Sound Transit’s board decided today to study whether there are less costly options that could extend light rail to Federal Way sooner than projected.
Board members were sympathetic to concerns voiced by Federal Way leaders over Sound Transit’s projections that light rail to Federal Way will be delayed from 2023 until 2034 at the earliest.
“The good news for Federal Way is I think we’re going to get there,” said board member and Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow. “I’m not exactly sure when.”
Sound Transit officials aren’t even sure for now how long the new alternatives analysis study will take. The board decided to study transit alternatives – including light rail and bus service – all the way to the Tacoma Dome.
Studying alternatives to Federal Way – including elevated light rail along Interstate 5 instead of state Route 99 – could take a year, said Sound Transit planner David Beal.
Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest said he appreciated that the board heard the concerns of those who live in Federal Way and Northeast Tacoma. But Priest said he’ll be looking down the road for Sound Transit to take action, not just study.
“The devil is in the details,” Priest said.
Priest and Federal Way City Council members Jeanne Burbidge and Linda Kochmar politely but firmly voiced their concerns to the board today about Sound Transit’s projected delay in extending light rail to South 272nd Street, Federal Way’s northern boundary.
Priest described the delay as a “broken promise” to Federal Way’ workers while more well-to-do areas get light rail sooner.
“The rich get richer while the working class gets the shaft,” Priest said.
Three years ago, the Federal Way council lobbied successfully to have the extension included in the $17.9 billion measure for mass transit expansion that voters approved in November 2008.
The 2008 measure raised the sales tax by 0.5 percent to expand light rail north to Lynnwood, east to Redmond and south to Federal Way’s northern boundary at South 272nd Street by 2023.
Federal Way City Council members passed a resolution Tuesday strongly opposing Sound Transit’s proposed delay of the extension to Federal Way to 2034 or as late as 2040. The resolution said the city is reviewing its legal options to enforce the 2008 measure. Those options include suing Sound Transit.
The $600 million extension from Highline Community College to South 272nd Street is the only proposed cut from light-rail projects that were scheduled to be finished by 2023.
The delay is due to falling revenue projections. Overall, Sound Transit is grappling with a $3.9 billion shortfall – or 25 percent due to declining tax revenues.
The revenue problems are especially acute for the South King County subarea. South King’s revenue lags behind the other subareas. Its projects required borrowing more money than in the other four subareas of the three-county system.
Also, South King County is projected to have the second-highest percentage shortfall in tax revenue from 2009 to 2023.
Transit system policy requires each of the five subareas to pay the cost of projects for their areas.