The U.S. House of Representatives adopted the HEROES Act with the inclusion of provisions to provide $32 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for transit agencies, including more funds for Sound Transit’s light rail extension from SeaTac to Federal Way.
The tireless work of the region’s congressional delegation helped pass the measure, according to a Sound Transit news release on Oct. 5.
The House adoption on Oct. 1 follows urgent advocacy by Sound Transit and other agencies, with the entire Sound Transit Board signing a letter to the congressional delegation in July. The bill provides critical funding for public transit agencies across the country experiencing significant revenue loss since the spring. Negotiations continue between the House leadership and the White House regarding its final enactment.
Sound Transit is among the agencies that relies heavily on local sales tax funding, which has been hit hard by the pandemic and accompanying recession. Of key importance to Sound Transit is $2.5 billion in funding for projects including our Lynnwood and Federal Way light rail extensions, which have already received grants through the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) Program.
The proposed dollars would allow agencies like Sound Transit to increase the federal funding share of these projects so they can continue to build infrastructure expansions that fuel the nation’s financial recovery, according to the agency. The CIG provisions in the House-passed bill would yield an additional $375 million for Sound Transit’s capital program. In addition to the CIG funding provision, the House bill provides $594 million that will be distributed by formula to help offset operating losses for the 10 transit agencies serving the Puget Sound region.
“The ability to increase the federal share for the existing federal partnerships now funding light rail construction to Lynnwood and Federal Way would have a very positive impact on our ability to deliver the nation’s largest transit expansion program,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff in the news release. “Inclusion of these provisions in a final compromise bill is critical to generate thousands of jobs that stimulate our region’s and nation’s economy. We join other transit agencies across the country in calling for enactment of this transit assistance at the earliest possible date.”
Construction started this year on Sound Transit’s 7.8-mile Federal Way Link Extension project at an estimated cost of $3.1 billion. Federal Way Link will extend light rail from Angle Lake Station in SeaTac to Federal Way, and the extension project includes three new stations serving Kent/Des Moines, South 272nd Street and the Federal Way Transit Center.
This summer the Sound Transit Board kicked off a realignment process to determine how the agency will respond to revenue losses that are currently projected to hit nearly $1 billion through 2021 and between a $7 billion and $12 billion through the scheduled 2041 completion of voter-approved projects. Federal funding is critical for reducing the delays that Sound Transit will have to implement for projects that are not already under construction.
“The only way our transit agencies will be able to move people in our economy is if the next federal response to COVID-19 is focused on replenishing the revenues that are disappearing all around us,” Rogoff said. “During the last recession, Sound Transit projects were among the only construction efforts hiring tradespeople off the bench.”
The nearly half of commuters to and from downtown Seattle who relied on transit last year are a testament to the importance of investments by Sound Transit and other local partners, according to the news release.