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9/12/2000



Rail News: Passenger Rail

COP issues mid-year cheers and jeers to Sound Transit


In its mid-2000 report released Sept. 7, the Citizen Oversight Panel (COP) issued some praise and voiced some concerns regarding Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority’s (Sound Transit) mid-year performance.

COP, appointed to monitor Sound Transit, noted that Link Light Rail is on schedule to award its first major construction contracts, and Sounder commuter rail is poised to begin revenue service Sept. 18, despite delays and cost increases.

Also, while COP’s 1999 year-end report cited a lack of community communication and input response, this wasn’t an area of concern during the January-to-June 2000 oversight period. However, the report states that "while Sound Transit’s board and staff have tried hard to please individual communities and interests, a combination of scope changes and improvements at various levels, review stages and jurisdictions can no longer be sustained."

Despite recent opposition to the Link light rail portion of the plan, costs for all three Sound Move business lines and overhead functions rose 12 percent. While some increases are attributable to cost overruns or estimation errors, others are a result of many small changes to project scope, or "scope creep."

Some examples include the Beacon Hill tunnel addition to southeast Seattle’s Link alignment; parking garages in Kent and Auburn stations originally planned as surface parking; additional bus hours in East King County and early service implementation; expanded transit center and direct access projects, and southeast Seattle’s Community Development Plan.

Additional costs already approved by Sound Transit’s board as part of the 2001 Finance Plan include $27 million Bellevue Direct Access and $25 million track and signal agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

"Unless the board approves reductions in scope or changes in its financial policies, the additional anticipated costs will cause Sound Transit to be overextended," the report states.

Another potential cost increase is an $83 million funding gap for Sounder’s north segment, caused by a $37 million overrun and $46 million shortfall due to Initiative 695 (I-695). Passed in November 1999, I-695 changed Washington’s state motor vehicle excise tax to a flat $30 fee, which reduced the state’s budget by $750 million — including the state’s planned contribution to Sounder.

After I-695 passed, Puget Sound Regional Council granted Sounder $60 million. This year, Sound Transit’s board plans to pursue "greater, longer-term support and commitment from the state," says Clarence Moriwacki, Sound Transit spokesman.

Moriwacki adds that COP’s reporting period ended in July and several areas of concern already were resolved. Central Puget Sound’s economy is booming, he says, and the planned light rail tunnel "should be affordable within our revenue sources."

Also, the board knowingly approved the additional expenses that COP says have led to scope creep.

"Now we’re going to find ways to fund them," says Moriwacki.

Kathi Kube


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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