Adjusting project schedules and plans to address the agency’s affordability gap

In the face of steeply rising cost pressures across the Puget Sound region, the Sound Transit Board of Directors took action to ensure our voter-approved transit expansion program remains affordable and adopted a realignment plan in Aug. 2021. 

This critical work addressed an estimated $6.5 billion affordability gap for delivering projects on their previous schedules, due to regional real estate and construction costs driving up future project estimates. 

This plan now serves as the agency’s framework for delivering our later projects (specifically those in the planning or design phases; realignment did not affect projects already in construction) as rapidly as possible. That means schedule changes and potential scope adjustments to build them affordably. 

The realignment plan reflected estimated affordable delivery dates for each project according to revenue and cost projections at the time. But for priority projects facing delays under financial projections, the plan also established more ambitious completion targets based on plans to intensively pursue additional financial capacity and to reduce costs. 

The plan documents with more detailed information are linked on this page. 

Sound Transit’s staff and Board are continuing intensive work to deliver projects as fast as possible, with our partners around the region. New supplementary processes and check-ins will help the Board closely review and respond to regularly updated financial projections. 

Latest analysis of affordability, readiness and external pressures

The Board’s realignment action directed a new Annual Program Review, which would come out each spring. These reviews provide a snapshot in time for where all expansion projects currently stand in terms of affordability, project readiness, and external pressures. Sound Transit staff delivered the first Annual Program Review to the Board in May 2022.  

We presented the 2023 edition to the Board on May 25, 2023. Click here to read the Annual Program Review At A Glance summary, or view the full report here. This year’s report incorporated feedback from the Board’s independent consultant, who advised as a part of a review of agency reporting that staff incorporate realignment reporting such as the cost drivers memo and cost savings workplan into this annual review. 

In September 2022, we also launched a new project performance tracking tool. With budget and schedule data updated monthly, this dashboard reports cost and schedule metrics for projects in planning and construction. Staff keep this updated each month and are developing enhancements, such as visuals better depicting trends, and additional metrics to report for each project. Stay tuned for those additions to this reporting tool as soon as later this year. 

Interested in digging deeper? You can find more information on each of our projects in our monthly Agency Progress Reports. You can also continue to find updates on specific projects by visiting the System Expansion section of our website and signing up for project email updates.

The road to realignment

Click on the + icons to learn more about the decision-making process and where we go from here.  

The realignment process began early in the COVID-19 pandemic as governments around the country braced for the national recession’s effect on their revenues. The process continued in early 2021 as Sound Transit updated project cost estimates to reflect the market pressures and project design advancements. 

Fortunately, rebounded economic forecasts have restored long-range revenue projections, though project cost estimates remain high. Sound Transit economists will continue to regularly update financial projections while other staff continue to update project cost estimates based on environmental review and design work.

Light rail extension projects in early planning and design, including those to West Seattle, Ballard, the Tacoma Dome, and a new Operations and Maintenance Facility South, are seeing significant cost estimate increases. Learn more in the Capital program cost estimate growth and response actions memo. These cost increases are expected to continue for later projects, such as light rail extensions to Everett, from South Kirkland to Issaquah, and to Tacoma Community College. 

In early 2021, Sound Transit commissioned independent experts to assess the agency's cost estimates. Their findings confirmed the appropriateness of the agency's updated cost estimates for current levels of project design. The ongoing independent review has yielded suggestions that will help guide project design work going forward. Findings and recommendations of the independent review are linked from this page. 

Along with identifying options to manage costs, we’re aggressively pursuing federal grants and other alternative revenue sources to help close the affordability gap. We’re joining with other agencies and allies in urging that federal pandemic recovery efforts and potential actions at the state level provide funding support for transit infrastructure so we can deliver our planned projects as close as possible to original schedules.