Sound Transit on track but costs again rising

December 4, 2003

Associated Press
King 5 News

SEATTLE - Commuter train service for Everett will begin by the end of the year as promised, but the cost has soared by about $200 million, a Sound Transit report indicates.

The higher costs, partly for new stations between Seattle and Everett, bring the total for extending rail service northward to about $377 million, the regional agency's finance committee was told Wednesday.

Negotiations with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway should be signed within a week, Sound Transit chief Joni Earl said.

"If we get the contracts signed on the 11th, then there will be a train by the end of the year - absolutely," Earl said. "I'm very optimistic that we're going to get there."

Bob Harbison
At the time the ballot measure to establish Sound Transit was adopted by voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in 1996, the cost of Sounder service for Everett was estimated at $177 million.

Sounder trains now carry about 3,000 passengers a day between Seattle and Tacoma with a number of intermediate stops and will run along 82 miles of tracks after service is extended north to Everett and south to Lakewood.

On the Lakewood-Tacoma portion, track and facility cost estimates have risen by $30 million, and the agency's staff has recommended adding $12.7 million to a reserve fund for unanticipated expenses.

According to a report to Sound Transit's finance committee, the total price for Sounder train service will come to $1.2 billion when completed in 2009, an increase of nearly $500 million from the original estimate when adjusted for inflation.

Earl said the new figures reflect a re-examination she ordered after huge cost overruns hit the agency's Central Link light rail program in Seattle in 2001.

Of the total Sounder cost increase, Earl said $435 million was for access to the Burlington Northern tracks on which the commuter trains must run.

Between Seattle and Everett, access costs were estimated by Sound Transit at $115 million but wound up being $250 million.

Aggravating the problem, Sound Transit expected to receive $136 million from the state Department of Transportation and Amtrak that never arrived.

Rising station costs include $18.2 million rather than $11.2 million in Mukilteo, $13.1 million rather than $9.5 million in Edmonds and $26.9 million rather than $24.7 million for improvements in Everett.

"Based on what I've seen today, I wouldn't want to go forward on these stations based on these costs," committee member Jack Crawford of Kenmore said.

Earl said the figures released Wednesday should be the end of major cost overruns for Sound Transit.

"We did not inflate these dollars. We've really worked hard, to be dead honest," she said. "The numbers aren't good numbers and we recognize that."


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