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Light rail: Sound Transit gives Federal Way the shaft, say city leaders

A planned expansion of light rail to Federal Way has been delayed indefinitely. - File photo
A planned expansion of light rail to Federal Way has been delayed indefinitely.
— image credit: File photo

Sound Transit, you got some ‘splaining to do. That was the tone of the Federal Way City Council meeting on Tuesday, as the entire council voiced displeasure at the apparent long-term delay of light rail to Federal Way.

Deputy mayor Dini Duclos expressed disbelief that light rail will ever be a reality in Federal Way.

“I don’t believe we will ever see anything down here in Federal Way,” she said. “Everyone else is getting trains. We’re getting the shaft.”

Sound Transit acting planning and development director David Beal shared the reasons for why light rail to Federal Way will be delayed until approximately 2040. With 80 percent of Sound Transit’s revenues coming from sales tax revenues, Beal said the economic downturn has had a significant effect on Sound Transit, and by proxy, the light rail project to Federal Way.

“Our program is down by about $3.9 billion,” Beal said. “We expected $8.7 billion from our entire district, and we’re down $3.9 billion, or 25 percent.”

Beal said of the five “subareas” Sound Transit serves, South King County was hardest hit by the economic downturn. Beal said South King County’s projected sales tax revenues were down 31 percent from numbers formulated in July 2008 — a shortfall of approximately $851 million.

Outside of those financial holes, Beal said another factor in delay of the light rail project to Federal Way was the fact that South King County was set to borrow the most in order to finance the light rail.

“Almost half of the expenditures planned ... were actually bonds,” Beal said. “The average for the Sound Transit system in the ST2 plan was about a third of revenues coming from bonds. As the sales tax revenues have declined, that has dramatically affected the ability to borrow.”

In 2008, voters approved the Sound Transit 2 expansion, which included plans for the Federal Way light rail station. The station would have linked with the existing light rail line that runs from downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Beal said Sound Transit was tasked at taking another look at the ST2 package to see how things could possibly be shifted around or reorganized to ensure that the promised projects would come to fruition. As it stands, he said, if Sound Transit attempted to complete all the work set forth in the ST2 package, it would take until 2042.

Heated discussion: ‘We’re the only location that’s being cut’

Beal indicated parts of the ST2 package will proceed as early as the second half of 2011. He told the city council that work on the rail segment to Highline Community College could start sometime next year — an answer the council found unsatisfying.

Mayor Skip Priest came out with a blunt assessment of the situation, asking if lower construction and property costs were being factored into current projections, and if any consideration was given to the idea of running the light rail line along Interstate 5, instead of an elevated track along Highway 99.

“Because if it’s not, we’re living in a world of unreality here,” Priest said.

Beal responded that work has been done on some of those issues, with a more in-depth look coming later this year.

Councilman Jim Ferrell grilled Beal in a scene on par with any courtroom drama on television. Ferrell began by asking if there was anything else in the ST2 package that was going to be cut or significantly delayed. Disbelief tinged Ferrell’s voice when Beal told him that nothing else at this time is being deferred, other than the light rail project to Federal Way.

“You’re telling us, no other section is being cut, other than this section?” Ferrell asked.

“So far, that is what the financial analysis shows us, yes,” Beal said.

“Wow, that’s absolutely incredible,” Ferrell said.

Beal said the issues with light rail to Federal Way tie into Sound Transit’s policy of subarea equity.

“So we don’t deserve it?” asked Ferrell, cutting short Beal’s reply. “That’s completely baffling. That’s actually incredible. My concern is, until I asked that question, that wasn’t brought forth here. We’re the only location that’s being cut. That’s amazing.”

Beal apologized, saying only that he anticipated giving a presentation on the South Sound Corridor part of the ST2 package.

“I understand your frustration,” Beal said. “We’re frustrated too. We’re trying to react to this as best we can.”

Coming up

The city council developed a plan of attack to ensure that light rail makes it to Federal Way within a reasonable time frame. Among the council’s plans were the adoption of a resolution to make it a political issue, increasing the city’s presence at Sound Transit board meetings, and improving communication with communities and entities that would be affected by the delay of the light rail project.

 

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