The president’s budget, and a proposed Federal Transit Administration funding list this week, would phase out half the money for the Northgate-Lynnwood light-rail line.
Sound Transit and its allies in Congress say they’ll fight a 2018 budget proposal by President Donald Trump that yanks $1.1 billion to build the Lynnwood-Northgate light-rail extension — half of that project’s entire funding.
That corridor, scheduled to open in 2023, is under final engineering and was previously recommended to receive the money from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
But in an FTA annual Fatement released Wednesday afternoon, the Lynnwood line is omitted, even though it earned a “medium-high” federal rating and would add 67,000 daily riders. Thousands more would arrive from an Everett line expected to open in the 2030s.
Trump budget: Transit isn’t a national issue
President Donald Trump’s budget, released this week, says:
“The budget proposes reduced funding for … local transit projects that should be funded by states and localities that benefit from their use. Localities are better equipped to scale and design infrastructure investments needed for their communities. Several major
metropolitan areas, including Denver, Los Angeles, and Seattle, have already begun to move in this direction by asking residents to approve multibillion dollar bond measures to speed the delivery of highway and
transit investments. These regions realize waiting for federal grant funding is not the most efficient way to meet their local transportation needs.”
Source: White House budget, May 2018
“We’re really in uncharted waters,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, who headed the FTA through most of the Obama administration.
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Rogoff said he’s contacted supporters in Congress, and is pleased with their eagerness to work for Puget Sound-area transit funding.
The White House policy change would also remove an anticipated $500 million grant for the Angle Lake-Federal Way extension, scheduled to open in 2024, and 12 other projects still in development.
In explaining the cut, the president’s budget this week says transit isn’t a national mission.
“The budget proposes reduced funding for … local transit projects that should be funded by states and localities that benefit from their use,” it says.
That view was reinforced by the proposed FTA capital grant list released Wednesday. It would phase out the huge New Starts and Core Capacity grant programs, by funding only the 12 projects that already have multiyear grant agreements signed.
The Lynnwood extension is in final engineering, but lacks a completed grant contract with FTA. Five other projects around the country in final engineering are in the same situation, including two in Minneapolis and a train line connecting the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, D.C.
One reason for hope, Sound Transit says, is that in the 2017 budget, Congress did supply Lynnwood an initial $100 million, a sign that members might rally around future installments.
Sound Transit previously received $1.3 billion under New Starts for its lines to Tukwila and to the University of Washington, under the Bush and Obama administrations.
Rogoff had painted a rosier picture last fall, when Trump touted a $1 trillion infrastructure vision, including railways, and chose the experienced Elaine Chao as transportation secretary.
“Ideologues have held sway, and we’re seeing that in the president’s budget,” Rogoff said Wednesday.
He particularly bristled at a passage pointing to last fall’s voter approval of the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 plan, and measures in Los Angeles and Denver, as a mandate that regions are opting to go it alone on transit funding.
“What the administration is saying, is major metropolitan areas that choose to tax themselves, rather than being rewarded for self-help, instead they should be punished.”
In fact, ST3 told voters to anticipate $4.7 billion in federal aid, covering 15 percent of the $31.7 billion price of seven light-rail extensions.
Kevin Wallace, last year’s leading debater against ST3, said Thursday that yanking Lynnwood’s money is “too abrupt,” because voters approved Lynnwood in ST2 nine years ago, and it’s a relatively sensible rail route.
But it would be reasonable, he said, for the feds to signal they won’t pay for future Tacoma, Everett and Issaquah lines from 2030-41.
“Hopefully it would force Sound Transit to rethink the politically driven, ineffective plan to build these light rail extensions to lower density areas where bus, park & ride and technology solutions are cheaper, better and faster,” Wallace said in an email.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., whose district includes Lynnwood, called the proposed cuts “a terrible mistake,” and mentioned the U.S. posted a D+ grade in the latest annual report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. “You can’t have a big league economy with a little league infrastructure,” he wrote.
Transit-board Chairman Dave Somers, who is also the Snohomish County executive, said in a statement: “Since we’ve heard the [president’s] budget is dead on arrival, we will continue to engage with our congressional delegation. They have consistently shown great leadership on transit issues for the state and region.”
Even if the administration’s plan prevails, “Light rail is still going to Lynnwood,” Rogoff said.
But losing the grant would blow a hole in Sound Transit’s limited funding base for Snohomish County programs, and he can’t predict yet whether trains would get there by 2023.