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Sound Transit oversight panel issues year-end performance review


Sound Transit’s Citizen’s Oversight Panel Jan. 17 released its Year-end 2001 Performance Report, citing progress made in overcoming the agency’s past problems and noting several accomplishments — not the least of which is Executive Director Joni Earl’s leadership since June — and urged the board to keep its regional focus, and manage and monitor plan execution as it goes forward into the agency’s sixth year.

"Professionalism has never been higher and accountability to mission and goals appears to be real for the first time," COP members wrote. "There is evidence that internal disputes are being resolved, that staff are being intensively supported with training and morale-building efforts, and that the organizational culture is undergoing a shift toward rigor and pragmatism in delivering projects."

Although members believe Sound Transit has not fully restored public credibility, the foundation for future success of the Link Light Rail program seems to have been laid.

COP also stresses that the board must demonstrate its ability to maintain focus on the agency’s regional nature through deliberations, decision-making and negotiations. Region-wide transportation benefits must come first and that agreements with third parties such as King County, Tukwila, Mukilteo and Burlington Northern Santa Fe must not overwhelm the agency’s budgets.

The panel members observed improvements in managing and monitoring project controls, but believe greater discipline and better communication still are needed to head off scope expansion and rising costs.

In recapping past areas of concern, COP noted that Earl has exhibited increased urgency in settling when Sounder commuter rail service will be added between Lakewood and Tacoma, and Everett and Seattle by traveling to Texas to speak with BNSF executives.

While the agency’s former financial plan lacked clarity, the updated plan is much more realistic and takes into account the current economy’s impact on revenue growth, investment yields and inflation. Project management and control also have improved, says COP.

And, although Sound Transit’s relationships with the federal and state governments, and some members of the regional community were cause for concern last year, the situation has improved somewhat. The $500 million full funding grant agreement that Congress held last year appears to be on track for Congressional reauthorization this year. But COP still hears concerns from local governments regarding poor communication concerning station budgets, design processes, permitting requirements and other expectations.

COP also is concerned about state-level relationships — especially since Initiative 776 was filed. I-776, if passed by voters, would repeal the regionally voter-approved motor vehicle excise taxes that support 20 percent of the Sound Transit program.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/28/2002