The Sound Transit Board of Directors on Feb. 23 unanimously approved an amendment to the agency's 2012 budget to provide $24.3 million in additional funding for establishing a shovel-ready plan to extend light rail from South 200th Street to the heart of Federal Way.
The plan gives the agency a green light to immediately move forward with a conceptual engineering study, environmental review process, and record of decision on a route not only to South 272nd Street, which voters approved in the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure in 2008, but all the way to the Federal Way Transit Center. Determining a specific route and more accurate cost estimates will support efforts to identify financing for constructing the line south of the Kent/Des Moines area.
The amendment was sponsored by Sound Transit Board and King County Council Member Pete von Reichbauer, who on Feb. 6 announced the proposal at a news conference with Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, Board Member and King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Board and King County Council Members Julia Patterson and Joe McDermott.
"I am pleased the Board has approved our plan for extending light rail further south to the Federal Way Transit Center," said von Reichbauer. "As a major transportation hub in the region, the transit center serves thousands of people every day. Making it a destination for light rail will improve transit services for all the citizens of South King County, and strengthen Sound Transit's ability to pursue funding for construction once a record of decision has been obtained."
Planning for the extension is slated to begin with an alternatives analysis this summer. Public workshops will take place this fall. There will also be a series of open houses conducted in the summer of 2013 as the agency moves forward with conceptual engineering and developing a draft EIS. A final EIS review process will take place in 2015, followed by Board selection of the project to be built and a record of decision from the Federal Transit Administration in 2016. Final design for the segment between S. 200th and Kent/Des Moines is scheduled to be complete by 2019, with construction beginning that same year. Testing would begin in late 2022 with service to Kent/Des Moines starting in 2023. Grant and other funding will need to be secured to construct an extension south of Kent/Des Moines.
"We look forward to working with the cities of Federal Way, Kent, Des Moines and SeaTac to advance our plan for extending light rail through the south corridor," said McCarthy. "While significant revenue challenges remain, the amendment approved by the Board today enables the agency to continue its important work to bring light rail to South Sound residents, with a vision for one day reaching Tacoma and Pierce County. I would like to thank Pete for his leadership in forging the way, and Senator Eide for coming forward in the spirit of true cooperation and creative problem-solving to support this proposal."
As a result of the national recession, current independent forecasts predict a 25 percent reduction in Sound Transit's available revenues through 2023 for moving forward with voter-approved expansions. While all five of Sound Transit's geographic subareas face major challenges, the challenges are greatest in South King County, where revenues are currently projected to be 32 percent lower than the original forecast. A months-long public process Sound Transit launched in 2010 for realigning the scope and timing of Sound Transit 2 expansions communicated that current funding projections are insufficient to reach South 272nd Street by 2023.
State legislation or additional authority from voters would be required to move forward with construction south of South 272nd Street.