Time for Sound Transit to decide which track to take

Having pulled the emergency brake just in time, Sound Transit now faces a more challenging task. The regional transit agency must readjust its plans rapidly while remaining focused on the goal.

The mandate from the public is to create a regional light rail system which includes a serious start toward the north end. The Sound Transit governing board must make fulfilling the voters’ rail expectations the primary objective.

To be a real part of solving the region’s traffic problems, any light rail system must extend to the Northgate area of Seattle. Stopping at the University District, as has often been discussed, would do little more than create a super-expensive shuttle service between downtown Seattle and the university.

As the board recognized last week, the costs for the agency’s planned route between downtown and the university had grown way over budget. Continuing with the current plan would have broken trust with the public’s expectation of a plan that adheres at least reasonably well to promised costs. The added expenses would also have seriously jeopardized Sound Transit’s possibilities of finding the money to extend the line northward from the university.

The board brought the plan to a halt after hearing the latest price estimates from a contractor. The costs for designing and building a 4.5 mile tunnel under Capitol Hill and Portage Bay to the University of Washington were placed at $728 million. That’s a whopping 45 percent higher than the $500 million Sound Transit had budgeted for the project.

The board is right to stop and reassess its options as quickly as possible. The members have asked for staff reports next month on how the costs have grown and alternatives to the tunnel plan.

The largest complicating factor for the board is a pending federal grant of $500 million. Depending on how many changes are made to the light rail plan, Sound Transit risks losing the federal money either entirely or for several years. The board, though, is working with the congressional delegation and federal transportation officials to see how much leeway may be available. Federal officials ought to be willing to do whatever is possible to avoid punishing the region for trying to stick to a budget.

As Sound Transit looks ahead, it must focus on delivering the promise of light rail. The board’s review offers hope that more cost-effective options can be found for the route to the university. It’s clear that Seattle city representatives on the board may continue to argue for expensive measures to keep neighborhoods along the light-rail route happy. The entire board must keep in mind that the rail system is intended to be a regional service, not a pricey neighborhood amenity.

While watching costs, board members must also keep an eye on the clock — and the future. It’s OK for them to pause briefly to adjust their rail plans. But they cannot allow a review to turn into endless delay. The region needs a modern rail system as part of its solution to the growing transportation difficulties facing the entire metropolitan area. When Sound Transit finishes regrouping, it must be ready to make a real step northward.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Monday, Feb. 6

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein received this card, by mail at her Everett home, from the Texas-based neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front.  The mail came in June, a month after Muhlstein wrote about the group's fliers being posted at Everett Community College and in her neighborhood.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)





(Dan Bates / The Herald)
Editorial: Treat violent extremism as the disease it is

The state Attorney General urges a commission to study a public health response to domestic terrorism.

Comment: End of covid emergency will carry costs for nearly all

Along with an end to free tests, the disease and its expenses will be treated like any other malady.

Comment: Wealth taxes carry too many drawbacks to help states

They discourage savings and investment and it’s difficult to set up a fair system of what they tax.

Comment: Biden’s stock market record pretty close to Trump’s

At similar points in their presidencies, most market measures show little difference between the two men.

Comment: Memphis officials can learn from Minneapolis’ mistakes

After the murder of George Floyd, there were promises of reform, but a lack of specifics stymied the effort.

Comment: Hounding justices’ spouses out of work step too far

Questioning the chief justice’s work as a legal recruiter serves no purpose toward the court’s ethics.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Feb. 5

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Photo Courtesy The Boeing Co.
On September 30, 1968, the first 747-100 rolled out of Boeing's Everett factory.
Editorial: What Boeing workers built beyond the 747

More than 50 years of building jets leaves an economic and cultural legacy for the city and county.

Most Read