President’s budget offers $10 million surprise for University Link light rail

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Sound Transit today received a $10 million surprise in President George W. Bush’s proposed FY 2008 budget. Along with the expected $70 million for building the initial light rail segment, the budget also includes an unexpected $10 million in proposed funding for extending light rail to the University of Washington. The University Link Light Rail Transit (LRT) Extension is one of two projects nationwide listed in the president’s budget as “Proposed Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA).” Sound Transit intends to complete and submit its FFGA application for University Link later this year.

The proposed $10 million represents the first New Starts funding proposed by the federal government for University Link and sends a positive message about Sound Transit’s efforts to start building the extension as soon as 2008. University Link has received the Federal Transit Administration’s highest-possible rating in the competitive federal New Starts funding process. The $10 million would apply against the $750 million Full Funding Grant Sound Transit is seeking for University Link.

“I am pleased that the President's budget continues to make good on a commitment to support Sound Transit’s bold transportation goals to improve transit service in the region,” said Senator Patty Murray. “The President’s budget also signals a willingness to partner in proposals that will expand bus and rail transit systems in the future. I am glad that I was able to help support Sound Transit by highlighting these projects while touring our state with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in November.”

“We can only wish surprises like this came every day,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “This proposed funding shows the Bush administration is ready to continue helping our region. We’re fortunate to have the support of the administration and Senator Murray’s strong leadership in our congressional delegation.”

The $70 million for current light rail construction represents the next installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million full funding grant agreement for the initial segment. Sound Transit is on schedule to open light rail between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport in 2009.

When University Link is completed, Sound Transit will have built almost 19 miles of light rail between the University and the airport with the taxes that regional voters approved in 1996. Sound Transit recently received approval from the FTA to proceed to final design on the University Link project — another positive signal from “the other Washington.”

Located entirely underground, the 3.15-mile University Link extension will travel east in a tunnel to a Capitol Hill station located east of Broadway near Seattle Central Community College. From there the line continues north, crossing under the Lake Washington Ship Canal’s Montlake Cut to a station just west of Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus.

The projected 2020 daily ridership for the 15.6-mile light rail segment that is currently under construction between downtown Seattle and the airport is 45,000. The University Link project alone is projected to increase the regional light rail system’s 2030 ridership to more than 114,000 a day. Further light rail extensions to the north, east and south are proposed as part of the November 2007 regional Roads & Transit ballot measure.

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. The population of the corridor served by University Link is projected to go up 56 percent from 2000 to 2030, further increasing 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 light rail system will also ease pressure on the region’s roadways.

Construction of the 13.9-mile Central Link light rail segment between downtown Seattle and Tukwila is now more than half finished, and last summer Sound Transit began construction of the 1.7-mile Airport Link extension. Both projects are on schedule to open in 2009. The 1.6-mile Tacoma Link light rail line opened in 2003, with ridership immediately exceeding 2010 projections.

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Sound Transit’s regional network of express buses, commuter rail, light rail and transit facilities connects communities in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.