Budget restrictions prompt realignment plans for Ballard light rail

After a year of reduced revenue and rising real estate and construction costs, Sound Transit is beginning to reassess the West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions.

For the past few years, planning studies and public outreach have narrowed down Ballard’s light rail plans to a few specific options—now it seems those could be out of the question.

In a recent newsletter, Sound Transit explained that due to reduced revenue from COVID-19 and increasing real estate and construction costs, they’re currently “undertaking a process called realignment.” Sound Transit is now assessing plans and timelines for projects such as the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions. Unless funding comes from federal or state sources, it’s likely the light rail projects will be significantly delayed.

Sound Transit is facing an unprecedented and extremely challenging financial environment caused by two major, simultaneous factors: (1) a pandemic-driven recession that has severely reduced consumer spending and government agency tax revenues; and (2) unrelenting pressures in the real estate and construction sectors of the economy that are continuing to drive costs to levels significantly beyond those foreseen in our plans.

The combined real estate and construction costs for projects including extensionns to West Seattle, Ballard, Tacoma Dome and a new Operations and Maintenance Facility South, have risen dramatically. The project costs are now estimated to be $4.8 billion to $6.2 billion, or an increase of more than 40%.

The current preferred alternatives for Ballard light rail alignment include either a fixed high bridge over Salmon Bay on 14th Ave NW, or a tunnel option along 14th Ave NW or 15th Ave NW. The tunnel options are considerably more expensive and would require third-party funding.

Sound Transit has created a realignment webpage to keep the public informed as new ideas emerge.

This April, Sound Transit plans to engage with the public and key stakeholders as they make realignment decisions. By May, the Sound Transit board expects to identify priorities for a draft realignment plan, which will be crafted and presented in June and July.

If you want to stay updated on realignment and timing for public engagement, you can listen to Sound Transit Board and System Expansion Committee meetings. The public is also invited to share thoughts and questions by emailing realignment@soundtransit.org or by calling the realignment hotline at (206) 553-3400.

To dig a little deeper and learn more about the project planning and alternatives discussed for West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions, visit Sound Transit’s online open house. Sound Transit will continue to use the online open house and other virtual options to engage with community organizations, property owners, and other interested stakeholders.

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