New issue may impact opening of Sound Transit’s Eastside light rail line

Sep 21, 2023, 5:11 AM | Updated: 5:21 am

Construction on the Interstate 90 bridge light rail...

Construction on the Interstate 90 bridge (Photo courtesy of Sound Transit)

(Photo courtesy of Sound Transit)

A new problem is threatening to impact the opening date of Sound Transit’s Eastside starter light rail line.

Crews discovered loose and broken tiles on the South Bellevue station passenger platform, according to spokesperson Rachelle Cunningham. “The tiles had some issues. The biggest of which is that the tiles (that were installed) were intended for inside use, they were way too slippery to use outdoors.”

Cunningham said some of the tiles also cracked in the summer heat.

“They sort of buckled against each other and lifted up,” she said.

Now the race is on to fix it, with tile removal set to begin next week.

“It’s a safety concern, and we need to have it corrected before the two lines open,” Cunningham said. “The concern is particularly high given that the affected area is on a central platform where riders can board either an east- or westbound train, and where any loose or broken tiles could present a tripping hazard.”

This 10,000-square-foot retrofit could cost $3 million, according to a transit staff report issued last Thursday. Sound Transit says blame for the problem lies with the prime contractor, Shimmick-Parsons Joint Venture. Cunningham says there have been several previous disputes over the contract for the $364 million, 2.2-mile South Bellevue segment.

Another contractor has now stepped in to finish the project, and Cunningham says Sound Transit plans to seek compensation from Shimmick-Parsons to reimburse transit taxpayers for the added costs. According to Thursday’s transit report, Shimmick-Parsons “disagrees with Sound Transit’s determination of defective work and refuses to complete the necessary repairs.”

Another setback

This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the $3.8 billion, 14-mile East Link line — stretching from Redmond Technology Station near Microsoft to the International District/Chinatown Station in Seattle. The project was approved by voters in 2008 and scheduled to open this past July but is now delayed until 2025.

Multiple sections have required additional work, most notably the 5,455 flawed concrete track supports, known as plinths, which were discovered in 2022. It required Sound Transit to rip up around 4 miles of track and rebuild the plinths in the former express lanes of I-90.

Recently, the Sound Transit board agreed to an early opening of the eight stations that form a “starter line” east of Lake Washington. It’s estimated to carry around 6,000 passengers daily, with trains running every ten minutes between South Bellevue and Redmond.

Sound Transit says if weather permits, the tile replacement at the South Bellevue station should be installed by January or early February, in time for the planned Spring 2024 opening.

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