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Federal Way welcomes state audit of Sound Transit
A state audit of Sound Transit was welcomed by Federal Way officials, as questions remain unanswered as to why the regional transit authority has delayed the extension of light rail to Federal Way — and whether the light rail will actually ever reach the city.
State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office confirmed last week that results from a performance audit of Sound Transit will be available by the summer. According to reports, the audit will focus on ridership statistics and how Sound Transit fulfills obligations to the public. Mayor Skip Priest said that while Federal Way is certainly in the spotlight, it is truly a regional issue.
"This isn't solely a Federal Way issue. The entire Puget Sound region depends on the development of efficient, cost-effective mass transit," Priest said in a news release. "Sound Transit's broken promises and failures in South King County suggest that light rail has veered off course."
Priest penned a letter to Sonntag, asking for the state auditor's agency to pay special attention to a number of critical questions about light rail, Federal Way and South King County. According to the city, Priest asked for Sonntag and his auditors to:
• Determine if Sound Transit knew prior to the 2008 Sound Transit 2 vote that a Federal Way light rail link was not feasible
• Determine if Sound Transit acted in good faith and with clear communication with Federal Way from 2008-2011, as the transit agency's revenue forecasts began to dip
• Determine if the policy of "sub-area equity" of Sound Transit is one that is used in a "transparent, consistent and equitable" manner
• Determine if Sound Transit is acting to ensure that it's cutting costs within the agency itself because of a $4 billion decline in forecasted revenues
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.
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.
"The inequity being built into the light rail system is nothing for our region to be proud of," city council member Dini Duclos said in a news release from the city. "Sound Transit takes $13.5 million a year out of Federal Way. Yet, the closest our working class community will get to the light rail they are paying for is when the overcrowded ST Express bus they ride passes the train in Seattle."
Duclos noted that the language of the 2008 ballot proposition was unclear because Sound Transit has in effect created a permanent transit tax for itself. The regional transit authority recently retired its debt from bond sales, and will now roll over its taxing authority from the previous packages as a way of paying for ongoing operations and maintenance expenditures.
“I applaud the decision by the Washington State Auditor to take a close, hard look at Sound Transit. In this difficult economy, Federal Way taxpayers deserve to know how and where their money is being spent," said State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-District 30) in a prepared statement. “As vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, I plan to keep a close eye on the proceedings that unfold, so that if any waste or abuse is targeted, we can increase the organization’s efficiency through the necessary legislative means.”