Senator Murray and Transportation Secretary Peters announce approval to enter final design for University Link light rail extension

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Senator Murray and Transportation Secretary Peters announce approval to enter final design for University Link light rail extension

Senator Patty Murray, the incoming chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters held a news conference in Seattle today to announce federal approval for Sound Transit to enter the final design phase for the University Link light rail extension. The extension will dramatically expand the number of people who ride light rail every day.

“This federal commitment will help give the region’s commuters a choice in travel that is fast and frequent and it will help get them where they need to go without worrying about being stuck in traffic,” Secretary Peters said.  “It is a great example of what we can do together to reduce congestion.”  

“Today marks another major milestone for Sound Transit and is a reminder to commuters stuck in traffic that help is on the way,” said Senator Patty Murray. “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the board and employees at Sound Transit, and the partnership of Secretary Peters and the Department of Transportation, this project is going places.  I look forward to continuing to support these efforts to reduce congestion and improve the quality of life of Puget Sound residents.”

The final design authorization that enables Sound Transit to begin negotiations with the Federal Transit Administration as part of the agency’s efforts to secure a $750 million federal grant for the University Link project. The project has received the highest-possible ranking in the FTA’s competitive New Starts program based on its major public benefits, including exceptional ridership projections.

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.

“The taxpayers of the Central Puget Sound region owe a tremendous debt to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FTA for their partnership in building the region’s mass transit system, and especially to Sen. Murray. Sen. Murray and our congressional delegation have worked hard for our commuters every step of the way,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “We’ll see the benefits in 2009 when we ride a light rail system built with the help of $500 million in federal funding. The $750 million we’re seeking for University Link will enable us to build this extension with existing local taxes starting as soon as late 2008 or early 2009.”

If approved, the $750 million grant will fund nearly half of University Link’s construction. Next steps include completing the project design and continuing work with the FTA, Sen. Murray and the local congressional delegation to shepherd the project through the federal funding process. Sound Transit is also working with the University of Washington to finalize plans for extending light rail to the university campus.

The news conference today was part of Secretary Peters’ first official visit to the Puget Sound region since her Sept. 30 confirmation. The event took place at the eastern end of the Pine Street Stub Tunnel, a 2-1/2 block extension of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel that Sound Transit is building as part of the Link initial segment. This stub tunnel will serve as the starting point for the 3.1-mile University Link extension, enabling the extension to move forward without disrupting the Sound Transit light rail service that starts in 2009 on the 15.6-mile route between downtown Seattle and the airport.

The 3.1-mile University Link extension, located entirely underground, 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.

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.

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-mileCentral 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.

Unlike University Link, the region’s voters have not yet approved funding for the further northward, eastward and southward light rail extensions that are proposed as part of Sound Transit 2 extensions. In the coming months the Sound Transit Board will seek public comment on a draft package of Sound Transit 2 projects. Information on Sound Transit 2 options, including detailed information on specific projects, is available at st2.

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