Low bid for first major University Link contract comes in 34% below estimates

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The University Link light rail extension moved closer to construction today as six bids on the first major construction contract came in below cost estimates. Condon Johnson & Associates, Inc. is the apparent low bidder with a $19.4 million bid to prepare the area where a tunnel boring machine will pass beneath Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle, with a bid 34 percent below the $29.6 million engineers’ estimate.

“We are pleased with the response of the contracting community as well as the favorable results today,” said Sound Transit Link Light Rail Director Ahmad Fazel. “We hope this high level of interest carries forward to the remaining University Link contracts. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and work with the contractor to ensure smooth execution of the job and mutual success for both Sound Transit and the contractor.”

Sound Transit will review the apparent low bid to ensure it meets all project requirements. Sound Transit set a goal of 18.5 percent of the contract award to be performed by small businesses subcontractors. Condon Johnson’s bid set a 19.2 percent small business goal.

The contract will prepare the way for the tunnel boring machine (TBM) to pass under I-5 by modifying the structures beneath the freeway. The work is necessary to build the light rail lines’ 3.15-mile twin bored tunnels between the University of Washington, Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle. The work will take place in the area on either side of I-5 near the Olive Way exit ramp to Capitol Hill in Seattle.

In November, the Federal Transit Administration announced its intent to award Sound Transit a $813 million full funding grant agreement (FFGA) to build the University Link project. The grant is anticipated to be approved in January following a 60-day congressional review, with construction starting soon thereafter.

Located entirely underground, University Link includes stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington and is an extension to the Link light rail line that will open between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport in 2009. The $1.9 billion University Link extension is expected to open in 2016, adding more than 70,000 riders a day to the system. With the Sound Transit 2 package that voters approved on Nov. 4, daily light rail ridership across a 55-mile regional light rail system is projected to total more than 286,000 by 2030.

The population of the corridor served by University Link will go up a projected 56 percent between 2000 and 2030, further increasing congestion and the relief provided by light rail service. Based on its tremendous benefits, the University Link project received the highest possible ranking in the extremely competitive federal funding process.

University Link will provide a reliable option for drivers and transit users who are stuck on I-5, a facility that operates over capacity for up to eight hours a day, with vehicle speeds running between 15 and 35 mph. Already, buses can run up to 30 minutes behind schedule due to congestion. Compared to bus service, University Link travel times will be almost three times faster. From the University District, it will take 9 minutes instead of 25 minutes to get downtown and 3 minutes instead of 22 minutes to get to Capitol Hill.

The local share of University Link’s cost will be funded through existing Sound Transit revenues and was not part of the successful ballot measure that will fund the Sound Transit 2 package. With the passage of Sound Transit 2, Sound Transit will extend the University Link light rail line 12.5 miles further north to Northgate, Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and Lynnwood by 2023 as part of a 36-mile light rail expansion plan. The 55-mile light rail system achieved by Sound Transit 2 will also reach Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond, Highline and the Star Lake/Redondo area north of Federal Way.