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Sound Transit joins other major transit agencies in call for federal funding to offset COVID-19 losses and fuel economic recovery

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Today, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff participated in a virtual rally with other national transit leaders who are calling for the next COVID-19 relief package to provide funds for enabling transit to play a critical role in economic recovery. Below are his remarks. Video of the event is available on YouTube. Speakers also jointly sent a letter to Senate leaders highlighting the urgency of further relief beyond earlier CARES Act funding that has been critical for communities around the nation. Last week, the members of the Sound Transit Board of Directors sent each member of the region’s congressional delegation a letter urging action.

Today Puget Sound commuters need transit service more than ever to reach their jobs in hospitals, airports, manufacturing and other essential services. And when the virus threats begin to lift, they will need services like Sound Transit and King County Metro even more to return to job sites and attend schools and universities, worship services, sporting events and social gatherings. Sound Transit and King County Metro serve all of those venues, between Link light rail, Sounder trains, King County Metro RapidRide, and of course KCM and ST Express bus service.

The only way our transit agencies will be able to move people in our economy is if the next federal response to COVID-19 is focused on replenishing the revenues that are disappearing all around us.

During the last recession, Sound Transit projects were among the only construction efforts in this region hiring tradespeople off the bench, and replenishing our lost revenues will be essential to our again being an engine to help fuel our region’s economic recovery.

Some people have asserted that this problem should be a state and local matter. But it’s important to note that Puget Sound’s transit agencies get almost no state funding. King County Metro and some other transit providers get a pittance; Sound Transit gets zero money from the state.

We are highly dependent on sales taxes and motor vehicle excise taxes to cover at least 70% to 80% of our costs as a region. So you can imagine what’s happened as our tourism industry has come almost to a full stop. The cruise ship industry here in Seattle, for instance, which generally generates about a billion dollars a year, is at a dead stop.

We’re joining our colleagues from across the country in urging the Senate to replenish lost revenues and allow us to continue the transit expansion programs that our Puget Sound voters, and voters across the nation, have endorsed. Absent that, we’re going to have to slow our progress.

During the Great Depression, public works was at the center of the nation’s recovery. And in 2010, Sound Transit construction was elemental to the economic recovery of this region. We want to continue to serve that purpose during the recovery that’s going to be needed from this pandemic and the associated recession.

We’ve been very encouraged by the actions in the House of Representatives. In passing H.R. 2, the INVEST in America Act, the House authorized agencies like ours to reopen our existing Full Funding Grant Agreements and get a higher federal share for those agreements. That will free up capacity to allow us to continue to make progress on those projects that don’t have federal funding.

We’re also really encouraged that the House Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee has set $5 billion aside for that very purpose—additional capital expansion to keep people going to work and allow us a higher federal share for these projects.

Fortunately the House Authorizing Committee has acted. The House Appropriations Committee has acted. But it’s the sound of one hand clapping.

We need the Senate to act, and that’s why we’re here—to encourage the Senate to act today.