The construction site of the light rail station at the Lynnwood Transit Center. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The construction site of the light rail station at the Lynnwood Transit Center. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Light rail timeline slips, but extension north is assured

The Sound Transit board has decided that one project’s overruns can’t hold up other work on the system.

EVERETT — Light rail could reach south Everett by 2037, only a year later than initially projected, but it won’t make it downtown until 2041 — five years later than first promised, the Sound Transit board unanimously decided Thursday.

When voters approved a tax measure in 2016, plans called for trains to roll into Everett station in 2036. A gap between revenue and costs has forced the board to rethink the timeline.

Under a compromise reached this week, board members also decided to delay I-405 bus rapid transit expansion, parking at transit centers and some stations in the ST3 transit package.

Shifts of the agency’s capital project plans were a collective win for Snohomish County, Sound Transit co-vice chairman and Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts said.

Over the past 17 months, Sound Transit’s board and staff have tried to resolve a revenue gap and rising costs for materials and property. And they had estimated a delay of at least two years for all future projects due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The early outlook was for widespread delays. A compromise plan — proposed by Sound Transit Board President Kent Keel, a University Place City Council member, and King County Councilwoman Claudia Balducci — partly resolves an estimated $6.5 billion funding gap for projects in the ST3 package and adds board scrutiny while expanding funding options.

“I think the region is going to benefit from the compromise proposal,” Roberts said after a nearly four-hour meeting.

The approved resolution means light rail will extend from Lynnwood City Center to southwest Everett, including Paine Field, by 2037. But the compromise delays extension to Everett Station, the northern extent of light rail so far planned, until 2041. That section has an estimated $602 million revenue gap yet to be resolved.

A pair of amendments with sponsors from Snohomish County’s representatives on the Sound Transit board help protect the county’s position, Roberts said. One amendment, by Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, prohibits the board from authorizing final design, right-of-way acquisition or construction expenditures on an individual project that would delay the “affordable schedule” of other projects without a “funding gap offset.” Basically, one project’s potential overruns can’t hold up development of other parts of the system, which prompted Roberts to call it “the autonomy amendment.”

“Today, we upheld the promise to Snohomish County’s residents to prioritize the spine and build a truly regional mass transit system,” Somers said in a statement. “This vote will ensure that no matter what happens with the rest of Sound Transit 3, Everett Link and the other Snohomish County projects will still be built. It took partnerships across the county and the region to make this happen. There is still significant work we need to do to speed up delivery of Everett Link, but we’ll use every tool we have to build it as quickly as we can.”

Everett Link parking is projected to be delayed 10 years from the original ST3 package, to 2046. I-405 bus rapid transit between Lynnwood and Bellevue, called Stride North, is to be delayed two years until 2027.

But with the new resolution in place, the board hopes to find ways to complete all of the projects earlier, Balducci said.

“I think we’re going to have to reduce our costs in a lot of places,” Keel said.

There’s a sense of urgency to let people take transit that operates mostly on clean energy instead of fossil fuel-burning vehicles, Roberts said.

With the framework, he said, Snohomish County, Lynnwood and Everett can begin the work of establishing the rail’s path, firming station locations and making station area plans for access and housing.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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