The proposed $24 million study revives hopes that Sound Transit's light-rail service will someday reach Federal Way.

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Sound Transit may soon spend an additional $24 million to study and design a longer southern extension of light rail, reviving hope that trains will someday reach Federal Way.

The four-year study is meant to make the project “shovel ready” so it can compete for federal funding, said transit-board member Pete von Reichbauer of Federal Way, who joined state Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, in announcing the proposal Monday.

A fully engineered route would gain a stronger chance of winning federal or state grants, to help regional taxpayers pay for what is currently an unaffordable line, said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

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Von Reichbauer added that a firm plan could be presented to voters in a future “Sound Transit 3” regional tax ballot, but asked when that might be held, officials were at a loss for words.

This effort comes after Sound Transit retreated from its promise to reach the north fringe of Federal Way with dollars from “Sound Transit 2,” a sales-tax increase voters passed in 2008. Transit CEO Joni Earl has blamed the recession.

Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest — who has blasted the transit agency for months — praised Von Reichbauer and the recognition that reaching his city of 90,000 by rail is important.

At the same time, Priest said the plan doesn’t help crowds of people who stand in the bus aisle during the ride to Seattle. Sound Transit has a responsibility to serve them, he said. “Tomorrow morning, there will still be commuters waiting in line,” Priest said.

Sound Transit says it will have enough money to reach Highline Community College, at Highway 99 and South Kent-Des Moines Road, by the early 2020s. From there, a route to Federal Way could continue south on 99, or veer over to I-5.

The U.S. Department of Transportation tends to favor projects that are mostly or fully designed, when deciding where to send stimulus grants or annual transit funds. But Earl said there haven’t been any talks about Federal Way yet with federal transportation officials nor with Sen. Patty Murray, who already helped secure more than $1.3 billion in federal grants for Seattle-area light rail.

Von Reichbauer said he and Eide have discussed the matter for months, but proposed the $24 million study funds only now because fears of a “double dip” recession have eased. The study would require the full transit board’s approval. He had argued against going to the ballot in 2008, saying it was unwise to seek a tax increase during recession.

Constantine compared Federal Way rail to the South Park Bridge, which closed in 2010. The new $167 million bridge is being funded by several different sources, including a federal stimulus grant.

Earlier attempts failed to pay for it locally; the bridge was pitched as part of a 2006 roads-and-transit measure that voters rejected.

Transit-board Chairwoman Pat McCarthy, the Pierce County executive, said she will support the study. If light rail is to reach her constituents in Tacoma, it must first get to Federal Way, she said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.