$100 million in President’s budget moves University Link toward groundbreaking this year

February 04, 2008


In its strongest endorsement to date of Sound Transit’s University Link light rail project, the Bush administration today included $100 million for the project in his proposed FY 2009 budget. The 3.2-mile underground light rail extension from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington has the Federal Transit Administration’s highest rating for proposed transit projects in the nation.

Sound Transit will start building University Link this year with a $750 million Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA). The FTA is scheduled to make a final decision on the FFGA by late summer or early fall. When built, the project will mean faster travel times for commuters and higher ridership in the light rail system.

“I’m pleased to see the President recognizes the benefits this bold project offers to tens of thousands of commuters every day in the region’s most crowded area,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray. “I’ll keep fighting for University Link and more reliable options for Puget Sound commuters.”

The President’s budget offers more fantastic news for the region as we work to build fast, frequent, reliable and sustainable options for commuters,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “As chair, one of my top priorities is to secure a full funding grant agreement for University Link and this is an important step. Thanks to the work of Senator Patty Murray and our congressional delegation, University Link couldn’t be in a better position to start operations in 2016 and add 70,000 daily riders to the regional light rail system.”

With stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington, the project connects the region’s three largest urban centers: downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District. It will also serve three college campuses (UW, Seattle Central Community College, Seattle University) with a combined student population of more than 56,000 students.

“This news moves University Link that much closer to breaking ground,” said Sound Transit Central Link Oversight Committee Chair and King County Councilman Larry Phillips. “Sound Transit continues doing the hard work to offer regional commuters fast, reliable options for getting where they need to go.”

The project 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 enjoy reliable service no matter how bad the weather or traffic congestion.

University Link is projected to nearly triple the regional light rail system’s ridership to more than 114,000 a day by 2030. The projected 2020 daily ridership for the 15.6-mile segment currently under construction between downtown Seattle and the airport is 45,000.

“This project will take thousands of cars off our crowded roadways every day and help combat climate change by offering a carbon-neutral way around traffic,” Nickels said.

The proposed $100 million would be the second time the federal budget has included funds toward University Link. Last year Congress awarded the project $19.6 million. The funds would be drawn down as part of the formal FFGA award.

The president’s budget also included $28.8 million for current light rail construction as the final installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million federal grant agreement for the Initial Segment of the Central Link light rail system. That line is 85 percent complete and on schedule to open between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport in 2009.

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.