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 in August 2021 to ensure our voter-approved transit expansion program remains affordable.

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.

After 17 months of staff and Board discussions and engagement with jurisdictions and stakeholders, the Board adopted a realignment plan on Aug. 5, 2021.

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 get them built affordably.

The realignment plan reflected estimated affordable delivery dates for each project, under revenue and cost projections at the time. But for priority projects facing delays under current 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, including more detailed information, are linked on this page.

Sound Transit's future expansions are critical for our region’s mobility, economy and environment. Successfully expediting their completion will require close collaboration between Sound Transit and partners at the local, state and national levels.

Sound Transit’s staff and Board are continuing intensive work to improve project delivery timelines. Added processes and check-ins will support the Board in closely reviewing and responding to continually updated financial projections.

Latest analysis of affordability, readiness and external pressures

The Board’s realignment action also called for a new Annual Program Review process culminating each spring. These reviews provide a snapshot in time for where all our 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. Click here to read the Annual Program Review At A Glance, or view the full report here

In September 2022, we launched a new project performance tracking tool. With budget and schedule data updated monthly, this dashboard can help show trends in project planning, construction and delivery on each of our voter-approved system expansion projects. 

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 of interest to you 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 significant impacts to their revenues from a national recession. 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 at the same time that environmental review and design work continue to update project cost estimates.

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.

You can also find links to our twice-annual cost driver memos and quarterly cost savings updates in the documents section on this page.

Alongside 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.

The Board’s realignment plan prioritizes voter-approved projects by dividing them into four tiers. Projects in the top two tiers will be managed under the more ambitious completion targets unless or until it becomes necessary to fall back to affordable completion dates that allow more time to generate the required revenues.

Tier 3 and 4 projects will be managed under their affordable schedules unless the program affordability gap is eliminated for Tier 1 and Tier 2 projects and then shrinks still further to allow Tier 3 and Tier 4 projects to be delivered more quickly. Expenditures on any one individual project will be managed to protect the affordable schedule for all other projects.