FTA awards Sound Transit $813M grant to begin University Link light rail extension

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Artist's rendering of UW Station and pedestrian bridge connecting to Rainier Vista.

Sound Transit today welcomed Federal Transit Administration officials to Seattle as the FTA awarded an $813 million grant to build the University Link light rail extension. The nation’s top transit official awarded the grant agreement at Sound Transit headquarters.

“It’s time to get to work and start digging,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “Thanks to the FTA and Senator Murray, we’re ready to deliver more transit options and more construction jobs to this region with the University Link project.”

University Link is estimated to generate 2,900 direct construction jobs according to a U.S. Department of Commerce model.

“This is a big boost for the Puget Sound region’s economy at a critical time,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee, who worked with the FTA and Sound Transit to secure this commitment. “Extending light rail north to the University District will create new construction jobs, reduce congestion and provide an environmentally friendly way to get around our region. Investing in light rail will keep our residents moving and put people to work.”

Acting FTA Administrator Sherry Little signed the ceremonial grant transmittal papers with Mayor Nickels during a ceremony at Union Station in Seattle.

“Expanding public transportation options in this fast-growing region is the right thing to do, and helps Seattle preserve the great quality of life this region is known for,” Little said.

"Congratulations to Sound Transit and to Senator Murray for their hard work to secure federal funding for this important light rail link," said King County Executive and former Sound Transit Chair Ron Sims.  "We are building the backbone to a transportation system for the new century, and I extend my thanks to the FTA for recognizing the value of this project."

As Chair of the Sound Transit Board in 2002 and 2003, Sims led the efforts to establish a cost-effective light rail connection to the University of Washington.

University Link is an extension to the Link light rail line scheduled to open between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport this year. The $1.9 billion University Link line is scheduled to open in 2016 and add more than 70,000 daily riders to the system.

"When the system is complete, students, faculty, staff, and visitors will find it much easier to come to campus and move about the region with greater ease and efficiency," said UW President Mark A. Emmert. "And they will also be traveling in an environmentally friendly mode. The University District is about to take another major leap forward into the future." 

The overall economic impact of the project will be much greater than the estimated 2,900 construction jobs. The U.S. Department of Commerce model estimates that the economic activity generated by University Link will be equivalent to 22,800 both direct and indirect jobs.

The population of the corridor served by University Link will increase by a projected 56 percent between 2000 and 2030, further increasing congestion and the need for fast, reliable light rail service. Based on its tremendous benefits, the University Link project received the highest possible FTA ranking in the extremely competitive federal funding process. With completion of the Sound Transit 2 package that voters approved last November, daily light rail ridership is projected to total more than 286,000 by 2030.

University Link will provide a reliable option for drivers and transit users who are stuck on Interstate 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 nine minutes instead of 25 to get downtown and three minutes instead of 22 to reach 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. Sound Transit 2 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/Overlake, Highline and the Star Lake/Redondo area north of Federal Way.