Seattle-to-Everett Sounder line clears key environmental hurdle

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Sound Transit today announced that efforts to launch Sounder commuter rail service between Seattle and Everett have passed a major milestone with the approval of mitigation plans under the Endangered Species Act's stringent rules.

Culminating an intensive review led by the Federal Transit Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have approved Sound Transit's plans for protecting habitat of threatened chinook salmon, bull trout and bald eagles along the shoreline rail route.

"The success of this far-reaching review is an example of three federal agencies coming together to work with this region in protecting our natural environment and expanding transportation options," said Sound Transit Executive Director Joni Earl. "The federal government is a critical partner in providing our residents with alternatives to being stuck in rising congestion. With the popularity of our Sounder service between Tacoma and Seattle growing rapidly, we are eager to begin carrying passengers on the Seattle-Everett route."

The Endangered Species Act approvals are necessary prerequisites for moving forward with track and signal improvements required to extend Sounder service along BNSF tracks that are also used to transport freight to and from the region. The improvements will significantly increase capacity for both freight and passenger service.

In 2000, Sound Transit began offering daily peak-commute Sounder service between Seattle and Tacoma on BNSF tracks, with stops in Tukwila, Kent, Auburn and Puyallup. Currently, Sound Transit is in intensive negotiations with BNSF to secure long-term contracts providing access to the company's right-of-way between Seattle and Everett as well as between Tacoma and Lakewood. Agreements with BNSF are needed to extend service to those cities under the Sound Move plan that regional voters approved in 1996.

Key among the Seattle-Everett mitigation reviewed by the federal agencies are plans to alter shorelines to create room for adding tracks along the closely confined route. Under the endangered species planning, the potential for impacts will be offset by restoring 6 to 10 acres of critical salmon habitat in the Snohomish River estuary and implementing near-shore habitat enhancement projects along the route.

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