Some of the nation’s biggest mass-transit projects would gain an extra 30% federal contribution under a bill introduced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a longtime friend of Sound Transit.
Murray is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, giving her more clout than most to push grants across the finish line.
The Public Transit Capital Investment Relief Act would send $1.9 billion more toward the Lynnwood and Federal Way light-rail extensions that are expected to open in 2024. Those two lines were already awarded $2 billion in federal money toward the total $6.4 billion cost.
Co-sponsors are Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Dick Durbin of Illinois.
A total of 12 projects could gain $12.3 billion, Murray’s staff said.
Transit ridership sank nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic — down 80% for Sound Transit as of January — and it’s unclear if or when ridership will fully rebound, as many people continue to work from home.
“As our economy begins to recover, we need to make sure workers and families can get to where they need to go,” Murray’s announcement said.
Cantwell endorsed higher Federal Transit Administration grants during nomination hearings for Pete Buttigieg, the new U.S. transportation secretary.
The money would narrow Sound Transit’s estimated $11.5 billion revenue gap, and go toward finishing 10 voter-approved rail and bus lines by 2041. About half the gap is blamed on lower tax collections since the COVID-19 economic slowdown, and half caused by project obstacles the agency underestimated, such as real-estate inflation or sloppy soils.
However, a new report this week shows state government tax income is fast recovering to normal levels. Sound Transit isn’t expected to report new figures until April, said spokesperson Geoff Patrick.
The bill “would have a tremendous impact in shrinking our affordability gap and helping us keep our future projects on schedule, generating thousands of green jobs on climate friendly projects our region sorely needs,” Sound Transit Chairman Kent Keel, of Pierce County, said in a statement.
The Biden administration has promised a giant infrastructure package that would include transit expansions. But if that proposal is gridlocked in Congress, the stand-alone bill by Murray provides an additional path to push dollars toward high-capacity transit.