Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff testified on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing and Transit about the importance locally and nationally of infrastructure funding.
Rogoff offered recommendations on how a national infrastructure initiative can help regions including the Puget Sound navigate rapid population growth while driving national economic prosperity, according to a Sound Transit news release.
“The personal sacrifice by our region’s voters was not small,” Rogoff said. “Our taxpayers have demonstrated remarkable determination to meet their surface transportation needs. Federal infrastructure policy should reward this level of local effort, not penalize it.
“The overwhelming majority of population growth is happening in urban mega-regions, such as Puget Sound, that increasingly serve as the economic engine of our national prosperity. Any new Federal infrastructure initiative must recognize the importance of expanded transit networks within them.”
Elimination of longstanding transit grant programs would delay projects and require local taxpayers to pay more, according to Sound Transit. Voters have already approved three tax measures for the agency, funded through property and sales taxes as well as vehicle tab fees.
In addition to his role at Sound Transit, Rogoff’s remarks draw from his previous transportation leadership roles at the federal level. In 2014 the U.S. Senate confirmed Rogoff as Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy in the U.S. Department of Transportation, the department’s third highest-ranking official. Previously, the Senate confirmed him in 2009 as Federal Transit Administrator. He earlier served for 22 years on the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Rogoff emphasized the importance of transit investments in major metropolitan areas such as the Puget Sound that collectively are expected to see their populations grow 70 million by 2045. In 47 out of 50 states, metro areas already produce the majority of the state’s entire economic output. The Puget Sound region’s population is expected to grow by more than a million by 2040, equivalent to taking the entire populations of Seattle and Tacoma and dropping them on top of the region’s current congestion.
Residents of the Puget Sound region have responded to the region’s major transportation challenges by approving tax measures for the creation of a 116-mile light rail system. Next up is the 2018 kickoff of constructing light rail between Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood and Lynnwood in Snohomish County.
Sound Transit is in the final stage of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) process for securing the $1.17 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for Lynnwood under the Capital Investment Grant Program, also known as the New Starts program. Engineering approval by the FTA last year enabled the agency to move forward with final design work on the extension, giving the project its second-highest possible rating in the competitive grant process and committing $1.17 billion in federal funding for the project.
In fiscal year 2017 Congress appropriated $100 million for Lynnwood, and the FFGA was scheduled to be executed in 2018. However, the current administration has proposed zeroing out funding for future FFGAs across the country, including the agreement for Lynnwood Link.
Sound Transit is working with the region’s congressional delegation to maintain key federal support for partnerships in the Puget Sound region.
Between 2008 and 2016, voters have approved more than $70 billion in transit investments under the assumption of approximately $5.5 billion in future New Starts grants. These investments are critical to realizing the national and local economic benefits from one of the most ambitious transit investment programs in the nation’s history.
By 2021, Sound Transit is on track to complete light rail to the U District, Roosevelt and Northgate. In 2023 trains will reach Judkins Park, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Overlake/Redmond, while in 2024 further extensions are scheduled to reach Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Kent/Des Moines, Federal Way and downtown Redmond. From there, continuing voter-approved expansions will reach Tacoma, West Seattle, Ballard, Everett, South Kirkland and Issaquah.
Continuing federal partnerships are also critical to enable further investments in commuter rail and express bus service. The agency’s popular Sounder commuter rail service will serve 13 cities when planned extensions to Tillicum and DuPont are complete. Following the establishment of bus rapid transit along the north, east and south sides of Lake Washington the agency’s ST Express system will serve 26 cities.