FTA announces intent to award $813 million University Link light rail grant agreement, kicks off congressional review

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Sound Transit today hailed notification of Congress by the Federal Transit Administration that it plans to enter into a grant agreement with Sound Transit to provide $813 million to build the University Link light rail extension. The notification outlines plans to approve the full funding grant agreement following a 60-day congressional review period. Sound Transit is in the final stages of preparation to launch construction of light rail between downtown Seattle and the University of Washington.

“I thank our senior Senator Patty Murray for her work with Congress and the Federal Transit Administration to keep our region moving,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “The University Link extension will provide true congestion relief to thousands of people every day and its construction will bring thousands of jobs to our region.”

“This news couldn’t come at a better time for the Puget Sound,” said Senator Murray, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee. “That’s because extending light rail north to the University District will create critical new construction jobs, reduce congestion and provide an environmentally-friendly way of accessing one of the region’s largest employment areas. With so much economic uncertainty, one thing that remains clear is that investing in transportation projects like light rail will help get our economy and residents moving again.”

“It will be very exciting to have a fully funded link between the University of Washington and Sea-Tac Airport,” said Sound Transit Board Member and King County Executive Ron Sims. “King County-Metro Transit is committed to working with Sound Transit to make light rail a success.” As chair of the Sound Transit Board in 2002 and 2003, Sims led efforts to establish a cost-effective light rail connection to the University of Washington.

FTA Administrator Jim Simpson signed the letter transmitting the full funding grant agreement (FFGA) document. Assuming an uneventful 60-day review, the FTA will then be in a position to execute the FFGA.

The 3.15-mile underground light rail line will serve stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington and is an extension to the Link light rail line scheduled to open between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport in 2009. The $1.9 billion University Link extension is expected to open in 2016 and add more than 70,000 riders a day to the system. With the Sound Transit 2 package that voters approved on Nov. 4, daily light rail ridership is projected to total more than 286,000 by 2030.

The population of the corridor served by University Link will go up a projected 56 percent between 2000 and 2030, further increasing congestion and the relief provided by light rail service. Based on its tremendous benefits, the University Link project received the highest possible ranking in the extremely competitive federal funding process.

University Link will provide a reliable option for drivers and transit users who are stuck on I-5, a facility that operates over capacity for up to eight hours a day, with vehicle speeds running between 15 and 35 mph. Already, buses can run up to 30 minutes behind schedule due to congestion. Compared to bus service, University Link travel times will be almost three times faster. From the University District, it will take 9 minutes instead of 25 minutes to get downtown and 3 minutes instead of 22 minutes to get to Capitol Hill.

The local share of University Link is funded through existing Sound Transit revenues and was not part of the successful Proposition 1 ballot measure that will fund the Sound Transit 2 package. With the passage of Sound Transit 2, Sound Transit will extend the University Link light rail line 12.5 miles further north to Northgate, Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and Lynnwood by 2023 as part of a 36-mile light rail expansion plan. The 55-mile light rail system achieved by Sound Transit 2 will also reach Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond, Highline and the Star Lake/Redondo area north of Federal Way.