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Sound Transit bows to pressure, reveals costs of extending light rail

March 14, 2003

Sound Transit this week grudgingly revealed that it has not found a significantly cheaper way of extending light rail north of downtown.

Construction costs for the the seven-mile north extension appears to require somewhere around $2 billion in today's dollars. Only a few hundred million dollars can be saved using alternate tunneling routes. Additional costs for trains, administrative overhead, engineering, inflation, and bond debt would push total costs closer to the $3.5 billion estimate determined by Bellevue engineer and CETA technical advisor Jim MacIsaac. The entire Northgate to Seatac line would be the most expensive light-rail systems in America.

The estimates were planned to be release in November 2002, but Sound Transit had wanted to wait until April or May of this year to release the figures. That schedule would have kept the costs under wraps while the federal government considered whether to approve a grant for the Initial Segment, and while the state legislature considers several bills to rein in the controversial project.

The cost estimates call into question how the agency will be able to afford the full light rail system promised to voters. Sound Transit financial projections through 2016 do not show enough money in its Seattle-area fund extend light rail north of downtown. That leaves two unpopular alternatives: raising taxes or borrowing from funds intended for Eastside projects.

Sound Transit Report that shows November 2002 as the schedule for release of the Draft Supplemental EIS

Coverage on March 12, 2003, in the Seattle Times and Seattle PI

>> Seven Billion Dollars and No Way to Pay (Yet) - Jim MacIsaac, P.E., Public Interest Transportation Forum, January 20, 2003

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