Sound Transit scratches large tunnel projects, elevated track

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
Sound Transit
Following probable approval of I-976, Sound Transit is now looking at ways to make up for a $20 billion deficit.
Sound Transit

Making difficult decisions is what fiscal responsibility is all about. Washington State’s Sound Transit wants to take full responsibility, and on Oct. 24 the board ditched plans for tunnels to Ballard ($450 million) and through West Seattle’s Pigeon Point ($200 million) neighborhood, and deleted a call for an elevated trackway into Sodo.

Many board members say they simply will not approve anything that adds to the total project cost, which currently stands at $8 billion. This means instead of tunnels and elevated rail the board will be looking at cheaper alternatives.

The Ballard route now might have a basic drawbridge instead of a tunnel covering the length of it. A tunnel at 15th Street in Seattle might be $100 million less than digging to 20th Street. Bridge construction would come with environmental constraints and would call for huge approach structures.

The board is looking at a “hybrid” track in Sodo. New tracks would be elevated while existing tracks would stay on the ground. Building the entire route as an elevated one, which was favored by local businesses, would close transit service for four months during construction. In West Seattle, an elevated section alongside the Nucor Steel Mill that leads to Avalon Way Southwest would not add cost.

Less expensive options are needed, because it is not getting any cheaper for construction. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff says construction inflation has jumped by one-fourth since 2016.

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