- The Federal Transit Administration has agreed to a grant of $1.2 billion for construction of the $3.2 billion Lynnwood Link Extension light-rail project in Seattle, according to a press release issued by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D.-Wa.). The FTA has submitted the full funding grant agreement, which represents approximately 40% of the project costs, to Congress for a 30-day review.
- Once finalized, the grant agreement will allow Sound Transit, the local transportation authority, to tap the $200 million of Capital Investment Grants funding already approved by federal lawmakers. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff told The Seattle Times that the agency would be in a position to approve contracts for early work on the 8.5-mile line next month and begin construction early next year. The line — which is expected to relieve commuter congestion between downtown and the city of Lynnwood 16 miles north — will service an estimated 68,500 daily riders.
- “Christmas came early to Puget Sound with a major investment in light rail going to Snohomish County,” said Cantwell. "This agreement will link commuters and businesses throughout the region, build more parking for commuters and ease traffic congestion."
The project’s initial budget has grown from an estimated $2.4 billion, reportedly because of increased costs of land, materials, debt financing, rail cars and system design features, on top of a required $170 million contingency required by the FTA as a condition of the grant. The price tag rose despite engineering modifications that saved the project about $200 million.
In May, Sound Transit officials said they might be forced to issue construction contracts even before final funding was in place in order to lock in pricing in case costs continued to rise. FTA grants, including the Lynnwood Link’s $1.2 billion, were held up this year after President Donald Trump threatened to end federal funding of regional infrastructure projects in favor of those with national significance.
In August, transit advocacy group Transportation for America accused the Trump administration of holding back almost $1.4 billion in transportation construction funding since the president signed the March 2018 appropriations bill. At the time, the group said that the administration had made good only on $25 million for all-electric bus rapid transit service in Indianapolis. The organization’s current tally, which includes funding also approved back in May 2017, is that the federal government has awarded $532.8 million for transit projects but is still hanging on to almost $1.8 billion of promised funds. FTA officials have denied withholding funds, commenting that projects listed by Transportation for America have not yet met Capital Investments Grants funding requirements.