The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Failed History of Sound Transit 1994 -2000

Update On Sound Transit 1/1/01
by the Municipal League Regional Issues Committee.

In 1994, the Municipal League established a diverse RTA study committee to evaluate and recommend to the Board a position on the proposed Regional Transit Authority’s $6.7 billion three-county ballot measure for 1995. The Municipal League Board, after reviewing the RTA Study Committee’s Findings and Recommendations, agreed to support the 1995 and 1996 RTA ballot measures. Voters in the region turned down the first RTA proposal on March 14th by a vote of 46.5% to 53.5%.

After the 1995 loss, the RTA Board formed an Advisory Committee to get more public input and develop revisions for a new ballot proposal. The RTA significantly revised its previous proposal, and adopted “Sound Move”. It included a “sub-regional equity policy” which assured that funds from each of the five sub-regions could only be used within the sub-region of origin. With other changes and reductions in plan costs, they submitted a $3.9 billion proposal to regional voters on Nov.5, 1996.

By a vote of 57% YES to 43% NO, the voters authorized the RTA Plan with a .4% sales tax and a .3% regional motor vehicle excise tax to provide the regional funds for Phase 1 construction and operation of the Regional Express Bus, Sounder Commuter Rail and Link Light Rail systems.
Where is Sound Transit’s (RTA) Link Today?

In November 2000, Sound Transit’s Executive Director Bob White announced that the new estimated cost to complete the complex Link Tunnel from downtown to the University district had increased from the original $500 million to $800 million. The original budget was $2.6 billion By extending the schedule to 2009 rather than 2006, and increasing the budget $1 billion to 3.6 billion in year of expenditure dollars from the original 2.6 billion in 2006 dollars the entire Link Light Rail Phase I project could be completed.

The Executive Director recommended that negotiations with Modern Transit Constructors on the design/build contract for the Link Tunnel through Capitol Hill to the University District be suspended. The Board asked the staff for an explanation of why the tunnel cost estimate is different from what was budgeted for the project. A January 11, 2001 report was to include not just why the numbers are different, but also a review of the process that brought Sound Transit to this point. The Link Director Paul Bay resigned. Bay was replaced by the former manager of the Portland MAX light rail project, Tuck Wilson. He is the new acting director. In October 2000, Joni Earl, former county administrative officer for Snohomish County had been appointed to a new Sound Transit position, that of Chief Operating Officer (COO).
December 2000 ST Board Meeting

Under the direction of the COO and the acting Link Director the Sound Transit Board was presented with a “Central Link Briefing Book”, dated 12/14/2000, in response to the Board’s November request.

It documented the Reason for Link, the Project Status, the History of the Link Tunnel Cost Estimates, the Chronology of the Design/Build Tunnel Negotiations, the Revised Costs to Complete, the Affordability of the Project, the Route and Station Options., Schedule and Contracting Options, the $500 million first phase Federal Full Funding Grant, Information on Getting to Northgate, Public Outreach and a Decision Schedule.

The background history and current evaluation led to the following initial conclusions summarized by the staff in the December ST staff’s report to the Board and the community. The reasons given for the agency’s underestimation of tunnel costs were the following:


Staff’s enthusiasm to remain optimistic about the original tunnel cost estimates and schedules and underestimating Link project contingencies;

Limited competition on bidding;

Pressures of the 2006 Phase I completion schedule that increased estimated overtime costs;

New information on soil conditions, particularly under the ship canal;

Costly third-party agreements with the U. of Washington, King County, Metro and Seattle;

Overall, an unfavorable market due to many other regional construction projects.

The inexperience of U.S. contractors with design/build rather than bid/build proposals on tunnels.

Lack of an adequate system of Link project management cost controls.

Sound Transit’s goal in the period between December 14th and January 11, 2001 was to provide outreach to the public, receive public comments and hold a dialogue with communities affected by the project revisions. From January 11th to August 1St the goal was to provide a six months review with more information and open up public opportunities to participate in refining the Link Project, based upon decisions to be made at the January 11th Sound Transit Board meeting.

A report of an independent “Peer Review Committee consisting of four pubic finance professionals from the city of Seattle, King and Snohomish County and the Port of Seattle, and a member of the Citizen’s Oversight Panel was made available to Board members. In it they reported that the revised financial plan falls within the “range of reasonableness but in the high end range”. They concluded:


The ST financial model was well designed and comprehensive. It assumes that the inflation rate will be stable and that tax (sales and regional MVET) revenues will grow faster than costs.

They found that, without additional financial resources, the plan has no flexibility in the North King Sub-area through 2016. Currently there is no financial capacity for Phase II expansion of the rail system in the North King sub-regional area before 2016.

The Plan assumes an aggressive effort to secure a second Federal Grant of $913 million in about 2004; if the grant is smaller, the plan’s scope and schedule would have to be adjusted.

To recommend that ST staff subject the agency’s Financial Plan to an annual “stress test” to assess the implications of changes in financial and plan assumptions or conditions.

They found that there was no consistency in the presentation of ST financial information to the public. They recommended that ST choose a consistent base of reporting and use that base in the future. Sound Transit staff recommended that, in the future, year of expenditure (YOE) dollars be the base to eliminate any confusion.

ST staff presented information from the updated January 2000 Link Briefing book. There was a discussion of the revised long range Financial Plan and ST Resolution #R2001-1, which authorized execution of a full-funding federal grant, amended the Link budget and the 10 year regional Transit Plan.

Statements in support of the Resolution were made by Board members and the Resolution passed on a vote of 14 to 1. (Board member McKenna voting in the minority.)

Sound Transit’s state enabling legislation and its adopted rules requires a two/thirds majority vote to make major changes to the Plan, Budget or Schedule.) ST Chair Dave Earling announced that two of the 3 absent Board members had stated to him that if they had been able to attend, they would have voted with the majority.

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