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Thursday, July 1, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sound Transit Is $216 Million Short -- Project's Initial Phase May Be Scaled Back Further

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Sound Transit officials yesterday confirmed that building the 24-mile light-rail line from SeaTac to Seattle would cost $216 million more than the agency is expected to have.

The bloated budget poses more problems for the project, which is already truncated by the transit agency's decision not to extend tracks to Northgate until a later phase. Now the initial phase of the project could be scaled back further to bring the rail line back on budget.

Transit officials acknowledged shaving the project back to its original $1.8 billion budget would mean a number of difficult choices, from delaying construction of some stations to installing fewer buffers to protect sensitive research at the University of Washington from the rumbling of trains.

The cost has gone up in part because Sound Transit board members added $100 million to the project in February, including the establishment of a $50 million fund to ease the impact of running an above-ground rail line through Rainier Valley.

But Sound Transit director Bob White acknowledged some unanticipated costs. Soaring land prices have driven up the cost of land Sound Transit needs to purchase along the route by $37.7 million.

As a result, the project's price tag is now just over $2 billion, even though voter-approved taxes and federal funding are expected to bring in only $1.85 billion.

White and Sound Transit board members acknowledged that figuring out what to cut to bring the project back within budget won't be easy.

Sound Transit administrators laid out a number of ways to save money in a report to Sound Transit board members yesterday. Included was delaying the construction of stations on Beacon Avenue, Graham Street, Royal Brougham and Lander Street. Not all those stations would have to be deferred, but each one would shave between $5 million and $42 million off the deficit.

"Everything on this list are things that people want," White said.

The Beacon Hill station is a good example. It was not on the list when voters approved funding for the first phase of the project. So in a sense, White said, the station could be removed without violating the promise to voters. On the other hand, expectations have built up around the project.

And worse, White said, delaying the station might mean Beacon Hill may never have one. The station is supposed to be in a tunnel, and engineers haven't figured out how they would build a station there later with trains zipping by.

More likely to be delayed are above-ground stations such as those on Graham Street, Royal Brougham or Lander Street. They also were not part of the deal voters approved. And because they are above ground, Sound Transit could more easily build platforms alongside the tracks later, said project coordinator Mary Jo Porter.

Royal Brougham was added to serve crowds at Safeco Field. The stations on Lander and Graham streets were added when Sound Transit found they would have high ridership.

The fund to spruce up the Rainier Valley in return for accepting the above-ground rail line instead of a tunnel could also be eliminated, but board members say they're committed to keeping the promise made to the neighborhood.

Another controversial option would be a reduction in mitigation measures the University of Washington wants at the Pacific Street station in the University District. The university wants buffers below the tracks to keep vibrations from disrupting sensitive research. Sound Transit said it could save $2.8 million by buying the university special lab tables with air springs instead. But the university wants both.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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