Sound Transit: major projects could be delayed without more federal relief money

VIDEO: Sound Transit joins call for next coronavirus relief package to include transit funding

SEATTLE — Sound Transit joined other transportation agencies across the country to request $32-$36 billion in additional funding for the public transportation industry in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“I’ve described it as a financial four-alarm fire, and that’s exactly what it is,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Patrick Foye said of the pandemic’s impacts on his agency during a Tuesday video conference call.

“When sales taxes take a hit, we take a very big hit,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said, adding that his agency receives no money from the state. Sound Transit, like the other transit agencies, are looking to Washington, D.C., where the House has made some progress.

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 “Two bills have passed now, one out of committee and one right through the House that holds the potential to get us an additional $1.7 to $1.9 billion in additional federal funds,” he said. “Those are funds that local taxpayers will not have to pay. We need the Senate to act on those bills.”

“What projects are you talking about that could be either endangered or significantly pushed back in terms of progress?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“All the other projects that are on Sound Transit’s drawing board that were adopted in Sound Transit 3, things like rapid transit on I-405 and [SR] 522,” he said. “Getting light rail to West Seattle or Tacoma or up to Everett or out to Ballard, all of those projects need to be looked at — how soon we can deliver them based on new cash flow projections and lower revenues.”

Without funding, Rogoff said, those could be delayed up to 5 years.

The good news, he said, is other projects currently under construction, including the Northgate expansion, are going to be completed.

“That’s going to be a very good iteration where we open Northgate next year, Tacoma Hilltop extension, the following year, all the way out to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond in 2023,” Rogoff said. “And up to Lynnwood and down to Federal Way in 2024. Those are funded and are going to get done.”

King County Metro, too, is hoping for more money from the next relief package.

It's estimating losses of $200 million in sales tax revenue and more than $80 million in farebox revenue this year alone.

When it comes to job cuts, Rogoff says without funding, construction work will suffer. And for Sound Transit itself, expected growth won’t be able to happen.

“We are about a thousand people now and we were scheduled to grow up to 1400 people in the next few years,” he said. “Right now we’re — we have canceled all of that staff growth and are going to try to get more work done with the people we’ve got.”

More than a dozen Puget Sound area city and county leaders also joined with Sound Transit to send letters to Washington’s U.S. Senators, asking for this help.

Senator Patty Murray said Tuesday in part, “We need to ensure that the many Washingtonians who rely on transit services now, and those that will again when this pandemic is over, aren’t left out or left behind in Congress’ future relief efforts.”