Joni Earl

On January 7 Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl sent letters to the local Congressional delegation requesting funding of a number of projects within the framework of the planned economic stimulus.

STB has obtained a copy of one of these letters.  The attached project list is more along the lines of what we’d been hoping for, rather than the crumbs we’d heard about to date:

  • $44m to complete the Sounder extension to Lakewood.
  • $10m to build the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station.
  • $11m for more buses.
  • A $54m increase in the federal share for U-Link, freeing up funds for other projects.
  • $21m for 400 parking spaces and a transit center at the Tukwila Sounder station.
  • $34m to complete the two-way HOV lanes on I-90, accelerating the delivery of this precursor to getting started on East Link.
  • $30m to extend Link to S. 200th St.  Construction would begin in 2009 and be complete by 2012, completing that portion of the original Sound Move proposal.  This would be a more logical park-and-ride terminus than Seatac.
  • $180m to accelerate light rail to Northgate, potentially bringing delivery forward by as much as two years (to 2018), although that date is not promised in the letter.

There’s nothing here that isn’t either in Sound Move or Sound Transit 2, so this is mainly about bringing forward projects.  After all, that’s the point of the stimulus.

All of these projects have received federal environmental approval, but only four (Mountlake Terrace, Lakewood, Tukwila, buses) are “shovel-ready” in the traditional sense.  The others would allow acceleration of the planning or design stage and ultimately quicker delivery.

So that’s the demand side.  The supply side (what’s going on in Congress) is after the jump.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN)
Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN)

Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar (Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) gave a speech on the 7th.  He’s the author of the bill that will form the basis of the transit stimulus in the House.  The Transport Politic has detailed analysis, but here’s a summary of the bill:

  • Extends the deadline for funded projects to start from 90 days to 1 year, although the fast projects would receive priority.  This opens the door for some of the less-advanced projects Ms. Earl proposes;
  • Would give $204m to Washington State for transit projects;
  • $2 billion nationally for purchases of hybrid buses and pay for fuel;
  • $2.5 billion nationally in New Starts funding;
  • $1.5 billion to Amtrak and $3.4 billion to states for intercity rail projects.

It seems clear to me that Obama isn’t going to threaten a veto on the stimulus based on the presence or lack of transit and intercity rail funding, so it appears this kind of legislative sausage-making is going to be decisive.

33 Replies to “Sound Transit Stimulus Request”

  1. Our state could get more than just $204 million, since the $2.5 billion in new start is more than a year’s worth of new start grants.

    1. The $204 million is formula based transit assistance money based on population and transit ridership. According to the linked article the state would decide where the money went (though I believe it must go to transit). Kind of pleased to see Washington would be #9 for the funding amount, beating out several states with a higher population.

      I believe the $2.5 billion is additional money on top of whatever “normal” amount of money is appropriated for new starts or whatever replaces it in the next transportation bill.

  2. So, if these projects were to get funded in the stimulus, how would this affect the timeline on East Link, North Link, South Link, beyond the funded parts themselves?

    1. I don’t think it really would. North Link past Northgate, maybe.

      East Link will be delayed if it doesn’t get money – the state just pushed out R8A in their budget, and ST can’t build without that.

  3. I’m not surprised, of course, although I never thought about the HOV lanes and what that could mean.

  4. Using the stimulus to buy diesel seems a little counter-productive (do we really need a middle-east stimulus package?), but the rest sounds good.

    1. Indeed – excellent point Matt. KCMetro should be asking for money for infill electrification (Denny between 3rd Ave and Olive Way, 23rd Ave between John and Cherry and again Weller to Rainier) so that the 8 and the south end of the 48 could be electrified (the north end could become a new route…). The 11 and the 27 should also be electrified. We should be ordering at least 200-300 new electric buses in the near future as well. Why buy fuel from the Middle East when we have electricity 100 miles away at Ross Dam?

      1. KCM buys power for the trolley buses from Seattle City Light (which gets its power primarily from Ross and Boundary Dams).

      2. now would seem to be the time for ordering new trolley buses since there are still models in production. the few systems that still have etbs have replaced them in the last 8-10 years and the last of these system to replace their fleet is beginning to receive them now (septa).

    2. From reading the linked article it would seem the money is intended more for hybrid buses and less so for fuel. Though many transit agencies are having funding problems due to the spike in fuel prices last year.

  5. Considering the rather large grant U-link got under the rather limited and rail-hostile new starts program I wonder how well the rest of link (north, east, and south) would do under the “usual” federal grant process for transit projects. North link has to look very good under New Starts and I suspect East link wouldn’t loo too bad either.

    If more rail-friendly FTA funding criteria are adopted in the Obama administration then I suspect that only increases the likelyhood and amount of any federal grants. Even a 20% federal match on the ST2 portions of link would be sweet.

      1. Well I’m going by comments I’ve seen here and elsewhere about the New Starts rating critera tending to favor BRT over rail. I’m told expansion of exsisting rail systems tends to fare particularly poorly.

        While I expect the Obama administration to be much more favorable to rail, the current criteria for evaluating grant requests are in place until they are changed. In any case the fact that both Central Link and U-Link recieved high ratings by the New Starts criteria and that U-Link recieved what is a relatively large grant under recent funding I think bodes well for additional large Federal grants for the remainder of Link.

      2. I believe much of the criteria is not mandated by congress, i.e. it is an executive branch decision. Hopefully the FTA will move to change some of its guidelines rapidly, and the re authorization of the highway & transit spending bill will follow through on any congressional changes this year. But good point: Jan 20th doesn’t necessarily mean the job for fixed-guideway proponents is over.

      3. Jan 20th doesn’t necessarily mean the job for fixed-guideway proponents is over.

        Too true. The highway and suburban sprawl lobby is still powerful and has many friends at the federal, state, and local level. Not to mention all of the fellow travelers, useful idiots, and snake-oil salesmen.

      4. What’s sad is that Portland’s MAX was nearly entirely built under new starts. It’s sad for Portland because it means many of the lines were built on the cheap. It’s sad for Seattle because it shows how much easier it was to get money for these lines in the 80s and 90s. Hopefully the 2010s are similarly easy.

      5. In my dream world we’ll have an era of rail and transit construction much like the original interstate highway program with a 90% Federal contribution.

        More realisticly I hope the next 8 years (and beyond) see the best Federal support of transit and rail since the projects of the 60’s and 70’s.

      6. In my dream world we’ll have an era of rail and transit construction much like the original interstate highway program with a 90% Federal contribution.

        Except that the original interstate highway program had a massive amount of eminent domain, bulldozing communities according to what the feds wanted, and ignoring environmental issues. The result was NEPA. Of course, the other result of that is that it’s absolutely impossible to build anything, including rail, that quickly. Seattle is lucky enough to have projects that already have EISes completed, but there’s only so much that could be done to speed up new projects.

        NEPA makes it easier to add more lanes to an existing highway than to build new rail over new right-of-way. Less environmental impact, you see. (Even if the environmental impact is net positive of rail, there’s still more impacts both ways when using new right of way.)

  6. I’m really liking the S. 200th by 2012 and the North Link by 2018 parts. This would be the best possible thing for ST3, as Sound Transit could say that they did what they promised, and more. I wonder if we could get New Starts/stimulus funding for the Downtown Redmond Extension of Link…

    1. ST3 will probably be 2016, so we won’t be able to make claims on Northgate that easily. U Link will be open, though!

      1. Well one thing that we kept saying to everyone while phonebanking or doorbelling for Mass Transit Now was that construction of Link is “On time and under-budget,” and that may be one of the reasons that it passed, so maybe even if it’s not open yet, a sped-up North Link could be good for ST3. And personally, I’m hoping we see ST3 on the ballot sooner… maybe even 2012 or 2014.
        And what do people think that we might get in federal grants (New Starts, etc.) over the next 4-8 years? I’m guessing the most likely would be Link to Federal Way TC, as that would get a lot more riders for not too much money, and Downtown Redmond would also seem like a likely candidate, especially with most of the money for designing the extension already appropriated in ST2. We might be able to get to Ash Way too, if the FTA is feeling really generous.

      2. Federal grants are already assumed for the current lines — so we need new starts money to build ST2 on time. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll see extensions of the line from federal money. I mean, you bid on a project and the feds give you some money — so we’d have to bid with an extended line. If more money is given than expected, I’m guessing the likeliest outcome is an accelerated project.

        RE: ST3, please, let’s just do it on a presidential year — that was a big lesson from ST2’s passage, in my opinion. Earliest might be 2016 since I don’t think it’d be wise to ask for more funding before U-Link opens. ST3 will have to have more taxing authority, from the state legislature, which might not be a political possibility before U-Link opens as well. So that might push back a vote until 2020… So I think we’ll be waiting 8 or 12 years. That’s a long time to speculate :(

      3. Yeah but not a full-complement of federal funding, only $900 million. If North link and East link are funded $500 mn each (which is what Central Link got) that would be more than ST planned into ST2. North Link could get $750 mn with a more generous administration. The First Hill streetcar’s ridership numbers will almost certain qualify it for a small-start that could be worth another $25mn (small starts go to $75mn, though the project get for that much).

        U-Link by itself will get almost (at least $813mn) what was planned into ST2. My point is it’s not crazy to guess that the three ST2 LRT projects could in total get more than the $900 million estimated into ST2.

        Also, the timing matters a ton as well. If the feds were to give $900 mn tomorrow, all of the system will be finished much sooner than if the $900 mn shows up in 2020.

        Finally, The operations will only be .4% or .5% of the .9% the Sound Transit is authorized from ST2. So Sound Transit would not necessarily have to ask for more funding authority. Probably though.

      4. It should 2012 or 2016 or (gasp!) 2020. You don’t want to run this important ballot measures in off-presidential cycle elections. Presidential elections are really the only time everyone votes. And everyone voting is better for Light Rail.

  7. I need to dig up that Sierra Club analysis from last year which illustrated more/better jobs are created by transit projects, compared to roads projects.

    Diggin’ the Northgate and S. 200th projects on the list.

    Can the PI get some stimulus bucks…to keep the anti-transit troglodytes at the Times in check?

    Maybe the Discovery Institute is the Times’ new sugardaddy.

  8. recall this blog’s threads on fare collection and fare structure. how about asking for the cost of rear door readers for the bus fleets?

    1. Rear-door orca readers are a great idea for stimulus funding. In a different time the ORCA project would have received a big state contribution. Not these days…

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