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No light rail in sight despite Federal Way’s payment
Will Federal Way see light rail in the next 20 years? No. Will Federal Way still pay for light rail? Yes.
Highline Community College hosted a summit of regional leaders Dec. 7 to review the fate of light rail in South King County. Highline President Jack Bermingham noted the college’s vested interest in light rail because many of its 18,000 students come from the Federal Way area.
Simply put, there’s no money to build light rail this far south along Highway 99. Despite voter approval for the plan in 2008, Sound Transit has announced an indefinite delay in extending light rail past South 240th Street and into Federal Way.
Nearly 80 percent of Sound Transit’s revenues come from sales tax revenues collected from five subareas. The total shortfall for the five subareas is about $3.9 billion, according to Sound Transit. The South King County subarea’s projected sales tax revenues are down 31 percent — a shortfall of about $850 million.
South King County includes all cities south of Seattle, except Renton.
Regional leaders at the summit recognized the need for transit options in lower-income commuters in South King County. Light rail construction will also generate thousands of jobs and act as a catalyst for economic development along its route.
“Light rail in South King County is a game-changer,” said King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson.
In fact, demand for Metro bus service has increased 3 percent in the past year. King County Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged that this part of the county has experienced the biggest economic impact in the region.
For now, Sound Transit will explore finance options, conduct an analysis of the area, “create a public process” and “keep the conversation going,” according to board members at the summit.
The project’s next phase is a section linking Sea-Tac Airport with South 200th Street, set for completion in 2016. The Kent-Des Moines leg of the light rail, slated for completion in 2023, will extend to Highline Community College at South 240th Street. According to the original plan, Federal Way was supposed to see a station at South 272nd Street by 2023. The ultimate goal for Sound Transit is to eventually connect the King County system with Tacoma.
Federal Way officials estimate the city’s taxpayers will have paid $400 million total into the Sound Transit light rail by the time the project is finished in 2040 — regardless of whether light rail reaches the city. That estimate is for both ST1 and ST2, the current voter-approved measures, according to the city.
In Federal Way alone, the total annual cost to citizens is about $13 million in sales tax and motor vehicle excise tax, according to city spokesman Chris Carrel. That money is Federal Way’s share of the Sound Transit bonds approved by voters. The city is exploring options, including possible legal action.
“We’re committed to addressing this problem in the most cost-effective way,” Carrel said. “Given the amount of money Federal Way citizens have put into the system, we’re really in a ‘show me’ mode. Show us how you’re going to bring light rail here. Show us how you’re going to solve the issue.”
In a Dec. 6 letter to Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest addressed the frustration at solving transit issues in the city. He noted complaints from bus riders regarding overcrowding on the busy Route 577 bus to Seattle — while local taxpayers shell out $13.5 million a year for light rail that isn’t coming. He also noted Sound Transit’s investment in light rail on the Eastside, known as East Link, along with construction of an expensive tunnel.
“Without equity and commitment to all service areas, regional light rail is in danger of becoming trains for wealthier communities, while the poor and working class get the shaft,” Priest wrote. “I am hearing daily from residents who are outraged by the way Sound Transit has marginalized this community’s needs and not held itself accountable for the broken promises of ST1 and ST2.” (read the letter here)