ST Board adopts 2011 budget, sets path for delivering major expansion

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Agency continues work on long-term plans in wake of recession impacts

The Sound Transit Board of Directors today adopted a 2011 budget that continues the momentum on major projects underway and set a long-term path for delivering the bulk of Sound Transit 2 expansions approved by voters in 2008. The Board will continually evaluate options for completing the voter-approved ST2 system in the wake of agency revenue impacts from the continuing national recession.

"The budget we're adopting today and the path forward for dealing with the recession will deliver what the voters asked for in 2008 - connecting regional jobs and housing with reliable transit options," said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.

Sound Transit revenues expected through 2023 are $3.9 billion, or 25 percent, lower than forecasted in 2008 when voters approved the ST2 expansion plan. The ST2 plan included flexible provisions for delivering the projects during economic downturns including reducing the scope or delaying projects.

Budget details and long-term spending priorities are here:
www.soundtransit.org/budget

The adopted budget and long-term priorities emphasize:

  • Achieving the voter intent of the ST2 plan to connect regional employment and housing centers
  • Continuing momentum on projects underway or near completion
  • Maintaining existing services and assets

The ST2 plan included 36 miles of light rail expansions north to Lynnwood, East to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Overlake, and South to Federal Way with the last of the expansions running by the 2023. The agency has cut project reserves, expanded some construction timelines, and eliminated discretionary programs.

The new budget and long-terms plans include:

  • Opening light rail from UW to Northgate by 2021
  • Opening light rail from Northgate to Lynnwood by 2023
  • Opening light rail between Seattle and Overlake by 2021
  • Working with the City of Seattle to open the First Hill Streetcar in Seattle by late 2013
  • Continuing studies to open light rail from SeaTac to South 200th Street earlier than planned - by 2016 and moving forward with High Capacity Transit studies from South 200th Street to South 272nd Street
  • Studying better access options to mass transit in South King and Pierce counties

The Board will continually monitor agency revenues and could adjust timelines as and projects move through environmental studies and final design updates.

The Board directed staff to continue evaluating options for expanding light rail further south in the wake of the revenue shortfalls. The recession impacts are worst in the South King County subarea, where forecasted revenues are down about 31 percent.

Under Sound Transit's subarea equity framework, each of Sound Transit's five geographic subareas faces a different financial picture. Revenues collected within each area's boundaries must be used for projects that have been identified to benefit that subarea's residents. Projected revenues are down 26 percent in East King County, 28 percent in Snohomish County, 26 percent in Pierce County and 16 percent in north King County, which includes Seattle.

Projects currently under construction or in final design stages will not be impacted because they are fully funded. The 3.1 mile University Link project connecting downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, and the First Hill Streetcar will continue moving forward on their current schedules.

Sound Transit receives the bulk of its funding through sales tax revenues and a smaller percentage from the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) and car rental tax within the Sound Transit District, which covers the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. Sound Transit's revenues have been impacted to the same degree as every other agency that relies on sales taxes. The cumulative impact is large for a multi-year program like Sound Transit 2 because it is projected to take a long time for annual revenues to return to previously assumed levels.