New Starts ranking of Central Link light rail puts project in line for federal funding

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The Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) "Annual Report on New Starts," released today, gives the Initial Segment of the Central Link light rail project a "Recommended" rating, which means the project is eligible for federal funding.

"This is a big step by the Administration. It recognizes the progress we've made on the Central Link light rail project over the last year," Ron Sims, King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair, said. "The ranking is a clear sign that we're moving forward once again."

"The Sound Transit Board has worked very closely with our federal partners and our congressional delegation throughout the development of the Initial Segment. We look forward to working with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, U.S. DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead, FTA Administrator Jenna Dorn, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and the entire Washington congressional delegation as we move forward with Central Link light rail," Sims said. "They all deserve a lot of credit for their commitment to improving the transportation situation in our region."

Initially, a first segment of the light rail project was recommended for federal funding and Sound Transit signed a grant agreement with the federal government. Last April, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General raised concerns about new cost estimates and community consensus and recommended that the federal funding be put on hold

Since then Sound Transit has been completely reorganized, cost and budget controls have been strengthened, and community outreach has intensified.

"Sound Transit is a changed agency since the Inspector General's report last April," Sound Transit Executive Director Joni Earl said. "This ‘Recommended' ranking-not to mention the latest report from the Citizen Oversight Panel-recognizes those changes and the hard work done by the Sound Transit Board and agency staff."

With community input, the Board last year identified an Initial Segment that runs from downtown Seattle to S. 154th in Tukwila, with shuttle service to SeaTac Airport. The Initial Segment, which was given the "Recommended" rating today, will carry approximately 42,500 riders daily. This ridership projection, which is higher than most other projects in final design or with a federal funding agreement but less than the original plan (which was ranked "Highly Recommended"), is the primary reason for the different ranking.

As expected, the Administration's FY2003 budget did not include a funding recommendation for Central Link. Sound Transit officials expect to renegotiate a federal funding agreement later this year.

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