U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), along with six other senate Democrats, introduced a bill Thursday that would boost funding for Sound Transit as reported by The Seattle Times. The bill would partially offset the financial effect of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing an additional 30% of the cost of the Federal Way and Lynnwood Link extensions, adding up to about $1.9 billion for Sound Transit. Though both projects are on track to open in 2024, the financial boost would have a significant impact on the $11.5 billion affordability gap that is the primary cause of the realignment process that Sound Transit is undergoing. Getting nearly $2 billion from the federal government on its own would put Sound Transit about halfway to the $4 billion “additional capacity” options in its illustrative scenarios for alignment.

Being a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray has a lot of influence in this area. Though the standalone bill is unlikely to get 60 votes in the senate, the provisions of this bill could be included in the next budget reconciliation bill as it is budget-related.

38 Replies to “Patty Murray is seeking $1.9 billion for Sound Transit”

  1. This is awesome news, and hopefully a good way for Senator Murray to close out a 30-year career. We’ve built the transportation network to move cars, it’s past time to build the transportation network to move people.

  2. Manchin said recently that he wanted to pass a big infrastructure bill (either with Republican support, or else with a tax hike), and it doesn’t sound like Sinema wants to stop it either. I expect we’ll be getting some big money for light rail sooner or later.

    For the first time in my life, I’m feeling very positive about Congress doing some good stuff.

    1. It’s good to have adults in charge in Congress. I can sleep at night now.

      Sen Murray knows value when she sees it. This additional funding is good news for ST. If an infrastructure package can pass over Republican obstructionism expect even more good news.

  3. This puts excessive quibbling about dividing up tiny pots and adding limitations to them (like the $20 VLF) into perspective.

  4. The ugly truth is that it’s politically sexier to add capacity (like this request) than it is to maintain what we already have. Seattle’s population and economy is growing and deserves Federal dollars to accommodate that, but there are many congressional districts and states that are watching their rail and road systems decay a little bit each year. How this plays out will affect what makes it into the final bill.

  5. Lynnwood and Federal Way Link are the very Model of a Modern Major General — project that is. The engineering is done, and more could be under construction with an influx of cash. But I don’t see how it helps ST3 projects — the $11 billion gap.

    Yes,maybe Link will get to Federal Way six months earlier, and hooray for that, but the gap is in ST3, not ST2.

    1. Lynnwood & FW are moving ‘full speed’ ahead, so an influx of cash won’t impact the project delivery date. Free money from the feds helps ST3 by lowering the amount of debt borrowed to complete ST2, therefore closing some of the affordability gap. Recall that the primary financial constraint on ST3 is running into the debt limit in the 2030s.

      1. So the money saved on the U-Link and Northgate Link tunnels has been more than consumed by the costs of land acquisition along I-5 then?

        Does not that then mean that the more useful SR99 routing north of Northgate and south of Angle Lake which could have been accommodated entirely within WSDOT right of way would have been a better choice? It seems an obvious conclusion.

        So ST is following an inferior route with no infill opportunities in order that massage parlors, convenience stores, car dealers and dentists can avoid moving?

        Priorities, priorities!

      2. Wait, which is it? It can be accommodated entirely within the WSDOT right of way or it’s going to require small businesses to move?

        (It’s the second as there’s no way suburban cities would agree to lane reductions, and it’s perfectly sensible for ST not to pick a fight with every jurisdiction along the route who wants to protect their sales tax revenue – they learned this the hard way with the Tukwila International Blvd fiasco)

      3. ST is following what Des Moines and Federal Way wanted. (Kent wanted it on 99.) The Lynnwood alignment was because ST concluded that Aurora’s 4-minute travel time difference would lose more riders in Lynnwood than it would gain in Aurora, construction costs on I-5 would be cheaper. The latter turned out to be false because of the age of the freeway. Of course 99 would have been better in both cases, so that more people could walk to it. But there was no political path to get enough consensus for it.

      4. The I5 alignment was not as cheap as expected, but do we know that it was not cheaper than the 99 alignment? Comparing the final delivered costs of Lynnwood Link to the forecasted cost of the 99 alignment back when the EIS was done is apples to oranges.

        Tom, the original point is that Sound Transit, the agency, has an affordability gap to complete ST3. So to close the affordability gap, it doesn’t matter to which existing project Federal funds are assigned insofar as they are a new source of cash. Each new levy (ST2, ST3) replaces the prior levy.

      5. My impression is the I-5 cost escalations have wiped out the difference between it and Aurora, although that may not be accurate. And I’m not even referring to rising real-estate costs but the cost of weaving around the freeway. I-5 is fifty years old and not as strong as it was, so any little nick would damage it and then ST would have to pay to repair it. So ST had to be ginger with the alignment to avoid touching I-5’s foundations. That’s where the initial cost escalations occurred, having to work around a fragile freeway structure.

    2. Yep, but that is probably as it should be. ST2 is a very good. ST3 is not. The problems with ST3 go well beyond the downturn in revenue, and to the very core of the project. They raise numerous questions, such as:

      Are any of the major projects in ST3 worth the money, given the new estimates? Should we build something else instead? Why are the most cost effective projects in ST3 being pushed to the back (based on early planning)? Does Sound Transit have any idea what they are doing?

      1. “Are any of the major projects in ST3 worth the money…?”

        Yes. The second core capacity tunnel and Ballard/SLU line are worth the money. The extension north to 128th/Mariner is worth the money. The BRT investments in 405/522 are worth the money. The rest is debatable.

      2. I wouldn’t consider BRT or the infill projects to be “major” projects. Most of those projects are definitely worth it, just like the underfunded Move Seattle projects were worth it.

        Extending rail along the freeway north of Lynnwood is likely to be a huge waste. There will be very few people walking to the station. Very few will take it between those stations or save a significant amount of time over just ending at Lynnwood. For the same money as that extension, Snohomish County could have excellent bus service throughout the county. Instead they will have stations that very few use, and a piss poor overall transit system.

        The extension to Ballard is tougher call. It was by far the best major project in ST3. But now it has grown a lot more expensive, and a lot worse. It is quite possible that the Ballard station will be at 14th and the Dravus station three blocks from Dravus. ST doesn’t know how to build an effective transit system. They are more interested in symbolism (Ballard! West Seattle! Issaquah!) than substance (this will save a lot of riders a lot of time). Like Snohomish County, it is quite likely that just pumping money into bus service would result in a much better system.

    3. I see what you did there. Lol. I happen to love that G&S operetta. (We did sections of it during my 7th grade music class….minus the fun costumes sadly.)

      Anyway, yeah, any additional federal money is all good. However, the ST3 capital program’s mismatch with the financial plan is enormous. Hence we have the realignment process now taking place. ST and Rogoff are going to continue to push the recession spin on the revenue side but the greater problem has always been on the cost side and the inaccurate estimates.

    4. Now ST just needs to switch to gondola technology for West Seattle, and it would shave off another $2B from the budget shortfall. Together with delaying/cancelling parking structures, it would allow ST to build most projects with just a 2 year delay. I also think that some of the infill stations should be built sooner rather than later as they great investments per rider.

      1. Yep, way better. One Thirtieth could have a bus in each direction meeting every train and revolutionize east-west travel in North Seattle.

        It still will eventually, but it could have begun sculpting Lake City and Bitter Lake into Walkable Wonderlands much earlier and more completely..

      2. The West Seattle line isn’t intended to be a dead end, though the NIMBYfied underground alignment may make extending it financially unfeasible.

    5. Because of keeping funding within subareas, more funding for Federal Way Link will, at least theoretically, only help with extending part of Tacoma Dome Link (not to be confused with the Tacoma streetcar line). Or build more parking garages. Or subsidize turning over nearby plots of land to social housing builders and operators. Or keep service running on ST Express 577 etc after Federal Way TC Station opens. Or subsidize flattening Link fares, since they would, without a formula change, be higher than the ST Express fares for a trip to Seattle.

      More funding for Lynnwood Link would help the North King subarea as well as the Snohomish subarea. So, that, in part, could help keep West Seattle and Ballard Link from falling further behind. But no amount of federal aid seems likely to bring neighborhood consensus to the designs so that shovels can be turned. Maybe it can fund more meetings, more often, to make it feel like we’re making progress. The state legislature could then wring its hands and once again, saying that funding transit is a federal, local, and personal (through fares) issue, not a state issue. The state has freeways to build.

      1. Oh, and lest I forget, funding ST2 projects could help retire ST1&2 taxes faster, bringing some tax relief. Clever!

    1. Sorry, meant to state that the CCC funding will come from the follow on infrastructure plan.

  6. But I don’t think a single bus would be able to handle peek traffic and running frequent bus service is expensive. A gondola can handle as much as 100 buses.
    Yes, a gondola line connecting Bitter Lake and Lake City to the NE 130th station would be great too, it would essentially quadruple its walk shed.

    1. There are too many intermediate stops along 125th on the way to Lake City to make a gondola ideal. It might be fine to the west where two stations, at Linden and Greenwood would be fine.

      1. Even to the west there are plenty of stops (Greenwood Avenue, Linden, Aurora, Ingraham). It should be thought of as a corridor. The Bitter Lake/Lake City corridor or the 130th/125th corridor.

        Then you also have the Greenwood corridor north of 130th. Metro proposes starting the bus at Shoreline Community College, then running it south (along that corridor) then making a turn on 130th to go by the station.

        A gondola is really a silly idea there. A bus would be faster, cheaper, and serve a lot more places. Gondolas only make sense where there is a major (man made or natural) obstacle, which is similar to when ferries make sense.

    2. The best part of gondola tech is that when you are riding on it you can hear the birds sing. Oh, sorry, my mistake. Those are angels. . You can hear the angels.

      Not!

      Won’t happen. Slow. Low capacity.

  7. Gondolas work if you want to provide high-frequency and fairly high ridership for a few stops, it won’t replace bus lines with many stops which are spread out. Bitter Lake is one of the highest ridership stops and high-frequency would encourage further use of transit, Lake City is similar, both are already high density. To beat the speed of a gondola along 130th/125th, you would need to provide bus service every 5min. Initial investment for buses might be lower, but operating a gondola is far cheaper than running buses every 5min. and buses would get stuck when cars wait to get on I-5 in the morning.
    I could also see a gondola line from Shoreline CCollege to the 145th station, much faster and higher frequency than a feeder bus and a gondola can handle as much as 100 buses an hour.

    1. Again, there are too many stops. Gondolas have been around a long time. People know how they work. They know the advantages and disadvantages. Yet they still run buses for places like this, because buses make more sense in an area like this. They connect to way more places, and are faster.

    2. People know how gondolas work but local politicians don’t. Rather than having a debate on which corridors they’d be worthwhile in, politicians and agencies dismiss the mode out of hand as “too foreign”. They’ve done this with driverless trains, and earlier with light rail and heavy rail. The most tragic part of the Denny Way and SODO-West Seattle gondola concepts is not that they’re not considering them now, but that they didn’t consider them when the Link lines were planned. Now, for whatever their merit, Ballard-downtown has gone ahead of a Denny Way gondola, and SODO-West Seattle is precluded by the West Seattle Link plans. West Seattle Link won’t even open for 15-20 years (covid estimate) so we won’t be able to tell on the ground how it performs until then, and the vague question of whether a gondola might have been better will linger for twenty years without an answer.

      Are there any Eastside corridors where a gondola might theoretically work?

  8. I would like to amend my comment yesterday about using the $1.9 billion for Sound Transit, or transit in general, especially the second transit tunnel.

    Probably the best place to spend any federal money — either from the stimulus plan or infrastructure bill — is to meet the court order that requires the state to open up hundreds of fish passages beneath roads by 2030 with an estimated cost to the state transportation fund of $3.7 billion. This is the recommendation of the Seattle Times today, and I agree. Salmon restoration must come first, although so far our legislature has not prioritized meeting this court order.

    Of course this means no additional money for ST, or transit, and still would leave around $1.8 billion needed from the state transportation fund to complete fixing the culverts by 2030. Plus the $100 billion for Seattle Subway’s plan.

    1. Federal funding (for construction) that is going to come Sound Transit’s way is going to come from the FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program. It can’t be spent on culvert replacement unless it’s part of an FTA-approved transit project.

      Gas taxes can pay for the culverts, along with whatever FHWA funding comes out of the infrastructure bill.

    2. No need to transfer good transit funding into the culvert replacement program. That funding can come out of the road portion. I have no problem spending road dollars on fish passages.

    3. Right, you can’t ignore a basic human mobility need for fish culverts. We need both and should fund both. This metro ignored transit for fifty years and created car-dependent areas where hundreds of thousands of people live. We must reverse that and not let the next fifty years be as bad as the last fifty. Most residents have less transit availability than any industrialized country, and all of them would fill the gap so we should too. That’s a general statement: ST3 in particular has a lot of flaws and more than ST1 or 2, but we still need to address the general mobility problem of getting between Seattele, Lynnwood, Everett, Federal Way, Tacoma, Redmond, and the cities in between. Addressing it in a mediocre way is better than not addressing it at all.

  9. I propose a single station for Bitter Lake and a station on 125th/Lake City, may be a station on 125th/15th. Those stations would provide the Bitter Lake and Lake City urban centers high-frequency transit access comparable to them being served directly by Link in line with Sound Transit’s overall goals. The Lake City station may even provide a transfer option for the 75 or lines along Lake City Way. Yes, there are other stations we could serve, but most are already served by slightly less frequent bus service and only on the peripheral of those urban centers.
    In a sense I compare this effort with the pedestrian bridge at Northgate: it increases the walkshed for the station. Yes, you could take a bus to Northgate station from the College, but you would have to wait for that bus. A “no-wait” alternative will get you a lot higher ridership!

  10. Kirkland is considering connecting the I-405/BRT station with their downtown transit hub, possibly via the Google campus.

  11. Have you been to West Seattle? Extending further South would be very challenging as California Ave is too narrow (that killed the monorail). If tunneling happens, it becomes financially impossible. Money and time would be better spent running a Link line from downtown via Georgetown and South Park and ultimately to Renton. It would connect a greater number of urban villages and industrial centers and provide transit to a more diverse, underserved population than the potential California Avenue route which is already served by Rapid Ride C.

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