Sound Transit would lose grants for light rail under Trump budget proposal

  • Mon Mar 20th, 2017 11:35am
  • News

A proposed 2018 budget by the Trump administration would block a $500 million request by Sound Transit for federal grants to help extend light rail from SeaTac to Federal Way.

The Trump administration released on March 16 a proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 that would end the federal government’s grants program that supports building new mass transit projects around the country.

Sound Transit plans to extend light rail from the Angle Lake Station in SeaTac at South 200th Street to near South 320th Street in Federal Way with stops at Kent/Des Moines along Pacific Highway South near a new South 236th Lane and at South 272nd Street in Kent. The cost of the 7.6-mile Federal Way extension project is about $1.5 billion. The Kent stations are scheduled to open in 2024.

The action would cause far-reaching impacts on the construction of voter-approved projects in the Puget Sound region, with the most immediate being elimination of $1.17 billion in New Starts funding for the Lynnwood Link light rail extension, according to a Sound Transit media release.

In coming years, elimination of the federal New Starts program would impact Puget Sound commuters and taxpayers by blocking efforts to secure more than $5 billion in federal contributions toward voter-approved projects. The funding is assumed in the agency’s financial plans based on past federal funding levels.

“It’s distressing that the new administration seeks to slash funding for the very type of infrastructure investments the president has consistently supported,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers in the media release. “People in the region just voted for $54 billion to help fund mass transit with the assumption we’d continue receiving federal support. Now we’re being told that sensible transit projects are not a priority. We’ll work hard with our congressional delegation to ensure transit remains a top priority for federal transportation funding.”

“The move to zero-out federal funding for regional infrastructure projects is a body blow,” said Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff. “Shortly after joining Sound Transit, I reduced the agency’s federal grant assumptions to levels that seemed more reasonable to sustain over the long term. We did not anticipate a scenario in which the federal government would completely walk away from the table after decades of partnership with cities across America.”

Sound Transit will closely monitor the budget process and work aggressively with congressional leaders to reverse the proposed cuts.

The actions contemplated in the proposed budget would represent the first time in recent memory that an administration said that it would not advance major transit projects that were in the federal pipeline under a prior administration. Nationally, the cuts affect 69 projects across the country currently in the Federal Transit Administration New Starts pipeline. Those projects together are requesting $60 billion.

If funding is not restored, the agency’s Board of Directors would need to exercise options for closing the gap from losing federal funding. Options include adjusting project time lines and scopes and assuming more debt at a greater cost to taxpayers.