Federal Way City Council members voiced anger, dismay and disappointment Tuesday night that Sound Transit plans to postpone expanding light rail to Federal Way from 2023 to as late as 2040.
Council member Jim Ferrell erupted when a Sound Transit official said the planned extension from Highline Community College to South 272nd Street is the only proposed cut from Sound Transit projects to be finished by 2023.
“That’s absolutely incredible,” Ferrell said. “You left us with the impression that times are tough all over. Apparently, they’re only tough for South King County.”
David Beal, acting director of planning and development for Sound Transit, told the council the proposed delay of the Federal Way extension – estimated to cost $600 million – is due to falling revenue projections.
The Federal Way extension planned in 2008 required more money to be borrowed than in other areas of the three-county light rail system, Beal said.
The economic downtown since then compounded the problem, he said.
Sales tax collections for Sound Transit’s South King County subarea are projected to fall by 31 percent from 2009 to 2023. Each subarea is expected to pay the costs for its Sound Transit projects.
Sound Transit hasn’t been able to resolve the confluence of funding problems for bringing light rail to Federal Way, Beal said.
If light rail doesn’t arrive in Federal Way by 2034 at the earliest as Sound Transit projects, Tacoma will have an even longer wait, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest said.
“If you’re in Tacoma, I don’t think you’ve been born yet if you’re going to see light rail,” Priest said. “If it is a dream here, it is a mirage in Tacoma.”
The Federal Way council successfully lobbied to have the Federal Way extension included in the $17.9 billion measure for mass transit expansion that voters approved in November 2008.
“We helped you to get the bond passed,” council member Linda Kochmar told Beal. “Now, you’re telling us, ‘Sorry, guys.’”
Council member Dini Duclos said she doesn’t believe rapid transit will ever make it to Federal Way.
“While everyone else is getting the trains, we’re getting the shaft,” Duclos said.
“I want to know how much money has come from here and what has happened to it,” she said.
The council scheduled a special meeting for May 24 to craft and vote on a resolution opposing the delay. City officials then plan to speak out at Sound Transit’s board meeting May 26.
Beal said Sound Transit is grappling with a $3.9 billion shortfall – or 25 percent – due to declining sales tax revenues.
He said Sound Transit’s board won’t make final decisions on where to cut for another two years. He said the transit board will work hard to solve the problem of service to Federal Way as best as it can.
“We’re not surprised they’re frustrated,” said Beal of the council’s anger. “This is a very important project to them and a very important project to us.”