Photo of the Seattle Light Rail with a Washington state label

Major Seattle construction projects are being delayed and city officials are citing the city’s recent concrete strike as a major factor even months after its resolution. 

Notably, Seattle’s Sound Transit light rail system is undergoing a major expansion, and the transportation agency is now noting that significant parts of the project are going to fall behind schedule.

A release from the agency pointed out a number of individual delays as having concrete needs — and the reduced supply — as a distinct culprit. 

“The strike created additional challenges on top of the COVID-19 pandemic’s project delays, workforce impacts and supply chain issues,” Sound Transit Interim CEO Brooke Belman added in a memo. “In many cases, these challenges compounded others related to our contractors’ work, project designs and/or project oversight.”

The affected Sound Transit projects include:

  • Expansion to Eastside, with service originally set to begin in July 2023, will open at least one year later due to four miles of flawed concrete track supports.
  • Unstable ground in Kent and the need for new foundations could delay some routes’ opening from late 2024 to 2025.
  • The Northgate-Lynnwood extension may be delayed four to six months past its original July 2024 opening, with Sound Transit Deputy CEO Kimberly Fairley pointing to the concrete strike as the main reason for the delay.

These delays are currently just estimates, according to Sound Transit leadership.

 “While we are on a path to fully resolve impacts of COVID-19, the concrete delivery strike and our construction challenges, we have more work to do before we can reliably establish opening dates,” Belman said.

The various Sound Transit expansion is ambitious, with the system being planned to expand from 26 miles of service to 62 miles, while its number of stations will double from 25 to 50. With so much to be done, agency leaders are noting that outside forces ultimately became too much to keep the different projects on schedule — and pointed out they weren’t alone in struggling.

“Obviously we’ve been trying to catch up,” said Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher. “The thing to understand is we weren’t the only project to miss deliveries. There was a backlog throughout the region.”

Other city organizations are keeping a close watch on the situation, given that the Sound Transit projects aren’t the only ones that have been affected. SDOT recently announced that the West Seattle Bridge will reopen in September 2022 after two years; the project was originally slated for completion in July 2022, but was similarly delayed by the concrete strike. There may be an adjustment in materials purchasing habits as a result.

“Our construction contractor is currently working with concrete suppliers to attempt to speed up the concrete delivery timeline,” said Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) spokesperson Ethan Bergerson. He noted that the city was going to continue planning for unexpected outside issues while focusing on getting ahold of as much material as possible, saying “We are trying to order as much concrete as we can, as soon as possible.”

Amidst the turmoil, Sound Transit leaders are confident that these issues won’t result in any project cancellations, despite rising costs and potential looming difficulties. 

“I want to emphasize that every challenge you’ll hear about today is resolvable,” Belman told the Sound Transit board. “We will open these transformative projects, and we will do so as rapidly as possible, with our chief priority being our passengers’ needs for safety, quality and long-term durability.”

Labor issues may return to affect Seattle’s concrete needs

Amidst this backlog of projects, there’s also the potential for the city’s concrete situation to break down once again. The city’s concrete union members are still negotiating a new contract with the city’s concrete contractors even as work continues, and the latest proposal from the contractors was rejected almost unanimously in August 2022.

“This entire contract negotiation process has felt like the Twilight Zone in terms of how little sense the Companies are making,” said CalPortland driver and bargaining committee member Brett Gallagher. “From the beginning, our demands have been clear and reasonable. There’s nothing outrageous at all, but these companies just will not listen.”

No further work stoppages have been announced for the union’s concrete drivers, but the possibility remains if negotiations break down again.

“It feels like we’ve rejected this same offer 20 times at this point, but now the ball is back in their court and it’s time for them to make a real move in their proposal rather than continuing to move the deck chairs around on the Titanic,” added Cadman driver and bargaining committee member Denny Emerson.