Action plans aim to reduce delays in Sound Transit’s Link project

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A detailed briefing has been sent to the Sound Transit Board System Expansion Committee outlining efforts to identify new opening dates for current Link construction projects as Sound Transit works with contractors to address construction challenges.

Since April of this year, Sound Transit has been alerting to delays affecting the East Link, Lynnwood, Federal Way and Downtown Redmond Link extensions, including current issues and trends that are global in nature, as well as others that are local and project-specific.

While further work is required to identify new project opening schedules, the completion of construction for the Lynnwood and Redmond projects, previously planned for mid-2024, could be impacted by four to six months and only based on the most recent estimates slightly more than four months delay due to the strike at concrete suppliers that ended in April.

The Federal Way Link Extension is facing an unexpected ground instability issue that could potentially require the redesign of a section in Kent adjacent to I-5 and South 259th Place. While it is too early to accurately assess the resulting construction delay, the agency now expects project completion to extend several months into 2025, rather than late 2024. At East Link, ongoing work is being addressed Construction challenges are expected to delay the project by at least a year beyond the originally planned opening of mid-2023.

Identifying new opening schedules requires ongoing work to resolve project risks, as well as a programmatic review currently underway.

“Within the next four years, our zero-carbon, zero-congestion light rail system will more than double from 26 to 62 miles and from 25 to 50 stations,” said Brooke Belman, interim CEO of Sound Transit. “While we are on our way to fully addressing the impact of COVID-19, the concrete delivery strike and our construction challenges, we still have work to do before we can provide reliable opening dates. We will work tirelessly with our contractors to complete these enhancements as quickly as possible without compromising safety or quality.”

The System Expansion Committee update summarized the construction challenges in detail. At East Link, the major challenges are the build quality and durability of plinths, or raised concrete structures, that support the track at key sections of the route.

On both the east and west sides of the I-90 floating bridge, the contractor’s work to correct issues with cast-in-place concrete pads that support the tracks has led to the identification of additional challenges. These include issues with mortar pads, rebar placement and rail fasteners, which the contractor has agreed to rectify by recasting the bases to ensure the long-term reliability and safety of the extension.

The agency has also closely analyzed concerns related to precast concrete blocks that support the tracks on the bridge itself. Fortunately, preliminary results from a forensic engineering firm in July and August show the blocks do not need to be replaced.

On the Federal Way Link Extension, the previously mentioned ground stability issue affects a slope adjacent to I-5 that recently suffered a localized failure. On July 19, approximately 200 linear feet of embankment slid down the slope by approximately nine feet, necessitating approximately a three-day precautionary lane closure on southbound I-5. The slope has been temporarily stabilized and Sound Transit and its design and construction contractor are working with the Washington State Department of Transportation on permanent design solutions that will address a liquefiable layer of soil that has been identified quite deep beneath the light rail track. Work to identify solutions will continue to focus on minimizing project delay.

Work is progressing in two areas to support the updating of project opening periods:

  • Implementation of action plans to address project risks and challenges: Specific action plans are in progress to address quality challenges. In addition, staff have made changes that support more intensive inspections and monitoring of contractors’ work. Work continues to assess required timelines for implementation of fixes.
  • Carrying out a programmatic risk assessment: Work is also being done to jointly analyze the impact of the projects. As each project is part of a system, the agency needs to look at the current status of projects at the programmatic level, with a focus on project sequencing details. Programmatic analysis is critical as staffing and safety considerations mean that light rail segments under construction must be activated sequentially within reasonable safety and staffing parameters, with up to six months of testing prior to activation of each segment.

Sound Transit says it will remain intensely focused on these tasks and will open the projects as soon as possible without compromising their safety and quality. Action plans responding to project challenges are summarized in a presentation provided at the meeting and in a detailed memo.

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