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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Seattle approaching its moment of light-rail truth


Light rail is likely to be a hot topic of Seattle-area conversations this week, beginning with open houses to be held in Union Station’s Great Hall Jan. 8 and 9.

Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) staff members last month presented a modified Link light-rail budget and construction schedule, which the board requested upon learning that Capitol Hill/Portage Bay tunnel’s construction would cost $728 million — $168 million more than budgeted.

Overall, project cost projections have increased from $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion (adjusted for inflation), and the system would begin revenue service in November 2009 rather than in 2006 as originally planned.

Discussions likely will come to a head Jan. 11 when the full board meets and decides whether to approve the new budget and schedule. Of 18 members, 17 plan to be present (one member is out of town). The decision to proceed would have to pass by a super majority of 12 votes — which seems likely.

"Sound Transit’s [FTA] rating was so high, they’d have to have substantially high cost increases to endanger the FFGA," says Karen Clarke, FTA spokesperson.
And FTA put its confidence in writing.
"We have their audit -- it’s in our hands," says Clarence Moriwaki, Sound Transit spokesman, adding that FTA plans to execute the $500 million Full-Funding Grant Agreement, pending signature of Executive Director Bob White.

And that’s another decision the board may render Jan. 11: To sign, or not to sign.

So by Jan. 12, the agency could be back on the light-rail track, or it could be heading back to the budget-crunching, project-realigning drawing board.

Or nearly anything in between.

Kathi Kube

To discuss New Start funding, follow this link to Management Discussion Forum