Plan lays ground for Federal Way light rail | Guest column

By King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer and State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way)

Finding solutions to get light rail to Federal Way is a priority that will not only benefit transit users in the city, but residents throughout South King County.

This is why we, Pete von Reichbauer, a member of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, and State Sen. Tracey Eide, the vice-chair of the Washington State Senate Transportation Committee, have come together behind the need to establish a shovel-ready plan for extending light rail to the Federal Way Transit Center.

As the third largest city in King County, Federal Way serves as a major transportation hub in the region. This is why we have never stopped working on a solution for extending light rail farther south of the airport, even while we grapple with severe revenue shortfalls.

Next year, Sound Transit will begin construction on the next southern segment of light rail to S. 200th Street in SeaTac. Service on that line will start in 2016 — four years ahead of the original schedule. Sound Transit is also moving forward with the planning and construction of light rail from S. 200th Street to the Kent/Des Moines area (around Highline Community College), with service to begin in 2023.

An amendment to Sound Transit’s 2012 budget, proposed by von Reichbauer and supported by Eide, positions Sound Transit to continue pushing southward to the Federal Way Transit Center and ultimately Pierce County. We were joined by other South King and Pierce County board members, Councilmember Julia Patterson, Councilmember Joe McDermott, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, and King County Executive Dow Constantine, who all voiced their approval and support for this budget proposal.

Sound Transit’s next step for extending light rail farther south must be to conduct a full-scale planning and environmental review process to establish a light rail route from South 200th to the heart of Federal Way. This review process will enable Sound Transit to obtain the federal record of decision needed to keep building beyond the Kent/Des Moines area once necessary funding is identified.  Establishing a route to Federal Way will help Sound Transit better understand the financial challenges Sound Transit needs to solve. It will also support efforts to establish creative partnerships at the local, regional, state and national levels. Residents of Federal Way and throughout South King County will play essential roles in shaping the extension through an involved public process.

Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Capital Committee unanimously recommended that on Feb. 23 the Sound Transit board approve a $24 million budget amendment to fund this work. With the economic outlook improving, there is strong support for the argument that this work does not need to be deferred because of the risk of a “double dip” recession.

Still, revenue challenges remain. Regionwide, the Great Recession has reduced revenues for the voter-approved ST2 program by a projected $3.9 billion, or 25 percent. The funding for South King County expansions has been hit, with local revenue forecasts reduced by 32 percent, or nearly a billion dollars through 2023.

These are issues we must work together to solve. Sound Transit is ready to begin work with the City of Federal Way on this study should the full board approve the proposed amendment.

As population growth continues to impact gridlock, there is a need for a fast and congestion-free connection between South King County and the rest of the region. I look forward to working with our federal partners, members of the state legislature, the City of Federal Way, and others in the region to make this project happen.

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