Sound Transit considers new timelines for opening light rail extensions after construction delays

Sound Transit is detailing new delays in building light rail extensions that will affect passengers around the region.

The agency originally planned to open East Link between Seattle and the Eastside in 2023, but now says it could be 2025 before trains cross Lake Washington because of pandemic-related delays and four miles of track supports that need to be rebuilt.

“Sound Transit has a very high commitment to the safety, the equity and the quality of the work we’re putting on the street. We take it very seriously,” said Julie Timm, the agency’s new CEO.

Timm said the agency is now looking into opening an Eastside-only “starter line” between Bellevue and Redmond in 2024, a year before it connects to Seattle.

Timm also said trains could run to Lynnwood before they cross Lake Washington, but that might mean fewer trains at first because the line wouldn’t yet be connected to a Bellevue maintenance base.

“The key is going to be transparency and communication, setting expectations up front. It’s not the perfect scenario. The perfect scenario is no longer in our hands,” said Timm.

Timm also said the Tacoma Link Hilltop extension won’t open next spring as planned, because experts need to look at a small section of track that might have been built too narrowly.

She said engineers are still trying to figure out the severity of the problem and when the line can open.

“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m raising red flags here. I’m raising yellow flags,” said Timm of the Tacoma project.

Sound Transit also isn’t sure of the timeline for opening the Federal Way extension, because engineers are still designing a bridge over recently discovered unstable soil.

The agency’s board will weigh in on the new schedule options next month.

Agency officials say there continues to be schedule risks, including a shortage of workers that Timm hopes will ease in the years ahead.

Sound Transit outlined details of the construction schedule timeline options and tradeoffs in a blog post.