Sound Transit Requests State Aid for $11.5B Funding Gap

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Projects already in construction, such as the Federal Way Link Extension (Kent/Des Moines Station pictured), are not affected by funding shortfalls. But projects in earlier phases of development could be delayed, or potentially eliminated, according to Sound Transit.

Projects already in construction, such as the Federal Way Link Extension (Kent/Des Moines Station pictured), are not affected by funding shortfalls. But projects in earlier phases of development could be delayed, or potentially eliminated, according to Sound Transit.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors has sent a letter to the state of Washington’s House and Senate transportation committees outlining the funding shortfall the agency faces due to the impacts of COVID-19 and increases in real estate prices and construction costs.

“State support is critical for helping to resolve a $11.5 billion affordability gap for finishing voter-approved projects on time,” the agency reported.

While current construction projects remain funded and will be delivered on time, Sound Transit said, the shortfall impacts projects in earlier phases of development. They include expanding light rail to Tacoma, Everett, West Seattle, Ballard, South Kirkland, Issaquah and Tacoma Community College; expanding Sounder commuter rail service and access; and launching Stride bus rapid transit service on I-405.

The Board is now working to determine the agency’s course of action for such projects, not yet in construction.

In the letter (download below), the Board wrote:

“The first emphasis to our reduced revenues and increased costs is pursuing expanded financial capacity, including aggressively seeking federal and state funding. The Board is currently looking to identify ways to restructure or reduce costs to keep the Sound Transit 3 package affordable.”

No state funding is currently in place to support Sound Transit’s infrastructure expansions, according to the agency.

The letter continued: “To the extent that sufficient resources are not secured, the only tools available to address our $11.5 billion affordability gap include delaying projects or, in some cases, potentially eliminating them.”

Not only did the Board ask legislators to include funding for Sound Transit in any transportation revenue proposal that moves forward, it requested consideration of:

• Removing the statutory prohibition placed on Sound Transit that prevents the agency from “accessing any transportation grant program other than the transit coordination grants, which are currently expected to sunset.” The Board acknowledged that funding stemming from the change would be “meager in comparison to the size of the affordability gap, new grant programs that are created and projects in partnership with local jurisdictions could benefit substantially.”

• Eliminating the section of the 2019-21 transportation budget that mandates the Washington State Department of Transportation to “use 100% market value on all rent or lease agreements with Sound Transit.” The Board noted that “the property affected by this language has already been paid for by taxpayers, and the federal government provided 85-95% of the funding to purchase the property.”

• Eliminating language incorporated into the 2019-21 transportation budget (Section 706 of ESHB 1160) that “seeks to require Sound Transit to provide ‘full reimbursement’ to the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) for the costs to collect Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET). The section sets a minimum reimbursement of $7.8 million, which is estimated to be 50 times the cost of MVET collection projected for 2020. Sound Transit has previously shared concerns about the methodology used to generate this figure and accuracy of the resulting estimate.”

“Slowing Sound Transit’s progress in expanding our rail and bus rapid transit network means slowing our progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and connecting workers to housing that is affordable,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said. “The Legislature’s support for keeping voter-approved projects on track is critical to realizing the interests and values of regional and state residents.”

Download the Sound Transit Board Letter to Members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees:

Peter Rogoff will be a featured speaker at the Railway Age/RT&S virtual Light Rail Conference on April 22. Details to follow.

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