Adoption of 2021 budget moves current light rail expansions ahead full steam, while realignment process continues for later projects

Construction is on track to extend Link light rail from 22 to 62 miles by 2024; COVID-19 revenue impacts on later projects will be shaped by upcoming capital program realignment decisions

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The Sound Transit Board today approved a 2021 budget that will continue intensive work to deliver voter-approved transit projects across the region while also continuing to operate existing services. In the next four years, the region’s light rail system will grow from 22 to 62 miles and from 22 to 50 stations.

These expansions include work to open service to Seattle’s Northgate area in 2021, Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood in 2022, Bellevue and Redmond in 2023, and Lynnwood and Federal Way in 2024. These major infrastructure investments will not only support the region’s future mobility, but will also provide thousands of jobs that help fuel our region’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

While these near-term expansions remain fully funded, 2021 will also include critical work to grapple with COVID-19’s major impacts on the revenues needed to continue advancing other voter-approved projects not yet in construction. These projects include further light rail expansions, as well as investments in establishing Stride bus rapid transit and expanding Sounder commuter rail. The Sound Transit Board will continue work on its realignment process, which will update the agency’s capital program schedules and plans to fit within the agency’s revenues that have been reduced due to the pandemic.  At the same time, the agency will continue working to manage the impact of rising project costs due to very challenging construction market conditions.

"Despite the headwinds we and other governments face amid the pandemic, Sound Transit is steadfastly committed to delivering the services and infrastructure expansions our region’s residents need to survive and thrive," said Sound Transit Board Chair and University Place Council Member Kent Keel. "We will make 2021 a year of significant construction progress that helps fuel our region’s economic recovery."

"Sound Transit is now on track to nearly triple the length of our network in the next four years as we add 40 new miles of light rail crisscrossing our region" said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff.  "These projects will not only provide our region with much needed transportation mobility, they will also put thousands of people to work." 

Summary of the 2021 Budget

Overall the 2021 Budget http://www.soundtransit.org/About-Sound-Transit/Accountability/Financial-documents assumes revenue and other funding sources of $3.0 billion and expenditures of $3.1 billion, with the difference coming from unrestricted cash balances.

The budget for capital and other projects totals $2.5 billion, primarily for preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition, and construction for system expansion projects—an increase of $119.5 million or 5%, compared to the 2020 budget. The budget provides modest sums for advancing project readiness and studying scope reduction options to help inform the Board as it works to produce a final realignment plan.

The 2021 transit operating budget is $380.6 million, 5.9% higher than the 2020 budget. The increase is limited to the added operating costs of opening the Northgate Link Extension and the Operations and Maintenance Facility East in 2021. Due to COVID-19’s significant impact on agency revenues and the need to find savings wherever possible, Sound Transit is internally absorbing other anticipated cost increases, such as increasing rates from our transit operating partners and higher costs associated with public safety, insurance and maintenance. 

The budget includes $207.6 million for debt service, operating contingency, contributions to other governments, tax collection fees, and the sales and use tax offset fee. The unrestricted cash balance for the agency is forecasted to be $672.8 million by the end of 2021.

The Sound Transit Board is currently working through a realignment process to determine which plans and timelines for voter-approved projects will need to change due to lower revenue projections, absent receiving alternative revenue. The agency is currently forecasting tax revenue loss from now through 2041 to be in the range of $6 to $12 billion. Forecasts will continue to be updated throughout 2021.

With greatly depleted revenues, Sound Transit will not be able to deliver many expansion projects on their original timelines unless we receive alternative revenue from federal or state sources absent securing funding support. Next year, the Board will be seeking input on realignment from the public and partner agencies in order to make a final decision on project changes in the summer. For more information on realignment visit https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion/realignment.