Does this train go to Everett? Maybe not. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Trump Budget Presents a Major Threat to Sound Transit Plan

The agency was counting on $5 billion in federal grants to complete the regional transit system approved by voters in the fall.

Completing a light rail line from Northgate to Lynnwood—an essential part of the Sound Transit 3 plan passed by area voters last fall—again appears in doubt after President Donald Trump gave further signals that he hopes to gut an essential grant program for transit projects.

The White House budget and federal transit documents, both released this week, would remove $1.17 billion from Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link Extension. The money appeared all but secured until March, when Trump’s budget outline first appeared.

The prospect of losing mass-transit funds for the clogged I-5 corridor provoked an outcry from Washington’s congressional delegation. They have given Trump’s budget a slim chance of passing, but with more budget detail now available, their concern about transit grants has resurfaced. Sound Transit had been counting on $5 billion in federal New Starts grants over the next 25 years, including $500 million to build light rail to Federal Way.

“During his campaign, President Trump talked a big game about rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure — yet when push comes to shove, he wants to eliminate the very programs that are making real investments in communities right now,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “This demonstrates a complete disregard for working families.”

Murray said she raised her concerns directly with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and is working with Senate colleagues to keep grants in place. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., also said he’s working with colleagues in the House to fund transit projects in next year’s budget and beyond.

The grant is about half of what Sound Transit needs to expand light rail from Northgate to Lynnwood. The route includes stops in Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace, and would connect Seattle to Everett, fulfilling a long-standing goal of the agency. Groundbreaking is scheduled next year with service projected to start in 2023.

In early May, Congress passed a spending bill that included $100 million for the project, as a first installment on the $1.17 billion grant.

The abrupt removal of transit funds appears to contradict a promise Trump made during a joint address to Congress on Feb. 28. The president said he would ask federal lawmakers, “to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States, financed through both private and public capital.”

The White House budget released Tuesday offers some rationale for the cut. The document, officially titled “Major Savings and Reforms,” limits Federal Transit Administration capital investment grants, also known as the New Starts program, to projects that already have signed agreements in place.

One page appears to reference the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 measure that voters passed in November. The initiative is raising taxes to pay for expanding light rail and bus rapid-transit service over the next quarter century, including bringing light rail to Everett by 2036.

“Several major metropolitan regions have recently passed multi-billion dollar revenue measures to fund transit projects, and the administration believes that is the most appropriate way to fund transit expansion and maintenance efforts,” the budget document states.

Waiting for federal grants, the budget continues, “is not the most efficient way to meet their local transportation needs.”

That section of the budget is mum on problems that congested freeways pose for freight traffic and other aspects of the economy.

Sound Transit issued a joint response Thursday with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which also stands to lose funding.

“The administration’s assertion that our regions can deliver transit solutions for our citizens without federal partnership is uninformed, misguided, and unfair,” the statement reads, in part. “The voters of our communities stepped up and voted to tax themselves to provide a path out of punishing congestion. For that bold action, they should be rewarded at the federal level, not punished.”

nhaglund@heraldnet.com

A version of this story originally appeared in the Everett Herald.

More in News & Comment

Protestors gather at SeaTac’s Families Belong Together rally. Photo by Alex Garland
Seattle’s Separated Children

A local non-profit houses several immigrant youths who were separated from their parents at the border. But for how long?

Katrina Johnson, Charleena Lyles’ cousin, speaks at a press conference for De-Escalate Washington’s I-940 on July 6, 2017. Photo by Sara Bernard
Communities of Color Respond to Police Chief Best’s Nomination

Although its a mixed bag for some, the families affected by police shootings say she’s the best one for the job.

While King County Metro has been testing out several trial electric buses since since 2016, the agency aims to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2040. Photo by SounderBruce/Flickr
King County Rolls on With Its Electric Bus Fleet Plans

With an overhaul set by 2040, a new report shows the economic and health benefits of going electric.

Nikkita Oliver speaks at a July 17 No New Youth Jail press conference in front of the construction site of the King County Youth Detention Center. Photo by Josh Kelety
King County Youth Detention Center Moves Forward Despite Opposition

As community criticism of the project mounts, King County tries to take a middle road.

Trouble in Tacoma

A cannabis producer has been shut down for “numerous and substantial violations.”

Between Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and the new no-poach cause agreement, Washington has been leading the nation in advancing fast food workers’ rights. Photo by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr
Washington AG’s Deal Grants Mobility to Fast Food Workers Nationwide

Seven fast food chains have agreed to end no-poaching policies that economists say cause wage stagnation.

The Carlton Complex wildfire burned in north-central Washington state in 2014. Photo by Jason Kriess/Wikimedia Commons
King County Burn Ban Starts This Weekend

Other counties across the state have already enacted similar restrictions.

Numerous complaints against King County Sheriff’s deputies for issues like excessive force and improper search and seizure weren’t investigated due to internal misclassification, a new report says. Photo by Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Report Finds Complaints Against King County Sheriff’s Deputies Weren’t Investigated

An outside review says that allegations of excessive force and racially-biased policing weren’t pursued.

Most Read