Senator Murray keeps light rail moving forward with $94 million in key Senate bill

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Sound Transit today lauded Washington Sen. Patty Murray for her efforts to secure $94 million in FY 2008 light rail funding, including $24 million for the University Link light rail extension and $70 million toward completing light rail from downtown Seattle to the airport. The funding is part of a key Congressional funding bill now headed for the White House.

The proposed $24 million in University Link funding adds major momentum to Sound Transit’s work to start building the University Link extension in 2008 with existing local funding and a $750 million federal grant. University Link has earned the Federal Transit Administration’s highest-possible competitiveness rating based on the estimated 70,000 daily riders it would add to the regional light rail system.

“Once again, Senator Murray comes through for commuters stuck in traffic,” said Sound Transit Board Chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “While so many folks talk about what to do about our transportation problems, the Senator delivers solutions.”

The proposed $24 million would apply against the $750 million Full Funding Grant Sound Transit is seeking for University Link. The 3.15-mile light rail line running from the downtown Seattle to the University of Washington with a stop on Capitol Hill will be funded by the federal grant and existing local tax dollars.

“As we all know, Washington State has serious transportation challenges that we must all work together to address,” said Senator Murray. “As one of the highest rated projects in the country, University Link is a vital piece of the puzzle in solving the transportation crisis facing Central Puget Sound.”

The funding bill also includes a $70 million installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million full funding grant agreement for the initial Link light rail segment from downtown Seattle to Tukwila that is more than 80 percent complete.  The line from downtown to Tukwila is scheduled to open for service in July 2009, with the final leg from Tukwila into Sea-Tac International Airport to open by December 2009.

Today’s announcement came after members of both the Senate and House of Representatives approved a Conference Report on the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill. The THUD bill funds road, highway, pipeline, railway, housing and community development projects throughout the country. As Chair of the Senate THUD Appropriations Subcommittee, Murray led negotiations in the Conference Committee and fought for Washington state's transportation priorities.

In his February budget, President Bush proposed $10 million for University Link.  Murray maintained the President's funding and then added another $14 million, bringing the total funding to $24 million for FY 2008.  The funding will help Sound Transit complete the final design and continue with property acquisitions on the $1.6 billion project.

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.

Located entirely underground, the 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 near 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 45,200. The University Link project alone is projected to increase the regional light rail system’s 2030 ridership to about 114,000 a day.

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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.