As regional stakeholders continue to work on the inevitable push and pull of budgeting for a massive transit expansion, we want to make sure that a huge improvement to the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) system plan isn’t overlooked: designation of “provisional projects.” Adding provisional projects will cost next to nothing to implement while adding the potential for ST3 to accomplish a lot more. A provisional project is a project that, if funding becomes available, can be built as part of the ST3 plan without an additional vote. Without a provisional designation, a project cannot be built without further voter approval.
The draft plan for ST3 provides voter authority for “provisional projects” if additional funding becomes available in the twenty-five year duration of ST3. Each of the five Sound Transit subareas should have one or more projects ready to go if additional funding becomes available
- North King – Ballard to UW
- South King – West Seattle to Burien
- East King – Bellevue to Kirkland
- Snohomish County – Spine to Paine Field Connector
- Pierce County – Tacoma Mall Extension
Sound Transit knows that each of these projects has merit now, but is waiting on a future ballot measure to pay for them. But there are many ways that funding could become available, before the next vote. These include:
- An Increase in Federal Funding
ST currently assumes the federal government will only contribute 11-13% of capital costs but changes in federal budget can happen quickly. When the San Francisco metro area began building BART in 1966, the federal government only funded 20% of the capital costs. Just 6 years later, the federal government generously offered to foot 75% of the bill for Seattle’s Forward Thrust–money that went to Atlanta’s MARTA instead due to insufficient voter appetites in the Puget Sound. In 1974, federal statute increased that matching level to 80%. As America urbanizes, we have an opportunity–with sufficient Congressional and Presidential leadership–to move past the 11-13% federal funding level and ensure our slowest projects are still delivered within 15-18 years. With the presidential candidates talking about increases in infrastructure spending, this is not an impossible dream.
- An Increase in State Funding
The Seattle Metro area (King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties comprise 52% of state residents, 62% of state tax revenue, and produce 71% of the state’s economic output. As we go, so goes the state.
- Projects coming in under budget
Who builds transit projects 10% under budget? We do, with more savings expected on Angle Lake, opening later this year.
- Higher than expected tax revenues
Provisional lines can be built if our economy fares better than the cautious growth projected by Sound Transit. Small differences in growth rates can make a big difference over 25 years.
This year alone, Sound Transit light rail projects will come in $240M (10%) under budget and receive $600M in unexpected federal grants. Our economy is booming, and twenty-five years of growth could add hundreds of millions of additional funding to ST budgets. Let’s authorize engineering and construction of “provisional projects” now, to maximize the benefits of any savings on other projects.
West Seattle Junction to Burien, Ballard to UW, Kirkland to Bellevue, Paine Field Connector, and Tacoma Mall must be designated as “provisional projects” when the Board votes in June.