Senator Murray moves light rail construction forward with $88.2 million in FY 2008 funding

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Thanks to the work of Sen. Patty Murray and the other members of the region’s congressional delegation, the Central Puget Sound region is set to receive $88.2 million to help finish one major light rail project and launch another that will carry even more riders.

The funding is part of the 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill approved by Congress last night and is now on its way to the President’s desk. Of particular note, the bill includes $19.6 million in early funding for extending light rail from downtown Seattle to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington. Sound Transit is working to start building the University Link project next year with a $750 million grant the agency is seeking from the Federal Transit Administration.

“University Link will add an estimated 70,000 riders to the region’s light rail system each weekday and make a major difference improving their commutes and reducing carbon emissions,” said Greg Nickels, Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit’s newly elected Board chair. “Our plans to break ground next year have hinged on Sen. Murray’s efforts.”

The FY 2008 funding bill also includes $68.6 million comprising the 2008 installment of the $500 million full funding grant agreement that is enabling the construction of light rail from downtown Seattle to Tukwila and Sea-Tac International Airport.  The line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila is more than 80 percent complete and scheduled to open for service in July 2009, immediately followed by completion of the final leg from Tukwila into Sea-Tac International Airport by December 2009. 

The University Link project has received the highest-possible rating in the Federal Transit Administration’s highly competitive funding process. Last year, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters personally joined Sen. Murray in Seattle to announce Sound Transit’s authorization to proceed with final design for the project.

The project connects the three largest urban centers in the region: downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District. It 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 also enjoy reliable service no matter how bad the weather or traffic congestion.

The funding for University Link is significantly higher than Sound Transit expected. In his February budget, President Bush proposed $10 million for University Link, a very significant amount for a project that has not yet been awarded a grant agreement.  Sen. Murray maintained the President's funding and then added $9.6 million to bring the total FY 2008 funding level to $19.6 million.

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 from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel in a tunnel under I-5 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 and the University of Washington Medical Center.

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 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.