Senate appropriations bill includes $128.8 million to complete initial light rail segment and start building University Link

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The United States Senate Appropriations Committee today approved a funding bill for FY 2009 that includes $128.8 million in Sound Transit light rail funding, the full amount proposed by Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.

The funding includes $100 million for Sound Transit’s University Link project and $28.8 million contribution toward completing the Link light rail system that will open next year— the final installment of the $500 million full funding grant agreement (FFGA) that Sound Transit’s initial light rail segment earned in 2003.

“Sound Transit is full steam ahead toward starting University Link construction by the end of the year and opening light rail service next July,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “Our momentum keeps growing thanks to the hard work of Sen. Murray and our congressional delegation and our partnership with the Federal Transit Administration.”

"I am so proud to provide this critical funding for Sound Transit in my Transportation bill," Senator Murray said. "With gas prices sky high and transit ridership on the rise throughout the Puget Sound, expanding our transit options is more important than ever. Expanding Sound Transit will not only improve our safety and quality of life but it will also help reduce our carbon footprint and augment economic growth for our region for years to come."

The proposed $128.8 million in the Senate bill mirrors the proposals in the President’s FY 2009 budget.

Light rail from downtown Seattle to the airport, now more than 90 percent, is on schedule and on budget to open in 2009, with service to Tukwila in July and to the airport by the end of the year. The projected 2020 daily ridership for the segment is 45,000. University Link is projected to increase the regional light rail system’s ridership to more than 114,000 a day by 2030. Sound Transit is working to start building University Link with a $750 million FFGA.

When University Link is completed in 2016, 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’s electric light rail trains will provide a fast, frequent, reliable and environmentally friendly transit alternative that operates in tandem with bus service. Light rail stations will serve as transit hubs where people move back and forth between light rail and other modes of travel.

Light rail will help provide relief for transit users and drivers 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. Link light rail will offer much faster travel times for transit passengers than buses. Light rail will carry passengers from downtown to the University in 9 minutes instead of 25 and to Capitol Hill in 6 minutes instead of 14. Trips between Capitol Hill and the University District will take 3 minutes instead of 22. Riders will enjoy reliable service no matter how bad the weather or traffic congestion.

The population of the corridor served by University Link will go up a projected 56 percent between 2000 and 2030, further increasing congestion and the relief provided by light rail service. Based on its tremendous benefits, the University Link project has the highest possible ranking in the extremely competitive federal funding process.

The Sound Transit Board is currently reviewing options for major expansions to mass transit service around the region for submission to voters in 2008 or 2010. Proposed region-wide expansions to Link light rail, Sounder commuter rail and ST Express bus service include parking and access improvements at many Sounder stations. Visit future.soundtransit.org to learn more >>>