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Sound Transit’s Federal Way light rail project is millions over budget

(Sound Transit)

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff informed the agency’s board Thursday that its Federal Way light rail project is now millions over budget.

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The cost of extending Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail out to Federal Way — out of the Sea-Tac Airport area — has now ballooned by $460.3 million. The project is now expected to cost $2.549 billion. That’s nearly a half billion more than Sound Transit anticipated back in 2014. The Sound Transit board was briefed on the project’s costs at its Thursday meeting.

“Now this is a ST2 project, not an ST3 project,” said KIRO Radio traffic reporter Chris Sullivan. “It was passed a lot longer ago than the extension all the way to Tacoma under ST3. Regardless, Sound Transit is now nearly a billion dollars over budget on ST2 — $460 million here (to get down to Federal Way), and nearly $500 million to get up to Lynnwood out of the Northgate area.”

Scott Thompson with Sound Transit said that there are two primary drivers of the cost overruns: property prices and relocating families; and increased costs for materials such as steel, lumber, and concrete. Essentially, since ST2 was passed, property values along the light rail path have increased and Sound Transit needs to purchase them to build the line.

“That’s what’s jacking up the prices to Lynnwood,” Sullivan said. “The prices of the houses went up by nearly 40 percent. Sound Transit needs to condemn these houses and take them under eminent domain. So they are seeing a very similar price in what they have to pay for properties to get down to Federal Way.”

Sound Transit Federal Way project

Just as Sound Transit did when it discovered its Lynnwood project was over budget, Sullivan expects that the agency will start looking for things to cut from the Federal Way project.

“Sound Transit cut up to $200 million when they looked at the extension to Lynnwood …” Sullivan said. “I assume they will do similar stuff with a hatchet to get to Federal Way.”

Thompson said that Sound Transit will try to lessen future costs as it selects contractors to complete the project.

“For this project, we are looking to get a design-build contractor onboard early in 2019, and throughout that selection process we will be incentivizing them to really contain their costs, and keeping us on schedule,” Thompson said. “We still have some work to do on this project, to get it designed and built. But we are still expecting to have service down to Federal Way by 2024.”

“We don’t anticipate any change in design,” he added. “We have a preferred route and station locations … at this point we are not anticipating any changes to that. I think we will try to contain costs and stay within that design and meet our schedule. We will do that within our selection of a contractor for that project.”

The trip from Sea-Tac to Federal Way on the new line is expected to take about 15 minutes via the new light rail line. The light rail extension from Angle Lake to Federal Way will be about 7.8 miles, and have three stations.

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