Construction workers work along the underside of the Lynnwood Link light rail guideway March 29 in Lynnwood. Delays caused by the pandemic and a concrete delivery strike earlier this year have led to a projected 6-month delay in the service’s start date. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Construction workers work along the underside of the Lynnwood Link light rail guideway March 29 in Lynnwood. Delays caused by the pandemic and a concrete delivery strike earlier this year have led to a projected 6-month delay in the service’s start date. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Lynnwood light rail service start delayed 4 to 6 months

Sound Transit projects initially set to begin operating next year and in 2024 are facing months-long delays.

LYNNWOOD — Light rail riders could have to wait an additional six months for service to start in Snohomish County in 2024.

Instead of a mid-2024 launch for the Lynnwood Link extension, it could be December.

Sound Transit staff also anticipate later dates for extensions to the east side of Lake Washington, Federal Way and Lynnwood. They told elected officials who comprise the system expansion committee of the agency’s board of directors about the expected postponements Thursday.

They cited the concrete delivery strike as the primary reason for the delay. About 39,000 cubic yards of concrete weren’t delivered when expected, according to Sound Transit, enough to fill a line of concrete trucks that would stretch from Lynnwood to SeaTac International on I-5.

Agency staff signaled in April that the strike could set back the start of light rail service.

The driver strike affected the Lynnwood section from Northgate to near the Snohomish County line. Stacy and Witbeck, Kiewit and Hoffman, the construction contractors for that part of the project, laid off dozens of workers while waiting for the strike to be resolved.

That down time, in addition to some accrued during the early part of the pandemic, cut the eight-month buffer built into the project.

Now Sound Transit staff estimate the Lynnwood light rail project needs another four to six months, but other disruptions could further push back the service start date.

“Obviously we’ve been trying to catch up,” Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher said. “The thing to understand is we weren’t the only project to miss deliveries. There was a backlog throughout the region.”

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers serves on the Sound Transit board as one of three representatives from the county along with Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell. He said a review of decision making processes, especially when problems arise, would help the board. He asked staff to explain their oversight process on these projects to look for improvements.

“We need to catch these things upfront,” Somers said. “I know that’s the staff’s and contractor’s desire, too.”

East Link, a 14-mile expansion from Seattle to Redmond with 10 new stations, was initially scheduled to open in the middle of next year. But “persistent quality” problems with concrete plinths and pre-cast blocks on the Interstate 90 segment have delayed it by a year or longer.

“We do not enjoy delving into the delays impacting our work,” interim CEO Brooke Belman told the committee. “Every challenge that you hear of today is resolvable.”

About 200 feet of an embankment slid almost 9 feet during the Federal Way extension, which caused a lane closure on southbound I-5 near Kent, deputy chief executive Kimberly Farley said. It is stable now, but Sound Transit leaders want to re-evaluate the construction plan for that location between the highway and a wetland.

Sound Transit leaders are evaluating the projects’ schedule risks and sequencing. It’s possible Lynnwood’s light rail comes online before East Link and Federal Way if the existing operations and maintenance facility in Seattle can handle the additional train cars and staff, Gallagher said.

“This is the most ambitious transit expansion project in the nation,” Gallagher said. “We are committed to delivering a safe and high-quality project to riders throughout the region.”

The Everett Link extension scheduled for 2037 isn’t affected by these problems. Somers said he was confident Sound Transit would implement new processes to prevent something similar from happening.

“If we learn from the mistakes, it portends well,” Somers said. “We owe it to ourselves and to the public to learn from our mistakes,” Somers said.

An update on those issues is expected later this year.

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

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