Sound Transit Board suspends tunnel negotiations and calls for consideration of alternatives to Capitol Hill/Portage Bay tunnel

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The Sound Transit Board today directed its staff to suspend but not terminate tunnel negotiations and to prepare options for how the board might approach alternatives to a Capitol Hill/Portage Bay light rail tunnel. The board acted after receiving a tunnel cost estimate that is higher than the agency had budgeted for the project.

Sound Transit Executive Director Bob White informed board members that contractor-elect Modern Transit Constructors' estimate for the tunnel is $728 million.

"In October the board committed to only go forward with the tunnel if we knew we could pay for it," said Board Chair Dave Earling. "This ‘time out' will help the board decide what the right next steps are."

Following White's report, King County Executive Ron Sims, on behalf of Seattle representatives on the board, presented a motion that directed Sound Transit staff to suspend negotiations with Modern Transit Constructors and to discuss with the state's congressional delegation and the Federal Transit Administration the options that might be available to maintain federal funding.

The motion also directs Sound Transit staff to report back to the board in December on the following:

  • An explanation of why the tunnel estimate is different than what was budgeted for the project, including a review of the cost elements and bidding methods.
  • Alternatives for getting light rail to the University District, including approaches for reducing the tunnel cost and options for crossing Portage Bay, including a bridge. The board directed that these alternatives must be affordable within Sound Transit's financial policies, including subarea equity.
  • An estimate of the total cost to complete an operating light rail system between SeaTac and the University District.
  • An open process for discussing alternatives and for involving the public in that discussion.

The board approved the motion and stressed that it continues to believe that light rail must be a part of this region's overall transportation plan. It also remains committed to looking at every option to fulfill the voter approved Sound Move plan.

In a related action, the board thanked former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice for his willingness to serve as chairman of an independent review of the tunnel contract and Sound Transit's financial capability. Due to the changed circumstances of the tunnel contract and the board's direction to staff on exploring alternatives, the board released Rice from this obligation.

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