The dollars to build light-rail from Angle Lake Station in SeaTac to Federal Way are nearly in the bag, after the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave notice of its intent to grant $790 million, plus a $629 million low-interest loan.
Both the grant and loan have been negotiated since 2016, when voters approved the Sound Transit 3 tax increase to build eight rail extensions and two bus-rapid transit corridors.
The federal aid, announced by Sound Transit on Monday, reduces the interest costs borne by local taxpayers, who already support two-thirds of a program estimated at $96 billion from 2017 to 2041.
“It means a continued investment for light rail, which will transform our city and downtown, and it’s something we’re grateful for,” said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who received a courtesy call from U.S. Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Sound Transit intends to break ground in early 2020 on the $3.2 billion, 7.8-mile project, scheduled to open in late 2024. Three new stations reaching Highline College, the Star Lake Park-and-Ride, and the Federal Way Transit Center are predicted to serve 41,000 daily passengers.
However, only 49 percent of Federal Way voters supported ST3, after two stations promised in the 2008 elections were delayed. And last month, a solid majority sided with Initiative 976, which sought to slash car-tab taxes — including those collected by Sound Transit — to $30 statewide.
FTA Administrator Jane Williams, in her Dec. 13 letter to Congress, notes the presence of I-976 but says that federal project reviewers are satisfied there’s enough cash flow to proceed with Federal Way Link, though Sound Transit “may need to adjust the timing of future expansion projects” if car-tab proceeds are reduced.
Citing its bond-repayment contracts, Sound Transit says it will keep collecting its full car-tab tax, of $110 per $10,000 of vehicle value, on a scale that overvalues newer cars under state law.
Ferrell predicts the downtown station will attract development. Land zoning already allows 200-foot-tall building, and the city is working to establish a higher-education campus with Highline College, University of Washington-Tacoma, and the Federal Way School District, he said.
This year, the city opened a new performing-arts center, alongside a park called Town Center Steps that makes transit and events easier to reach on foot.