Administration commits to negotiate federal funding agreement for central Link light rail

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The Clinton/Gore administration has committed to negotiate an agreement with Sound Transit that will assure federal funding levels in the coming years for the central Link light rail system. Known as a full funding grant agreement, the agreement will commit the administration to a significant level of funding over the multi-year construction period for the system. Discussions have already begun with the Federal Transit Administration for an initial $500 million grant agreement for the project.

The commitment came in a conference call with Vice President Al Gore and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to Sound Transit board chair Dave Earling, an Edmonds City Councilmember, and other board leaders.

As a "down payment" the administration is recommending to Congress $35 million in federal funding for the Link project in FY 2001, the second-highest level proposed for any rail transit system in the nation that does not yet have a full funding grant agreement. The recommendation is $10 million above the federal funding provided this year for Link light rail, and four times the level recommended by the administration for FY 2000. The recommendation is in the FY 2001 budget proposal that the administration will submit to Congress on Monday.

"Having the administration's commitment to negotiate the grant agreement this year is important, because once it is in place we will be assured of an ongoing stream of federal dollars during the construction phase to help us keep our commitment to the voters of this region," Earling said.

Earling and Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, chair of Sound Transit's government relations task force, promised to work with the state's Congressional delegation to pursue an even higher appropriation from Congress for next year.

"We've got a very strong Congressional delegation, and solid bi-partisan support," Drewel said. "We plan to give them the support and encouragement they'll need to make sure Washington state gets its fair share in the competition for these federal dollars."

King County Executive and Sound Transit boardmember Ron Sims said he is pleased that the administration is giving the Puget Sound project a high priority. "The fact that the the FTA has rated this program as ‘highly recommended' and is willing to commit to a funding agreement for the next several years means we'll be able to move ahead on this project as planned," he said.

Drewel and King County Councilmember Jane Hague, also a Sound Transit boardmember, will be in Washington DC to testify in favor of the recommended appropriation before a House committee on Thursday. They will be joined by members of the state's congressional delegation including Reps. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, and Norm Dicks, D-Tacoma.

The 24-mile central Link light rail system is part of a comprehensive program of regional transit services approved by the voters in the central Puget Sound region in 1996. The project has completed its environmental approvals and is entering negotiations with the federal government for commitments for future federal funding through what is called a full funding grant agreement. Under the voter-approved Sound Move plan, Sound Transit has already launched nine limited-stop regional express bus routes with nine more to be added, and plans to begin rush-hour commuter rail service between Tacoma and Seattle this year.

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Sound Transit plans, builds and operates regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.