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Sound Transit passes plan to deliver on construction projects with minimal delays despite $6 billion shortfall

Sound Transit was forced to realign the future of ST3 expansion plans after it found a more than $6 billion hole in its budget.

SEATTLE — The Sound Transit Board passed a realignment plan Thursday which will allow Sound Transit to deliver on the next generation of transit expansions with minimal delays despite a $6 billion budget shortfall, according to a release. 

A rise in real estate and construction costs combined with environmental reviews and project designs drove up cost estimates for future construction. The realignment plan will inform completion dates for voter-approved projects.

Projects already under construction aren't impacted, including light rail extensions to Northgate, Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way and Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood. 

Other voter-approved projects will be categorized into one of four tiers. Projects in the top two tears will be on a more ambitious timeline unless it becomes necessary to fall back to "more affordable completion dates" to allow more time to generate revenue. Projects in tiers 3 and 4 will be on a more affordable timeline unless the affordability gap is eliminated, according to Sound Transit.

The realignment plan also establishes plans to find more funds for transit projects and reduce costs.  

“We must complete the spine to Everett and Tacoma, since that has been the top priority of the entire system since day one,” Sound Transit's statement reads in part.

ST3, which expands light rail across Pierce, King and Snohomish counties, was passed by voters in 2016 and was almost immediately met with controversy when car tab fees skyrocketed in order to help cover the $54 billion tax package.

Controversy over the car tab fees, as well as the real estate needed for these projects, led to investigations into whether or not voters were deceived. Then came multiple efforts, notably from businessman Tim Eyman, to limit car tab fees and deal a budgetary blow to ST3 initiatives.

The caps on car tab fees were eventually rejected by local governments like Everett and Seattle, but controversy persisted as valuation mistakes were made that resulted in taxpayers being overcharged, businesses were put in the crosshairs of necessary construction and rises in construction costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic drove the ST3 price tag beyond earlier predictions.

The board’s meeting to discuss the plans and additional amendments is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday and is available to watch virtually.

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