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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Link marches on despite critics


Hoping to silence the anti-light-rail chants, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) listened, then presented its final answer: Link light-rail plans must move forward.

The agency Jan. 8 and 9 held open houses seeking public opinion on whether to continue Link Light Rail planning, despite a proposed three-year extension and $1 billion cost increase. Then, Jan. 11, the board voted 14-1 to adopt the revisions and enter a pending $500 million Full Funding Grant Agreement with Federal Transit Administration.

"We have a lot of work to do now," said Board Chair Dave Earling in a prepared statement. "It’s my hope that everyone in the community, including those who have been skeptical about light rail, will come together and help us make this project successful."

Concurrently, the board also directed Sound Transit staff to proceed with a six-month plan to refine and complete the contracting process for the project’s tunnel portions and continue seeking ways to reduce costs and risks.

Last month, officials learned the Capitol Hill/Portage Bay tunnel would cost $168 million more than originally budgeted, propelling the tunnel’s portion of construction cost to $728 million.

Also last month, FTA stressed that since the Link project scored so high when competing for funds, the budget and schedule revisions had little impact in its decision to enter the grant agreement.

The first segment in line to be built would run seven miles from the University District to the Duwamish industrial area — and includes a 4.5-mile tunnel between the University District and downtown Seattle. Construction of the $2.6 billion segment is scheduled to begin in June 2002; construction of another segment is planned for 2004.

But the budget, communication and scheduling problems that have surfaced during the light-rail planning process have taken their toll, requiring Sound Transit to revisit its own structure.

In response, the agency plans to reorganize to improve accountability, project management and communication with its board and the public. Management of the light-rail department already changed with the naming of Lyndon "Tuck" Wilson Jr. as interim director.

Sound Transit also plans to create a technical advisory committee with specialized experience in construction, finance and project management to work with the agency’s board and staff, reporting regularly on issues and obstacles it foresees.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/12/2001