Sound Transit receives extensive performance audit of light rail construction

Publish Date

The Washington State Auditor’s office today released an extensive performance audit of Sound Transit’s Link light rail construction program. This audit offers a largely fair assessment of the agency’s history, including the challenges that marked the newly formed organization’s start-up phase, and identifies areas for continued improvement.

“Sound Transit's startup problems were widely publicized and thoroughly discussed,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “We're glad the audit clearly reflects the fact we've made a successful turnaround and have been on the right track for years now. We can point to project after project where that's true.”

“Nowhere is Sound Transit's turnaround more evident than with Link light rail. The initial segment and Airport Link are approximately 75 percent complete and construction continues to move forward within the schedule and budget the Board adopted six years ago,” Ladenburg said. “We will be at the airport in 2009.”

The performance audit was conducted in compliance with Initiative I-900, approved by Washington voters in 2005. The audit is available at


The audit identified three overarching findings:

  • Sound Transit was unable to complete the Link light rail line at the cost and within timeframes communicated to voters in 1996.
  • Sound Transit initially lacked procedures for land acquisition, environmental compliance, permitting and construction management, contributing to its inability to meet project costs and timeframes communicated to voters in 1996.
  • Sound Transit has extensively improved its construction planning and management processes since 2002.

Areas identified for improvement include but are not limited to environmental compliance, management of change orders and how we track and implement lessons learned. The audit states Sound Transit has made major strides and has developed the processes and procedures that are responsible for the agency’s successful delivery of projects. With a few exceptions, Sound Transit generally agrees with the recommendations. The agency’s response to each set of recommendations is included verbatim in the text of the audit.

“Sound Transit is committed to constant improvement in delivering projects and services and serving as effective stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl. “The audit makes some valuable recommendations, many of which Sound Transit has already begun to implement. Overall, the audit identifies improvement areas where there was potential to have saved $5 million dollars. That may be only two-tenths of one percent of the project’s $2.7 billion cost, but we are committed to aggressively pursue every opportunity to improve.”

Sound Transit is one of the most closely reviewed and audited agencies in the state. The performance audit identifies 48 different federal, state and independent audits going back to before voters approved the Sound Move ballot measure in 1996, and notes the agency is marked by a “culture of continuous improvement.”

“The Board and staff have embraced independent scrutiny and we continue to feel it is a big part of our success,” Earl said. “We want to sincerely thank the Washington State Auditor’s office for their help and professionalism supporting the fulfillment of our mission.”


Sound Transit will hold a public hearing on the performance audit at 1 p.m. on Thursday, October 11 at Union Station, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, in Sound Transit’s Ruth Fisher Board Room.


Sound Transit has applied its lessons learned over the past six years to the development of the Sound Transit 2 plan that is part of the Roads & Transit ballot measure regional voters will consider on Nov. 6. Last month, the independent Expert Review Panel appointed by the State of Washington recently issued a final letter affirming the thoroughness of Sound Transit’s Sound Transit 2 work.

The Panel’s letter provided independent validation that Sound Transit has applied its lessons learned to build a Sound Transit 2 plan that reflects industry best practices, including solid methodologies for estimating project costs, revenues and ridership and for other key technical work. Information on the Panel’s work and final conclusions are available at

If approved in November, the Roads and Transit package would build more than 50 miles of light rail extensions north to Lynnwood, east to Bellevue and Redmond, and south from SeaTac Airport to Tacoma, as well as improve commuter rail facilities and expand express bus service. These investments would expand Sound Transit’s daily ridership to more than 350,000 by 2030. For more information on the Sound Transit 2 plan, visit st2 

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Sound Transit’s regional network of express buses, commuter rail, light rail and transit facilities connects communities in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.