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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Sound Transit faces beginnings, endings


Despite an eleventh-hour delay to respond to questions posed by incoming chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation Rep. Harold Rogers, Federal Transit Administration Jan. 19 finalized approval of a $500 million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority’s (Sound Transit) Central Link Light Rail.

Local light-rail opponents in November sought to put a three-month hold on light-rail-related activities and called for an independent audit of the agency’s cost and ridership estimates. Shortly afterward, Paul Bay resigned his director of the light rail program post; Lyndon "Tuck" Wilson Jr. was named interim director of the light-rail department.

Then in December, agency officials announced that cost projections had increased from $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion and its construction timeline had increased by three years.

Rogers sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater earlier this month stating that, because project costs had increased substantially, his committee could not approve the FFGA. This grant agreement didn’t require such approval, and FTA proceeded.
"We acknowledge that Chairman Rogers has raised some serious concerns," said Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, who chairs the Sound Transit board’s government affairs task force, in a prepared statement. "We understand his concerns and we are eager to work with the chairman and his staff to address them, including an independent assessment of the project’s finances."

When complete, Central Link would extend 24 miles from Southgate, Wash., through Seattle to South 200th Street, south of Sea-Tac International Airport. Tacoma Link, planned to run 1.6 miles from Tacoma’s theater district to the Tacoma Dome, and is scheduled to begin construction this year.

Subcontractor RH Rhine Inc. Jan. 22 began preparing grounds, formerly occupied by Smurfit Recycling Co. in the Tacoma Dome District industrial area, for the segment’s operations and maintenance facility construction. Training and operations for the segment’s five stations would be housed in the $4 million facility.

RH Rhine is preparing to demolish existing industrial buildings on the site. Upon completion, prime contractor Berschauer Phillips would begin construction of the 11,000-square-foot metal building. Sound Transit officials believe the facility’s construction would take from 12 to 15 months.

Construction contracts for the 1.6-mile rail line, stations and other street and sidewalk improvements have not been awarded.

Despite the recent progress in moving both segments of Link Light Rail forward, Sound Transit Executive Director Bob White Jan. 23 submitted his resignation to board chair Dave Earling.

While he says his experience with Sound Transit has been rewarding — both professionally and personally — White believes the agency requires new leadership, unencumbered by past issues and decisions, to restore public confidence in the light-rail project.

The board plans to discuss a process for selecting a new executive director at its next regular meeting Jan. 25.

Chief Operating Officer Joni Earl is expected to serve as acting executive director until a replacement process is determined. White offered to remain available as long as needed to ensure smooth leadership transition.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/24/2001