FTA endorses Central Link light rail grant; House committee kicks off congressional discussion of 2004 budget

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Sound Transit Board Chairman Ron Sims and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., lauded the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today for announcing its intention to execute an agreement to provide $500 million in federal funding to build the Central Link light rail system. The FTA endorsed the funding in a letter transmitting the full funding grant agreement (FFGA) to Congress, where it will be reviewed for the next 60 days.

"The FTA put Sound Transit to the test, setting a high standard and demanding excellence," said Sims, who is also King County Executive. "Today FTA is saying we cleared the bar and are ready to starting building. The scrutiny has made Sound Transit a better agency and Central Link a better project. Light rail will make a major difference in the region's mobility and its very quality of life."

"This is yet another important milestone in the effort to address the transportation needs of the Puget Sound region," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "We cannot and will not stand by and watch some of the country's worst congestion choke our state's economy. I am looking forward to working with our congressional delegation and our many allies to shepherd this project through the congressional review."

In additional encouraging news today from Washington, D.C., a key U.S. House of Representatives committee earmarked $183 million for the Federal Transit Administration to spend in 2004 on New Starts projects that don't yet have FFGAs. As one of only two projects in the country that the FTA has rated as "highly recommended," and with $75 million earmarked in President Bush's Proposed FY2004 budget as the 2004 installment of the FFGA, the Link project is strongly positioned to compete against other projects. Many more steps in the federal budget process, including Senate deliberations, remain before a final appropriation is made.

"I am very confident that the full funding grant agreement for light rail will receive funding during 2004," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.

The transmittal of the FFGA to Congress was accompanied by a letter signed by Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer Dorn.

"The light rail line will expand travel options and capacity in the (I-5) corridor, providing a practical alternative to driving on increasingly congested roadways," Dorn wrote. "In fact, the project is expected to eliminate 14,500 car trips each day. That number of cars could fill seven lanes of traffic during peak travel times. Further, the daily travel time savings for the projected 42,000 daily light rail commuters will be equivalent to nearly three work-weeks each year."

"It's time to build it," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, a member of the Sound Transit Board. "Let's provide construction jobs for thousands of people and a transit alternative for generations of Seattle commuters."

Other Seattle-based Sound Transit Board members joined in hailing the transmittal, including King County Council Member Cynthia Sullivan, King County Council Member Dwight Pelz, and Seattle City Council Member Richard McIver.

The FTA endorsement is based on numerous measurements of Central Link's cost-effectiveness, including the system's capacity for moving more than 16,000 people per hour and its projected daily ridership of 42,500 by 2020. Reaching 14 miles from downtown Seattle to South 154th Street, the Initial Segment has among the highest projected ridership levels of all the proposals currently pending in the federal New Starts funding process.

Click here to read full transmittal letter.

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