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Sound Transit will seek federal funding for local light rail

At the council
At the council's Nov. 20 meeting, officials talked about the current process Sound Transit is undergoing in trying to make light rail a reality in Federal Way.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

With the contentiousness over the delay of light rail to Federal Way dying down in recent months, the Federal Way City Council and Sound Transit are discussing the next steps.

At the council's Nov. 20 meeting, officials talked about the current process Sound Transit is undergoing in trying to make light rail a reality in Federal Way.

Ric Illgenfritz, an executive planning and project director for Sound Transit, reported to the council about current activities regarding the light rail project.

"We are fully funded to take the project through to construction to Kent/Des Moines," Illgenfritz said, referencing the ST2 ballot measure and its associated projects that voters approved in 2008.

"We are funded to complete the environmental review and preliminary engineering through to a record of decision, all the way to the (Federal Way Transit Center). And what that does is put the project in a shovel ready status for possible future implementation if we can find the funding."

Illgenfritz said Sound Transit is looking at pursuing federal funding to meet the tax revenue shortfall caused by the economic downturn that began in 2008.

"Our goal here is to make this project eligible for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 'New Starts' funding," he said. "If we can't solve the funding problem, our hope, and our plan, is to get some significant matching funding from our federal partners."

As shared at a recent open house at Truman High School earlier this month, this current phase of planning will be completed in 2016, according to Sound Transit.

As Illgenfritz alluded, all the work being done now — the Open Houses, the public comment and so on — so that Sound Transit can present a fully formed plan to the FTA in an attempt to secure federal funding for the project.

"Is there ever going to be an analysis to see if revenue does change, and things pick back up, whether this could become feasible?" Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell asked of Illgenfritz, referencing the aforementioned lack of tax revenues. Illgenfritz replied that Sound Transit reviews its revenue forecasts twice a year. He shared an example of how that process has worked in the past with the ST2 project.

"In 2010, when the board was first grappling with the magnitude of the recession and what that was going to mean for the capital program, their initial decision was to call the project all the way back to South 200th (Street) and not even come further than that," he said. "As we..got the next two forecasts, we started to realize, 'OK, this isn't going to be as bad as we thought, we can probably put back in that next station segment to Kent/Des Moines.' We're monitoring that regularly."

Ferrell asked if the burden would be on the city to also seek out federal funds. Illgenfritz replied that he hoped it would be a partnership between the two.

"We're not going to say it's the city's challenge. We need to own our part of this as well, and we have the funding relationship with the FTA, the State of Washington…I would love it if we worked together to solve that," he said.

Ferrell finished his round of questioning by asking Illgenfritz what a "ballpark" number would be for a light rail project as envisioned in the original ST2 package.

"A rule of thumb we generally apply for an elevated system, is about $175 million per mile, and you're talking five miles," Illgenfritz said. For non-elevated, he said, the cost can range from $50 million to $100 million.

Council members including Susan Honda, Jeanne Burbidge, Ferrell and Mayor Skip Priest also expressed concerns about parking issues with the park and rides and the Federal Way Transit Center. Illgenfritz indicated that ST is aware of the issue and is looking at ways to address it, but again, a solution is likely a ways off as the regional transit agency jumps through all of it's required hoops when dealing with such issues.

Learn more

For more information on the light rail project, visit www.soundtransit.org/FWExtension.

 

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