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Light rail loan for Federal Way? Idea targets Sound Transit project money

Sound Transit recently announced that light rail in Federal Way will be scrapped, for now, due to a 31 percent shortfall in tax revenue collections for the South King County area. - File photo
Sound Transit recently announced that light rail in Federal Way will be scrapped, for now, due to a 31 percent shortfall in tax revenue collections for the South King County area.
— image credit: File photo

Following an uproar this spring over the doomed light rail project to Federal Way, the issue continues to simmer throughout Puget Sound.

Light rail is a hot topic on the Eastside as Sound Transit and cities clash over the project’s route. Meanwhile, the Federal Way area lacks the funds for light rail altogether.

One East King County resident feels he has a solution to finding money for voter-approved light rail in South King County, and ostensibly, Federal Way. Will Knedlik, president of grass-roots community organization Eastside Rail Now, outlined a possible plan at the June 21 Federal Way City Council meeting to see that construction begins in South King County, and begins soon.

Knedlik feels the most important development recently is the decision of the state Supreme Court in a case called Freeman v. Gregoire, which argued the validity of Sound Transit’s ability to build light rail east out of Seattle along the Interstate 90 bridge.

Knedlik said because of the legal issues regarding the building of light rail to East King County, the East King County subarea is essentially sitting on a billion dollars that “they’re not going to be able to productively use for at least the next two to three years.” Because of this, Knedlik suggested to the Federal Way council that South King County should approach East King County and set up a loan of some sort between the two subareas.

“The logical thing to do, is to re-sequence the light rail system and build the spine as far south as makes logical sense, and for the East King County subarea to the lend the money to South King County to do so,” he said.

Kimberly Reason, media relations specialist with Sound Transit, clarified how tax collections from the county’s subareas and money distribution works within the light rail project’s framework.

“The ST2 ballot measure passed by the voters in 2008 included financial policies that local tax revenues raised in a subarea must be used for projects that benefit that subarea,” Reason wrote in an email. “These policies originated in state law. Under this framework, projects that voters approved for one subarea cannot be cancelled to generate funds for use in another subarea.”

There is also a misunderstanding of what the outcome of Freeman v. Gregoire means, say Sound Transit and city officials.

Geoff Patrick, a Sound Transit spokesman, commented on what the outcome of Freeman v. Gregoire meant for Sound Transit and its plans to build light rail to East King County.

“In short, we won at the Supreme Court level, and while Mr. Freeman is trying to advance a case he subsequently filed at the Superior Court level in Eastern Washington, we are very confident in the East Link project’s legal underpinnings,” he wrote in an email to The Mirror, referencing another case in litigation in Kittitas County. “That is based on the fact using the center lanes of I-90 for light rail is consistent with the explicit agreements made between local governments and the state before the bridge was ever built.”

While this particular idea may be nothing more than a dream, Federal Way spokesman Chris Carrel said the city is willing to explore the idea of inter-subarea lending.

“On the larger issue of inter-subarea lending, this is something that the city is very interested in exploring,” he said.

“The council, in it’s resolution to Sound Transit, specifically asked Sound Transit to look into the possibility of inter-subarea borrowing to help support the extension of the Link to Federal Way.”

While ideas may begin to be more “out of the box” as these discussions continue, Carrel did re-iterate the regional transit authority is going to be a part of the process, no matter what.

“Sound Transit is the political mechanism,” he said, “that we all have to work through on this.”

 

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