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Progress for light rail? Plan would get Federal Way 'shovel ready'
A proposal by two regional lawmakers may breathe life into the quest to bring light rail to Federal Way.
King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, working with State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way), will seek an amendment to Sound Transit's 2012 budget. If approved, the amendment would put $24 million toward making light rail "shovel ready" in Federal Way.
The money would help fund the necessary studies, such as environmental impacts and engineering reviews, during the next four to five years. Ideally, this would place Federal Way in prime position to receive federal or state grant money, should it become available. This plan is also intended to provide a better idea of the final construction costs and logistics for light rail.
"My goal is to put Federal Way at the front of the line," von Reichbauer said Monday at a press conference in Seattle.
In 2008, voters approved the ST2 plan to build light rail to South 272nd Street, linking the city with Seattle and the airport. However, last spring, Sound Transit delayed the extension to Federal Way until at least 2040, citing a 31 percent shortfall in tax revenue from South King County. 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.
With the proposed amendment to Sound Transit's budget, the additional $24 million would move the city forward in prepping for light rail construction — specifically, between South 200th Street to the Federal Way Transit Center, located 7.6 miles away near South 320th Street. The proposal awaits approval by a Sound Transit committee Thursday, then eventually the ST governing board.
"Getting this project shovel ready is the most important thing we can do. It keeps us on track, it keeps us on the ball," Eide said at the press conference, noting that she feels assured that Sound Transit is committed to delivering what was promised. "I call upon the city of Federal Way to be a committed partner in a renewed process."
Other supporters of the proposed amendment include Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Pierce County Executive (and Sound Transit board chairwoman) Pat McCarthy and King County Councilman Joe McDermott.
Federal Way's reaction
Federal Way officials estimate the city's taxpayers will shell out $13.5 million a year for light rail, regardless of whether the project becomes a reality.
Federal Way leaders, most notably Mayor Skip Priest, have been vocal in their dissatisfaction over light rail's delay.
The city is behind a handful of bills in the Legislature that are aimed at reforming Sound Transit. Among other actions, the bills seek to require more transparency and audits of Sound Transit, along with allowing cities to opt out of funding the transit authority in certain circumstances. Other bills seek to replace Sound Transit's 18-member governing board — which consists of public officials from three counties — with a five-member elected board.
In response to Monday's press conference, the city issued a statement from Priest, who praised von Reichbauer and Eide in "pressing Sound Transit for positive solutions." Neither Priest nor any city council members attended the press conference because they were not invited, said city spokesman Chris Carrel.
“The planning proposal suggests Sound Transit is considering positive steps and that’s a good sign,” Priest said in the city's news release. “At the same time, our commuters can’t ride a plan. Tomorrow morning our transit center will be full of commuters who can’t get to work on time because of crowded Sound Transit buses. Additional steps are needed.”
Two different media reporters asked why Federal Way leaders were not present at Tuesday's press conference. In December, no elected officials from Federal Way attended a summit at Highline Community College. The summit consisted of regional leaders who gathered to discuss the future of light rail and transportation in the region.
"I don't want to focus on what they haven't done. Let's focus on what they can do. They can come and respond to this great opportunity that we have before us," von Reichbauer said of Federal Way, referencing the city's involvement in legislation aimed at Sound Transit. "And if they do, I think we can start using stones to build bridges, not throwing stones."