Sound Transit Extends Light-Rail Planning to 2026 

Written by Jennifer McLawhorn, Managing Editor
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Sound Transit

SEATTLE – Sound Transit is pushing its light-rail planning an extra couple of years until 2026. It will also spend an additional $32.8 million.

According to the Seattle Times, Sound Transit is pushing its light-rail planning an extra couple of years until 2026. It will also spend an additional $32.8 million, “while consultants study new downtown and South Lake Union station sites promoted by Seattle Major Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine.” The $32.8 million is going to HTNB Corp. “which will write a final environmental impact statement that’s required by federal law, and will conduct preliminary engineering, for the proposed $11.1 billion light-rail route from Ballard to Sodo.”

Last week, the Board of Directors for Sound Transit already approved a contract change totaling $122.5 million. However, it’s been reported that most of those funds would be for the final citywide environmental impact statement, and it would leave “a net increase of $32.8 million to examine new options.” 

The public has condemned both the process delays and the Board’s idea to forgo constructing another station between Union and King Street Stations. Now, consultants will work to assess the new sites which were not studied in the EIS draft back in January 2022. 

The first site is a second Pioneer Square Station, “plus a ‘south’ of Chinatown train station adjacent to the former immigration building on Seattle Boulevard South near Interstate 90, site of a proposed redevelopment.” The Mayor of Seattle “vowed to prevent repeating the history of Interstate 5, the Kingdom, and other public works that tore into the Chinatown International District community.” This Pioneer Square Station would “complement” the vision of the current Transit Board Chair and would have housing towers (which would replace the county jail and current offices in Pioneer Square). A new jail would be built in Sodo. The Seattle Times reports that this particular version would save money by “discarding the voter-approved Midtown Station below Fifth Avenue at Madison Street.”

The second site would move the future Denny Station “northwest of the busy crossroads of Westlake Avenue North and Denny Way.” By doing so, construction would take place on a corner lot. Earlier this Summer, the Seattle Mayor decided to “embrace” the site, “which keeps some traffic lanes of Westlake open during construction, instead of an earlier option beneath the street, where excavation would block all five lanes.”

Earlier this year, in March, the Board wanted to keep the Union Station hub in the EIS, but “preliminary engineering will be performed only on the preferred versions,” according to Project Director, Sandra Fann. One Board member, Claudia Balducci of Bellevue, “defended the vote Thursday as necessary to let environmental studies continue even though she favors the Union Station hub.” Balducci is quoted as saying that “if we were to not pass this today, we would be dead in the water. We would be at a standstill. . . Is there a way to make it cheaper and more doable?” in regard to the fact that the Union Station version may cost $800 million more than other versions.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s office, Jamie Housen, “emphasized additional study of the Denny Station shift” and how it would cause no delay to the schedule. According to the report, the “full Ballard-to-Sodo segment is currently scheduled for 2039.”

Of course, there are a variety of factors at play, including future financing, construction or design mistakes, etc. Mayor Harrell wants to expedite other steps in the project. King County Executive Constantine’s staff said that “Sound Transit worked with [the] community to address concerns by crafting creative solutions with community members, which has involved some shifts in potential station locations, adding time to the federal process.”

Part of the $32.8 million will be used to design the Seattle Center Station located west of Climate Pledge Arena instead of off Mercer Street. The West Seattle-Sodo route planning should be finished by next year, and it “was separated from the more intricate Ballard-Sodo portion.”

Currently, the contract for HNTB Corp.’s environmental study and preliminary engineering work comes out to $318.8 million. 

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