September editorial—Sound Transit is experiencing a lot of hurt

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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Sound Transit will continue to look at other alignments for the Everett Link Extension.
Sound Transit

I’m surprised I did not take a Vaseline shot to the eye.

It might have served as a bit of relief, because what was squiggling in front of me was hard for my pupils to take. It was officially my first diaper change, and I was officially named the worst diaper changer in a matter of seconds. We were getting ready to take baby Aidan home and had the Ralph Lauren Polo ensemble all ready. He was going to really make an entrance, then was going to be quickly changed into PJs. Makes sense for a newborn. Aidan was recently circumcised, so a fresh diaper meant putting Vaseline on the troubled area. Knowing how sensitive it was to the touch, I attempted to delicately apply the relief. Wait, I am being a little to eloquent here. Let’s start over. While Aidan was kicking and screaming and yelling and bawling, I put a dab on my finger and went in. Not soon thereafter the boy’s foot made contact with my finger full of Vaseline and the first attempt had to be aborted. I needed to reload. More screaming and wiggling followed, and the second try was maybe a tiny bit more successful than the first. I might have gotten a smidge to stick, but it was not enough. Now Aidan was in full fed-up mode. I finally got enough in the general area and was ready to lay down the diaper. Oh, man, how did the nurse do this? How did the video show this? This goes over here, no, it goes under here. Now the baby was in a state of all-out anger. OK, good enough. Now for the outfit. Gulp.

Sometimes when everything goes wrong at once, it’s tough to focus on the right task. Sound Transit is feeling it now. In mid-August the agency announced that four projects, the East Link, Redmond, Lynnwood, and Federal Way, were facing delays and would not be opening for another two to three years. The one area where officials were kicking and screaming about was the I-90 floating bridge. There, workers were pulling up 4 miles of brand new (baby?) track because concrete supports were either built to the wrong dimensions or built with poor concrete. Mortar pads, rebar, and track fasteners all had problems.

I have officially spent the last 20+ years covering infrastructure projects, so naturally my first question is where the heck was the quality assurance/quality control on this project? How could inspectors miss the fact that some of the concrete supports just did not fit right and/or that the mix was poor quality? I am sure the special blend faced rigorous testing in the laboratory to determine maximum strength, etc., so whenever it is discovered that material is of poor quality out in the field something happened between the concrete batch plant and the jobsite. Now the mistakes are ending up in the stack heap.
The Federal Extension delay was an unexpected cut in a sensitive area. A 200-ft landslide threw up a red flag for engineers, who decided to sink columns deeper into the soil because the thought was the ground was more unstable than originally determined. The message from Mother Earth was certainly a God send.

Sound Transit said the concrete worker strike earlier in the year has set the opening of the Lynnwood extension back to 2025. Remember what I just said about quality assurance/quality control? Yeah, I would get a lot of eyes pressing on that mixture of cement, water, and sand. OK, maybe I’m being more dramatic and should be more eloquent here.
In announcing the delays, Sound Transit interim CEO Brooke Belman said every challenge was resolvable and assured everyone the chief priority was the passengers’ needs for safety, quality, and long-term durability.

In other words, the solution goes far beyond a dab of something.

Read more articles on track construction.

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