Updates on the Sound Transit Realignment Process

By: Meg Hanan Posted: 07/19/2021

Sound Transit Board looks to make decision at August 5 meeting

What is Realignment?

Sound Transit is facing an affordability gap on the ST3 expansion. While the gap was originally driven by less forecasted revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the current estimate of $6.5 billion is primarily due to cost increases predicted for ST3 projects. Sound Transit hired Triunity, a third-party consultant, to look at Sound Transit’s cost estimates and make recommendations for how to improve cost estimating in the future. They suggest implementing a market-based approach to property value (instead of relying on assessed values), involving specialists (appraisers, real estate consultants, environmental professionals) earlier in the process, and incorporating construction impacts into right of way analysis. Find the full report here.

Because ST3 program approved by voters is no longer affordable, the Sound Transit Board of Directors is required to go through a realignment process to return ST3 to an affordable status.

What is the Board considering?  

The Board is looking at plans that could delay or phase projects in the ST3 expansion. The Board has been vocally opposed to canceling voter-approved projects.

No projects currently under construction will be impacted by the realignment process. The Board has also been vocal about seeking new revenue sources to help fill the affordability gap and keep projects on track.

On June 24, Kent Keel, University Place Councilmember and Chair of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, unveiled his realignment proposal and encouraged his fellow Board members to submit amendments. The Chair’s proposal prioritizes Light Rail extensions and delays Sounder and parking investments. Parking projects alone consist of about $1 billion in program costs

Chair Keel’s proposal:

Chair Keel’s Sound Transit proposal

Notable amendments:

  • The amendment includes a requirement for an annual written report to board members. That report must include:
    • A listing of all uncompleted projects with a description of any change in scope, schedule, or budget
    • Updated cost estimates
    • An update on all projects with cost increases of 5% or more
    • An update on all projects with a delay greater than one year from the assumed delivery date in the ST3 ballot measure
    • An updated 25-year financial plan
    • An update on public engagement performed
    • Staff recommendations for adjustments to project tiers.

What next?

  • July 22: Regular Board Meeting where they will continue to discuss amendments.
  • August 5: Special Board Meeting where they will consider taking a vote on a realignment proposal
Notes/Analysis based on Chamber priorities
  • The Chamber continues to advocate for all ST3 projects to be completed as close to the original timeline as possible, especially light rail expansion.
  • We encourage Sound Transit to conduct deeper stakeholder outreach throughout the realignment process and in the future with unserved and underserved neighborhoods, the business community, and other community groups and stakeholders.
  • We must prioritize investments that strengthen our transit systems and connect more people to job centers. Any decisions around project delays should take into account equity and system access. Economic opportunity should not be limited to those who can afford and access a car.
  • Increased access to public transportation can get more people out of single occupancy vehicles. We must take necessary action to address climate change and reduce our carbon emission. The most recent deadly heat wave in the Pacific Northwest has shown us just how necessary that is.
  • More work and transparency are needed on the agency’s cost estimating to ensure the region receives a high-quality transit system for the future.

If you would like to talk to staff about any questions or concerns around realignment, please contact Meg Hanan.