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.

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