Roberts elaborated Thursday after a meeting of the agency’s executive committee.

“This is a regional system. Our job is to help make the case that it is a regional system,” he said. “I think connecting Everett and Tacoma show up really well, and if you’re going to address the climate crisis these (extensions) are the surrogates for it.”

Somers said his staff ranked ST3 projects in each criteria and the links to Everett and Tacoma came out on top.

“I thinks it’s inevitable that all projects could slip by two years, but our goal is to keep Everett as close to that as possible,” he said. “Given that we rank number one on all the criteria, that should be doable.”

When Sound Transit put the tax measure on the ballot in 2016, it came with a nearly $54 billion price tag to build light rail to Everett, Federal Way, Issaquah, Tacoma, Seattle’s Ballard and West Seattle neighborhoods, as well as expanding bus service throughout the taxing district, which spans parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Those estimates were made in 2015, when the median home price in Snohomish County was $359,800. At the end of last year, that price rose to $495,100, according to data from the University of Washington Center for Real Estate Research.

Sound Transit hired a consulting firm to dig into the causes of the soaring cost projections. Its report is due to the full board April 22, ahead of board action on a realignment process that could delay, pare back or reshape ST3 projects.

Board members want to know why the costs are so much higher than envisioned. On Thursday, one of the consultants told the executive committee that much of the increases are “appropriate” for such a large undertaking.

“If you take a step back and look at the big picture with all the pluses and all the minuses, the estimates are appropriate for this kind of design,” said Andrew Kean, of the Triunity consulting team.

Also Thursday, the executive committee considered a staff report on the costs and benefits of providing parking at stations.

It showed ST3 assumes spending $655 million to add 5,125 stalls at six existing and proposed lots. That includes constructing two new garages with 950 spaces total to serve Everett Link, at an estimated $120 million price tag.

Meanwhile, members of the Everett City Council are interested in hearing directly from Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff on the evolving situation. Rogoff is tentatively scheduled to address city leaders April 28.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

Talk to us

More in Local News

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Things are heating up in Olympia — and not just the weather

Here’s what’s happening on Day 94 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Jesse L. Hartman (Everett Police Department)
Suspect in fatal Everett shooting captured at U.S. border

Jesse Hartman was arrested in California as he tried to re-enter the country from Mexico.

Eric Adler, the mystery man who is on Twitter as @EdmondsScanner (E. Wong)
Revealed: The mystery man behind the @EdmondsScanner tweets

He’s a 50-year-old mail carrier who dusted off his English degree to curate 6,000 tales on Twitter.

The state House transportation budget proposes $15,000,000 to widen state improving Highway 524 between 24th Avenue West in Lynnwood and 9th Avenue SE.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Who wants a wider Highway 524 between Bothell and Lynnwood?

The project list includes expanding the three-mile, two-lane road between Bothell and Lynnwood.

People on jet skis and boats drive past the Hannah Marie, formerly called the Midas, that was run aground along the banks of the Snohomish River on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett couple writes check to clean up the Snohomish River

Phil and Kelly Johnson have donated $50,000 to the county project that removes derelict vessels.

FILE - This Monday, June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone. While the nation's attorneys general debate a legal settlement with Purdue Pharma, the opioid epidemic associated with the company's blockbuster painkiller OxyContin rages on. The drugs still kill tens of thousands of people each year with no end in sight. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
High court ruling spurs effort to retool state’s drug laws

Meanwhile, the Blake decision has gotten people out jail, charges dismissed and possibly clemency for some.

Gabriel van Winkle, center, struggles with lifting a bag of rice weighing nearly half his weight as he and volunteers help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from their old location to a new one on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in Granite Falls, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
New digs will give Granite Falls nonprofit room to grow

The small town’s community coalition and food bank have found a home on school district grounds.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
5 wrinkles for lawmakers to iron out in session’s last days

Here’s what’s happening on Day 92 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Most Read