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New Sound Transit light rail location study to cost more than $800,000

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(The Center Square) – Sound Transit will conduct a pricey study on a new location in Seattle’s South Lake Union as part of its Ballard Link Extension project.

The approved study will revise the agency’s 2024 budget to tack on approximately $851,000 to study the Ballard Link Extension project. It will study an alternative location combining the Denny Westlake Shifted West station with a potential South Lake Union station at approximately 5th Avenue and Harrison Street.

The Ballard extension will run from downtown Seattle to the Ballard District with nine stations in total. It will also include a rail-only tunnel from the Chinatown – International District to South Lake Union and Seattle Center/Uptown.

Sound Transit plans to eventually connect the Ballard extension with the Tacoma Dome Link Extension.

The current cost estimate for the Ballard Link Extension project in the 2023 Fall Financial Plan is $11.2 billion. The preferred alternatives for the agency’s West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions are anticipated to exceed the assumptions in the financial plan by $510 million, as noted in a previous board motion in July 2023.

“This is such a critical piece of our entire alignment and with the noted impacts to economy and folks that are in the area, they wanted us to make sure that we look at it very closely and think about what is going to be best for the entire system,” Sound Transit Board VIce Chair Kent Keel said at Dec 15 board meeting.

The agency previously identified the preferred alternative for the Ballard Link Extension in March and modified the preferred station location for the Denny Station in July.

Sound Transit originally planned to finalize its Ballard Link Extension project by the end of the year, but instead is continuing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement process. In July the Sound Transit board of directors modified the preferred location for the Denny Station near South Lake Union for the Ballard Link Extension.

The extensions were initially on the same environmental review timeline. However, given additional environmental review needed for project refinements resulting from the Sound Transit Board action in March, environmental review for the two extensions will now proceed on different timelines.

Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Board Vice Chair Bruce Dammeier signaled his support for the study, but noted that he and some other board members are going to follow the project’s budget closely.

“There may be a point downstream where I’m asking my good colleagues in the Seattle – King County area to find a way to stay within the budget,” Dammeier said.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors unanimously approved the study on Dec. 15. The study will begin in January 2024. Public feedback will be documented and made available for board consideration in May 2024.

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