Sound Transit director quits amid rising costs

Associated Press

SEATTLE – The director of Sound Transit’s light-rail program has resigned after ballooning costs caused the regional transit agency’s board to suspend negotiations with the contractor for a planned Seattle tunnel.

“Over the past three years we have made thousands of large and small decisions about design details and contract packaging,” Paul Bay, the director of Link Light Rail, wrote in his resignation letter.

“Critics are now questioning the wisdom of some of those decisions, and in perfect hindsight, we can all see things that could have been done better.”

Bay took full responsibility for any mistakes in judgment.

Bay sent his letter Friday to Bob White, Sound Transit executive director, who acknowledged the agency knew the tunnel’s cost was soaring, but kept it from the public.

In July, internal estimates on the project increased from $557 million to $669 million, White told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Sound Transit chose not to reveal the $112 million increase to preserve confidentiality in the negotiations between it and Modern Transit Constructors, the company hired to design and build the tunnel, White said.

Modern Transit said it couldn’t build the 4 1/2-mile tunnel beneath central Seattle for less than $782 million. That caused the transit board to suspend talks with the contractor on Thursday, and to order transit agency staff to come up with options for it to consider at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Sound Transit is building a $4 billion light-rail, train and bus system for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. The tunnel, a key piece of a 24-mile, $2.4 billion light-rail line stretching from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to north Seattle, would run from the downtown convention center to Capitol Hill and then under the Lake Washington Ship Canal to the University of Washington.

White told the P-I that Modern Transit was wary of a number of risks, including unknown soil or rock conditions, especially beneath the canal.

Bill Phillips of Modern Transit disagreed that his company was asking for too much risk protection.

“We believe our number is fair and competitive,” Phillips said. “We are continuing to discuss our proposal with them.”

Phillips also said Sound Transit shouldn’t have been surprised by Modern Transit’s figures, which he said had been discussed in August. On Thursday, Modern Transit was within 10 percent of that target price, he said.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit said it has been slowly gaining ridership on its commuter trains, which began running Sept. 18 on existing railroad tracks into Seattle.

For now, just two trains in the morning and two in the afternoon run between Tacoma and Seattle, with stops in Auburn and Sumner. Stations in Puyallup, Kent and Tukwila are to open by Feb. 5.

Last week, the trains averaged 1,299 riders a day, said spokesman Clarence Moriwaki, up from 1,047 a day during the first week.

Sound Transit had predicted initial daily ridership of about 1,500 passengers, but that was based on having more stations open and more trips each day. By 2002, the agency hopes to offer nine round trips a day, with service extended to Everett.

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