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Lynnwood, Sound transit northgate light rail station
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Sound Transit’s Lynnwood expansion keeps getting pricier

Crews working on what will be the Northgate light rail station. (Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio)

The budget for Sound Transit’s expansion to Lynnwood keeps getting more expensive.

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The project cost increased $800 million over last year.

On Thursday, May 24, the Sound Transit Board voted to approve a baseline budget of $3.2 billion. It was originally estimated to cost $2.4 billion.

The cost estimate went up about $500 million when it became obvious that our region’s hot construction market was destroying the bottom line.

The board approved another $170 million to the estimate because the Federal Transit Administration asked for extra contingencies to be built into the contracts. Sound Transit expects to get a lot of grant money — more than $1 billion — from the FTA. Agency CEO Peter Rogoff says it must play ball to get the money.

“In order to do business with the FTA, you must accede to their cost estimate. And that’s why this $170.2 million dollars in additional contingency has been added. We still believe we can deliver it for less. We’re a long, long way from 2024.”

What makes base-lining the budget so risky right now is that the federal government hasn’t fully committed to giving Sound Transit this grant money. The agency expects it, after getting assurances from Congress. But until the FTA commits, Sound Transit is in limbo.

That doesn’t sit well with Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier.

“I am nervous we are embarking on a game of chicken,” Dammeier said. “We are in a very precarious position. Wish we weren’t here. I am supportive of the motion, but probably, like the rest of you, I am a little nervous about moving forward with this today.”

The other potential risk is if Sound Transit waits to set a budget, construction costs are only going to balloon, to which CEO Rogoff says:

“Delay just adds cost, right? So one of those things we would have to present to you at that time is, should you want to delay, how much more expensive will the project be once you get to it. And you have to remember we have committed to the voters that we will build it.”

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Sound Transit continues to look for ways to rein in costs. It has already found more than $200 million in savings through engineering changes.

Correction: It gets worse. The original version of this report had the cost overruns at $500,000. We’ve added three more zeros. The correct cost estimate went up about $500,000,000.


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