Key House committee earmarks funding for light rail in 2004 spending bill

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Sound Transit Board Chairman Ron Sims today thanked the House Appropriations Committee for including $15 million in its 2004 transportation appropriations bill for Sound Transit to start light rail construction later this year.

"The residents of the Puget Sound region should be grateful to Rep. Ernest Istook for supporting funding in 2004 for building light rail," said Sims, who is also King County Executive. "Rep. Norm Dicks once again left his imprint on this outcome, working tirelessly to shape the bill in a way that puts federal funds to work for Puget Sound taxpayers."

Earlier, the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Istook, R-Okla., had adopted a spending plan that did not include a specific funding amount for Link, instead requiring Sound Transit to compete with other projects for 2004 funding. The measure was amended by the full Appropriations Committee this morning to include funding allocations for individual projects around the country, Sound Transit among them.

"Each day, another light in Washington D.C. turns green for light rail," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, a member of the Sound Transit Board. "We're ready to get started, provide jobs for thousands of people, and give commuters an alternative to congested roads. Now let's build it!"

"We look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Istook and the other members of Congress to answer their questions about the project," said Sims. "This is a long-overdue investment to protect our regional economy from being overtaken by gridlock. With the role the Puget Sound region plays as a portal to the Pacific Rim, keeping people here moving has benefits that go beyond our state's borders."

"Rep. Istook has played the role of an honest broker, asking the tough questions, but also recognizing our performance in meeting the rigorous criteria of the federal transit program," said Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl.

Central Link light rail is one of two new transit projects in the nation to receive the Federal Transit Administration's highest rating, and the Bush Administration's proposed budget for FY2004 includes $75 million in funding for light rail. The level of funding that emerges from the 2004 congressional budget process will determine next year's annual installment of the $500 million full funding grant agreement (FFGA) that the FTA recently announced it intends to approve following a 60-day congressional review period.

In another positive development following more than two years of intensive scrutiny, the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General recently issued a report giving Link a clean bill of health. The Inspector General confirmed that Sound Transit has successfully addressed issues regarding the Link project's costs, schedule, safety and viability as a stand-alone transit project.

Today's committee action is an important step toward final resolution of the 2004 spending bill later this year. After the full memberships of both the House and Senate adopt their bills, the Senate and House committees will meet in a joint conference committee this fall to reach an agreement on the transportation spending bill.

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