A hybrid approach that could partially or fully salvage Sound Transit 3 (ST3) project delivery timelines may become the preferred realignment plan. On Thursday, King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci unveiled the plan with Kent Keel, Chair of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, at the monthly board meeting. The hybrid approach is described as a “tightrope with a safety net” that could keep many projects on their voter-approved timelines, except where “planning delays” and other factors might still require pushing delivery dates backward. New amendments proposed by boardmembers were also released ahead of the meeting, which would mostly be better for riders — though one amendment would decidedly hurt them.
Where the plan could be headed
The realignment process could wrap up on Thursday, August 5th when the next meeting on the effort is scheduled. It’s possible that Keel’s base realignment plan — which immediately establishes delays for projects ranging from a few years to decades — could be picked if boardmembers decided to do so, but Keel and Balducci seemed to have reached agreement on the hybrid approach. Either realignment plan approach could solve Sound Transit’s $6.5 billion affordability gap, which shrank this month from the previous $7.9 billion estimate in April. Further reductions to the affordability gap could come in the months and years ahead as project savings and additional revenues are identified.
“I believe this hybrid combines the best of my approach and the best of [Balducci’s] approach that she’s been working,” Keel said at the meeting. “So the three things that lead me to that includes the agency’s clear expectation that we will work aggressively to deliver on most every project on-time. It also includes [Balducci’s] process through which we will work to close each project’s affordability gap so that we can deliver them on-time.” Continuing, Keel said: “And like I’ve been saying all along, it also makes clear to the public what financial constraints that we have right now before us and when we can realistically deliver the projects if we cannot close the affordability gap.”
Balducci also weighed in on the hybrid realignment plan that she’s poured some time and effort into over the past several months.
“The fundamental concept behind this hybrid… is that it enables us to state as a board our commitment, our strong commitment, to deliver these projects on-time,” Balducci said. “And on-time means when we promised them to the voters in the ST3 ballot measure. It’s been said that some of the projects have already experienced what we’re calling ‘planning delays;’ there is language in the proposed resolution that talks about trying to pull those back and try to deliver projects on-time, but we set ourselves to that mission.”
A key piece of the hybrid realignment plan that Balducci also emphasized is an ad-hoc technical advisory committee (TAC). The TAC would advise on ways that the ST3 schedule could be accelerated. She seemed point to a recent Vox article that touched on the sluggish pace of American transit agencies to build projects while in peer nations the pace is faster and projects are much cheaper.