Sound Transit, the three-county rail and express-bus agency, announced some bad news, good news last month: Arbitrators had ordered it to pay $66 million in the last round of lawsuits by contractors on the South Link light rail line construction through the Rainier Valley, who sued over contaminated soils, ill-drafted design documents, and other unplanned costs. But this still left $117 million in contingency funds for the $2.4 billion route from downtown to Sea-Tac unspent. Sound Transit has taken a page from its regional predecessor Metro (now part of King County government): Lowball ’em upfront, then cushion your actual budget enough to come out smelling like a rose.
Sound Transit hasn’t yet decided how to allocate the leftover funds. They’re supposed to be spent in Seattle and North King County, the subarea whose taxpayers originally contributed them. That means they’ll probably go to the North Link extension to Northgate. But a more-focused sense of fairness would suggest looking first for unfilled needs and unfinished business in the Rainier Valley, whose merchants and residents suffered more disruption than those along other light rail routes will. (The others get discreet underground or overhead lines; the valley suffered years of construction chaos and hundreds of business closures and relocations while Martin Luther King Jr. Way was dug up and widened to accommodate a double rail line down its center.)
So I asked Julie Pham — chair of the MLK Way Business Association, transit rider, and managing editor of the twice-weekly Nguoi Viet Tai Bac (Northwest Vietnamese News) — how she thought Sound Transit should spend its light-rail bonus bucks. “More help for businesses along the corridor,” she said. “They built a train to bring people down here, and people aren’t coming.” And more information — in more languages — on how to use the (for novices) cryptic and forbidding ticket system, with inspectors waiting to slap you with a $124 fine if you don’t punch your ticket or tap your ORCA card before boarding. More.
Photos/David Mullarkey Images