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Sound Transit CEO was optimistic federal funding wouldn’t be cut

Sound Transit is now worried that it will lose billions in federal funding due to Trump's budget. (Sound Transit)

The current federal funding outlook for Sound Transit is grim. But it wasn’t long ago when the agency’s CEO sounded confident that the Trump administration wouldn’t hinder any light rail dreams.

Related: Sound Transit CEO calls Mercer Island lawsuit ‘regrettable’

This is what CEO Peter Rogoff said after President Donald Trump failed to mention transit in his first speech after winning the presidency in November:

We think that given the president-elect’s comments on infrastructure, and rebuilding the nation’s cities, they are going to continue to invest in this kind of program.

The transit agency was banking on that funding. The $54 billion Sound Transit 3 plan, for example, assumes $4.7 billion will come from the federal government. The Seattle Times reports that Sound Transit assumed $7.7 billion in federal grants for all ST2 and ST3 projects extending into 2041. That equals 13 percent of capital costs.

Rogoff also expected Trump would keep the tentative commitment of $1.2 billion for expanding light rail to Lynnwood as part of Sound Transit 2, approved in 2008, KIRO 7 reports.

As the Puget Sound Business Journal pointed out, the plan “does hinge on obtaining federal funding.” However, Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick told the Journal that the agency has a long-standing relationship of working with the feds.

‘Grim day’ for Sound Transit

The tone quickly changed after President Trump released his proposed budget.

Rogoff told The Stranger that, “It’s a grim day.”

“To complete Sound Transit 2 and Sound Transit 3, we are assuming $7.7 billion in federal funding of which more than $5 billion is funding through the New Starts program that is proposed for — essentially — elimination of the president’s budget,” Patrick said.

The transit agency said it was in the final stages of securing $1.17 billion in federal funding for the Lynnwood light rail project from Northgate. President Obama’s 2017 budget allocated $125 million initially. The 2018 budget under Trump gives nothing.

The light rail extension to Federal Way assumed $500 million from the feds.

The bottom line is that if funding is cut, Sound Transit could use money marked for further light rail expansion for projects that were expected to already have been taken care of. That means it will have to find additional funding for future light rail extensions. And many of the projects still in their infancy could be delayed.

On the bright side, Patrick says the agency isn’t looking to ask voters to make up for the deficiency left by the federal government.

“There hasn’t been any discussion of going back to the voters,” he said. “That’s not something the Sound Transit Board has at all talked about.”

Maybe that will remain true. Just don’t expect the agency to give in and start lowering car-tab fees willingly.

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