Sound Transit has fallen months behind in its quest to operate trains on Lake Washington by June 2023, as managers blame construction errors, a concrete delivery strike, COVID-19, chains of frayed supplies and even bad weather.
The 14-mile, $3.7 billion road linking Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and the Overlake region is expected to serve 48,000 daily passengers. It was approved by voters in a 2008 regional sales tax measure. The cascading delays to projects this spring aren’t a complete surprise, but the seriousness might be.
Project staff mentioned a potential start date of February 2024 in a presentation Tuesday to employees of King County Metro Transit’s railroad division. Metro staff operate and maintain the trains.
“This information is a little premature,” Ron Lewis, director of design, engineering and construction management, said in an interview afterwards. Lewis said he could not provide a reliable start date until a new risk factor study, which he said should be ready by June.
Previously leaked Sound Transit an estimated time of 48 days in a February progress report.
CEO Peter Rogoff has frequently described the regional concrete truckers’ strike by the Teamsters as a threat to project deadlines everywhere from Lynnwood to Federal Way. The strike began on December 3 and dragged on until April 8.
“I know that the most important thing for us was this strike, which delayed a lot of work,” said the chairman of the board. Kent Keel mentioned.
“I feel like we as an organization are working feverishly to meet the schedule we have promised the public. That’s the goal,” said Keel, a city council member from University Place near Tacoma. “We are doing everything we can, but we face a lot of headwinds.”
Members of the transit board voted on Thursday to approve a contract increase of $15 million to Jacobs Project Management to oversee the heavy construction of the East Link project, for more months than planned.
Progress reports indicate that the main schedule risk involves concrete track ties where the rails bend toward the International District/Chinatown station, on the old Interstate 90 express lanes. crosspieces, called baseboards, were built to the wrong dimensions and need to be rebuilt, Sound Transit officials told its board in the fall.
Contractors from the Kiewit/Hoffman joint venture carry out repairs, but these are more complex than expected. Additional inspections are required to ensure that workers are not drilling into already constructed rebar. Some 34,600 pieces of hardware that attach the rails to the concrete sleepers need to be removed and possibly reinstalled, said Jon Lebo, assistant manager of East Link. Some concretes contain weak spots, he said. The skirting boards in these sections must be ground down and coated with polyurethane before the rails can be reattached, which is akin to dental work. Lebo predicted that the repairs will be completed by the end of this year.
About 30 repairers could be seen Wednesday morning from the Jose Rizal Bridge, where crews were hammering in faulty concrete, applying ties to rails and laying out green rebar.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Kiewit confirmed that it expects to complete the work by the fourth quarter of 2022. The company is currently paying for repairs, although spokesman Tom Janssen referred in the statement to the “increased scope which also impacted the planned completion,” implying that there may be disputes over costs later.
“Although some of the work is disputed, we are working with Sound-Transit to find a mutually acceptable path,” Janssen wrote:.
Other contractor segments have also fallen behind schedule, complicating follow-up work for the installation of train signaling. Fragile parts of the Redmond Tech Station parking lot are being rebuilt at the contractor’s expense, and even homeless encampments are mentioned as a problem. A lawsuit filed by the city of Mercer Island has slowed construction of a train station, Thursday’s memo said.
Last year, crews lost days to temperatures around 100 degrees that made the job dangerous, as well as wintry snows, Lewis said.
On the other handSound Transit celebrated some recent successes.
The new 1,500 stalls Park & Ride South Bellevue open in the fall, and this year, the trains reached 35 mph in power supply tests in the Wilburton and Spring District areas of Bellevue. East Link, which will show up on maps as 2 Line, will take people between downtown Seattle and the Redmond Tech Station in 35 minutes.
As of this week, the project remains within the overall budget of $3.677 billion, with $336 million still unspent.
In the presentation shown to Metro, train trials on the full route were scheduled to begin in August 2023, followed by simulated service (trains running at full speed and frequency with no passengers) in November 2023.
Testing schedules gained prominence with the November 26 Apple Cup booth. Football fans left the carriages after a power cord was cut by protruding bolts, alongside the new Northgate extension. Sound Transit post-dropout audit called the Northgate line’s 60-day testing regime too rushed, and said future startups should allow plenty of time for maintenance, training and emergency response drills. This time the train trials will last at least three months, spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said.
They will be the first in the world to cross a floating bridge, using flexible lane joints on I-90. Track sleepers and platforms will rest on rows of flexible seismic absorbers, like those built into stadium roofs and solid girder bridges. Engineers have promised extra attention and monitoring to ensure trains can travel at 50mph safely.
Back in July 2020, the tunneled section of the line in downtown Bellevue was finished by Atkinson Construction, raising hopes among proponents of a quick grand opening. Sound Transit officials then warned against overconfidence.
“We can do a lot of things, but we can’t always save time,” Lewis said on Tuesday. “We can take the time we need to create a quality project that will be reliable.”