Tacoma Link customers, who now ride the light rail system downtown for free, face coughing up a new $1 per ride fare beginning next summer under the 2011 budget proposal for Sound Transit presented Thursday.
“The recommendation right now is to start charging for fares in June,” Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason told me today.
Initiating the new fare for the 1.6 mile light rail system in Tacoma is just one idea among a number of recommendations in the offing, as the regional transit authority grapples with a widening budget hole amidst the tough economy.
Facing a $3.9 billion budget shortfall over the next 13 years, Sound Transit chief executive Joni Earl proposed a $1.1 billion budget for next year that, while actually a higher spending plan than the current budget, jettisons some key projects planned under the voter-approved “Sound Transit 2” program.
That initiative seeks to establish a high-capacity transportation system throughout central Puget Sound within the next two decades. But, as the recession has cut into Sound Transit’s projected revenues by 25 percent through an originally planned 2023 system build-out date, delivering all elements of the so-called ST2 program as planned is no longer an option, Earl said.
“While we are well positioned to make major transit investments in the years ahead, it is no longer possible to complete the entire program in 15 years,” Earl said in a press release issued Thursday.
If approved by the agency’s board of directors, Earl’s budget would have big implications for Pierce County. Along with the new fare in Tacoma, the proposal calls to delay current plans to extend a regional light rail link south of SeaTac.
Plans to extend the so-called Central Link light rail system from the airport to South 200 Street in SeaTac remain on track. But a further step to extend the line to South 272nd Street in Federal Way by 2023 – a key extension needed to launch service to Pierce County – is no longer recommended for construction.
Instead, the extension to 272nd “is still being recommended for preliminary planning, but there may not be sufficient funds for its completion to remain on schedule,” Reason said.
Still, most projects already underway are forging ahead, Reason said. In Tacoma’s Dome District, for instance, the so-called D to M Street project that will raise and connect a section of the Sounder line so that commuter rail service can extend to Lakewood remains on target for a 2012 completion date, she said.
And, implementation of four new Sounder daily commuter trips planned for the Seattle-Tacoma run are still going to happen, only on a delayed implementation schedule, Reason said. Th new trips – initially planned to be added on a staggered, one-per-year rate beginning in 2012 — instead would begin in 2013, Reason said.
We’ll have more details about the budget and its local implications in tomorrow’s print edition of The News Tribune.