City leaders have turned the political heat up on Sound Transit, the regional bus and rail agency, to make certain that a proposed freeway bus station gets built as planned.
In a lengthy April 2 letter to Snohomish County’s Sound Transit Board members — County Executive Aaron Reardon, Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts and Edmonds City Councilwoman Deanna Dawson — Mayor Jerry Smith asked “that the Sound Transit Board fully fund the ‘flyer’ Station and construct to the current project scope.”
The freeway bus station is one of several projects approved by the Sound Transit Board in 1996 as part of “Sound Move.”
The station would give users of the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center freeway access to Sound Transit’s regional buses, known as ST Express. Plans call for construction of the stop with an elevator connecting pedestrians via an overpass to the five-story Community Transit parking garage off of 236th Street Southwest.
A combination of obstacles, including rising cost of materials and complexities of building the site in its planned location, increased estimated costs for the freeway bus stop from a $25.5 million budget in 2005 to $35 to $40 million today, said Jim Edwards, Sound Transit’s director of capital projects.
“I think that everybody’s aware that in this climate we’ve seen some pretty significant increases in the cost of concrete, steel and asphalt,” Edwards said.
Add to that the complexities of building a station in the freeway median near an existing overpass — “pretty severe physical constraints” — and the costs shot up, added Linda Robson, Sound Transit spokeswoman.
The agency found a way to save about $1 million by delaying construction until 2009 to avoid building during two winters, but declined a suggested cost-saving measure — moving the bus stop further north along the freeway — because it would have forced a design change that cost money, Robson said.
“That means the design we’ve come up with is pretty much the only feasible one,” she said.
Mountlake Terrace officials expected construction of the freeway bus stop to begin in 2008, following on the heels of the Community Transit parking garage, which is expected to be finished by late 2008.
Michelle Angrick, a Mountlake Terrace City Councilwoman and Community Transit board member, asked Sound Transit’s chief policy and planning officer, Greg Walker, for a status report on the freeway bus station during the April 3 Community Transit board meeting.
“I pointed out that while this project has a shortfall, other shortfalls have been funded in the past,” she said. “In reality, it really is a South Snohomish County project.”
Sound Transit’s board hasn’t yet decided whether to ask for another public vote on extensions of the Link Light Rail, as part of Sound Transit 2, Dawson said, adding she’s certain the freeway bus station will get built with existing funds.
“Figuring out where to come up with the money for that is not unique to this project and we will figure a way to do that,” she said.
Smith wrote that Mountlake Terrace understands rising construction costs have led to a budget shortfall, but said available funding sources total about $30 million, leaving the project $5 million to $10 million short of its budget.
To make up the shortfall, Edwards said, Sound Transit’s board will likely consider combining a $4 million project reserve with $5 million in federal grants and, perhaps, “additional financial capacity” from past savings.
Mountlake Terrace city manager John Caulfield said the city also has been concerned about what appears to be a change in Sound Transit’s long-range light rail planning.
The agency has hinted at possibly asking voters this year to approve funds for the next phase of light rail extensions, commonly referred to as ST2.
Robson said the board has not yet decided whether to put light rail funding on the ballot this year but that a survey has shown voters do not want to wait 20-30 years to see light rail running.
That means future light rail extensions will be based on a 12-year construction plan, with Link Light Rail going as far north as Seattle’s Northgate area but not to Snohomish County or to Shoreline.
“I don’t disagree with the survey,” Caulfield said, “but they never asked ‘should light rail be extended in to Snohomish County’?”