Sound Transit light rail train

What happened?

On August 5 2021, the Sound Transit Board voted unanimously to move forward on the agency’s plan for “Realignment”. Last year, as COVID hit and tax revenue and projections plummeted, long-term financial impacts to the agency seemed inevitable, and Sound Transit’s ability to deliver the projects it had promised voters appeared compromised.

Following similar efforts in 2010 (under far less harrowing world circumstances), Sound Transit Board members and staff spent the past 18 months trying to understand the budget gap and think through how agency goals should be prioritized and operationalized in the face of financial shortfalls and limited borrowing capacity. As the agency continued to experience large – but declining – impacts from the pandemic, project cost estimates escalated, driven by rapidly increasing land values, changing methodologies for estimates, and rising costs of materials. 

Ultimately, a variable but persistent budget shortfall meant that the agency needed to develop a proposal to increase funding, reduce costs, or delay, cut, or modify projects to maintain an affordable program. We are grateful to the leadership of Councilmember Balducci and Chair Keel, who ultimately worked together to pass a joint proposal that blended a rigorous plan to try and deliver projects as soon as possible, with a legally defensible timeline for delivering projects within Sound Transit’s budget. 

What’s TCC’s take?

For TCC, and our partners in the Transit Access Stakeholders, our goals throughout this process have centered on delivering transit service projects on the voter-approved timeline using a process that centers equity and sustainability. This has meant that we’ve spoken up against reductions or delays in transit projects, and stood up for engagement of historically marginalized groups, a robust equity criteria in project evaluation, elevating projects in BIPOC neighborhoods, and prioritizing programs that deliver low-carbon access to transit stations. 

This [joint] approach addresses financial responsibility, transparency, equity, and flexibility, all while moving forward as quickly as possible with a robust, regional, and equitable system.” – Alex Hudson, TCC’s Executive Director

We applaud that the joint approach demonstrates a commitment to both cost savings and finding new revenue, equitable engagement, the prioritization of Graham Street and Boeing Access stations, and the smart, measured approach to parking. We will continue to push for Sound Transit to deliver core transit services and analyze how to best deliver flexible access as directed by the ST3 ballot measure language.

“Sound Transit has an opportunity to continue to lead the nation in building an innovative, expansive system and the ferocity with which you pursue the implementation beyond your votes today will dictate the extent to which that remains possible.” – Alex Hudson, TCC’s Executive Director

Ultimately, we are grateful that the Board worked together to pass the hybrid proposal and all amendments unanimously – building trust with the public and showing the Board’s critical collaboration.

What’s next?

Thankful for a path forward, the work is only just beginning. As King County Councilmember Balducci put it in a statement posted to Twitter: “It will not be easy but it is essential for our region’s success that we complete the light rail and bus rapid transit lines that will connect our economic centers and build a more sustainable transportation future in the face of the climate crisis.”

As a statewide advocacy organization, TCCs’ role is to support and encourage Sound Transit to deliver the best system possible. We’ll continue to do that by:

Stay tuned to TCC’s website and social channels for engagement opportunities as realignment plans are implemented. You can also attend
Sound Transit Executive Committee meetings, currently held virtually on the first Thursday of each month from 10:30 am to noon, and full Board of Directors meetings on the fourth Thursday of each month from 1:30 pm to 4 pm to stay informed on upcoming issues, changes, and projects. The unanimous passing of the hybrid proposal is a clear step toward the innovative, expansive, accessible, and inclusive transit future that we know is possible. Let’s continue to build this bright transit future together.  

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