Sound Transit recently announced updates on several light rail projects including the Federal Way Link Extension route.
The organization is in the process of growing its regional light rail network from the current 26 miles to 62 miles of increased access and routes.
Federal Way Link Extension (FWLE) is one of five Sound Transit Link projects underway, along with the Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension, East Link Extension, Lynnwood Link Extension and Downtown Redmond Link Extension.
“We’re talking to the board right now about when they can open in a logical sequence that, again, can be done safely and with quality,” said Julie Timm, who took over as CEO of Sound Transit in September.
The Dec. 8 update notes several delays in the opening of these projects due to construction re-designs and engineering challenges — issues Timm says are being resolved.
“We’ve seen delays caused by the pandemic and its ongoing effects on the labor market and global supply chain, a regional concrete delivery strike, and design and construction quality issues on some projects,” according to Sound Transit’s Dec. 8 update.
In August this year, the organization discovered an unstable ground along the route adjacent to I-5 and South 259th Place in Kent, between the incoming Star Lake and Kent/Des Moines stations, causing a delay in construction.
Now, Sound Transit said it is redesigning a new long-span bridge over the area, but is still working to confirm a schedule with the contractor.
Project openings will take place in order of the completion of construction with the first being Lynnwood Link Extension first in summer or fall of 2024, followed by the East Link and Downtown Redmond extensions simultaneously in spring of 2025. The third project opening will be the Federal Way Link Extension, with an opening date not yet decided due to the contractor schedule discussions, according to Sound Transit.
Sound Transit had planned to open the Federal Way route in fall or winter of 2024 but that date has been pushed into 2025 at the earliest.
Sound Transit plans to preserve a window of at least six months between project openings. This block of time allows two months for staff to troubleshoot issues, address passenger needs and collect feedback on the service performance, according to the organization.
The additional four months “pre-revenue service” for operator and maintenance staff training and intensive testing to ensure all stations, tracks, signals and other infrastructure “work together as expected before we welcome new passengers to the opening of the next extension,” according to Sound Transit.
Along with construction and engineering challenges, hiring shortages of skilled labor, operator and maintenance workers may also delay project openings for Sound Transit.
“We need to double the current rate of hiring to meet the needs for our system, and this is a sector-wide and regionwide challenge,” according to Sound Transit. “If unaddressed, it could add up to six months to each project timeline.”
In January 2023, the Sound Transit Board of Directors will provide feedback on two scenarios for opening. The organization is considering the possibility of opening parts of the East Link Starter Line, a single extension route, to areas of Redmond Technology Station to South Bellevue before a project’s “full readiness.”
In December 2021, the board of directors identified the South 336th Street location as the preferred alternative for the incoming Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) South.
Identifying a preferred alternative is not a final decision, but instead gives an indication of the board’s preference based on information from draft reports and feedback.
The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report, and the board’s Project to Be Built action, is expected to be published in spring 2023 at the earliest. The original plan was to have the report published by the end of this year.
In a November update, Sound Transit says design efforts have caused the delays.
The final EIS report will include input from local Tribes, members of the community and residents, various agencies and the City of Federal Way.
“After we issue the Final EIS, the Board will select the OMF South project to build,” according to Sound Transit.