UW light rail extension gets highest-possible federal funding rating

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U.S. Senator Patty Murray today announced that the Federal Transit Administration has awarded its highest-possible rating for Sound Transit's proposal to extend Link light rail northward to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington. Sound Transit is seeking $700 million in federal funding for the project.

"This rating demonstrates critical federal support for Link Light Rail and improving transportation throughout our region," said Senator Patty Murray.  "Thanks to the hard work of so many, we are now a step closer to expanding this system north and improving our mobility, productivity, safety and quality of life.  I will continue to work to ensure that the federal government is a strong partner in our efforts."

"This will put us in an even better position to get light rail trains running all the way from Sea-Tac Airport to the University District. Our goal is to already have University Link construction underway when Central Link opens in 2009," said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. "Frankly, news like this is what we've come to expect from Senator Murray. Congestion-weary commuters are fortunate to have a very strong congressional delegation pulling for our region."

"This federal rating is a remarkable validation that Sound Transit is an agency transformed and on track to build light rail from the University of Washington to Sea-Tac Airport," said Sound Transit Board Member and King County Executive Ron Sims. "This rating is testament that Sound Transit's board and staff have done the hard work to design and construct a light rail system that will keep this region moving.  We wouldn't be here today without the yeoman's work of our senior senator.  It's been an effective team effort for a very deserving project."

The University Link project's ranking of "High" is the highest out of the five possible rankings that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) assigns to projects seeking New Starts funding. If Sound Transit receives a funding commitment, construction of University Link could begin by 2008 and trains could start running by 2016.

"With the federal grant, we are confident we can put together a financial plan to construct the voter-approved University light rail extension with existing taxes," Ladenburg said. "We will focus on building a solid financial plan at the same time we move forward with completing the project design."

University Link will more than double the number of people who use light rail every day, increasing 2030 systemwide boardings by 66,000. Downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District make up the three largest urban centers in the state. Compared to bus service, University Link travel times will be almost three times faster. From the University of Washington Medical Center/Husky Stadium area it will take 9 minutes to get to Downtown Seattle by train compared with 25 minutes today by bus. Traveling from the University District to Capitol Hill will take 3 minutes instead of 22 minutes. The light rail system will also ease pressure on the region's roadways.

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 University Link corridor is projected to go up 56 percent from 2000 to 2030, further increasing congestion.

In July the Sound Transit Board identified a preferred route for University Link. The 3.1-mile route starts in Downtown Seattle at the eastern end of the Pine Street stub tunnel that is being built as part of the Link initial segment. The route travels east in a tunnel to a Capitol Hill Station located south of John Street and east of Broadway Avenue, near Seattle Central Community College. From there it continues north in a tunnel, crossing under the Lake Washington Ship Canal to a station just west of Husky Stadium serving the University of Washington campus and the University District.

Under the FTA system, projects are rated every year until a federal grant is awarded.  With the project's initial rating in hand, the next step in the federal funding process is for Sound Transit to seek approval to proceed with final design of the project.  Sound Transit expects to submit this request early next year, and final design is expected to be completed in two years. The estimated project cost is $1.5 billion, or $1.7 billion including construction-phase financing costs that the FTA considers in its ranking process.

Sound Transit is also studying options for improving transit connections to the First Hill area of Seattle. In July the Sound Transit Board removed First Hill from the preferred route after a detailed analysis and review by outside experts. The reviews showed unacceptable risks associated with mining an extremely deep subway station within the challenging constraints posed by First Hill's geology. In revising the preferred route, members of the Board stressed the importance of finding an alternate approach for improving First Hill transit service.

In addition to building University Link, extending Link further north from the University District to Northgate continues to be a priority for the Sound Transit Board and local communities. Sound Transit is currently working with communities throughout the region to identify the projects that could be included in a future Sound Transit 2 ballot measure. Completing North Link between the University District and Northgate is a major Sound Transit 2 priority for the North King County area.

Sound Transit and the FTA last month issued a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the North Link light rail route, which extends from downtown Seattle to Northgate and includes the University Link segment.

Two open house/public hearings are scheduled for next week:

5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 9

Lunchroom and Multipurpose Room, Lowell Elementary School, 1058 E. Mercer Street

5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, November 10

University Heights Community Center Rms. 107 and 110, 5031 University Way N.E.

The open houses will provide opportunities for members to talk about the project with staff, who will be on hand from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., with the public hearing portion beginning at 6 p.m. Comments can be offered by submitting them in writing or speaking at the public hearing before a court reporter. Information about the draft SEIS and how to offer comments is available here>>>

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