SEATTLE — Sound Transit learned Monday it will receive nearly $1.2 billion from the federal government to help bring light rail service to Lynnwood, easing worries about a project that’s already behind schedule.
The Federal Transit Administration signed off on a long-sought grant and sent the agreement to Congress for a required 30-day review after which dollars can begin flowing to Sound Transit for use on Lynnwood Link Extension.
The news elicited relief from Sound Transit leaders. The agreement had been in the works since 2013 but in doubt the past two years as President Donald Trump didn’t include funding for it in his mass transit agency budget.
Uncertainty surrounding how much federal funding would be available pushed Sound Transit leaders to reset the start date for Lynnwood service from 2023 to 2024. Officials also have blamed the slower timeline on cost increases.
“It is a great relief to know the plan to get light rail to Lynnwood will be fulfilled,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “People of Snohomish County have been promised light rail and we’ll finally be in a position to deliver.”
The grant is for $1.17 billion and will cover roughly a third of the $3.26 billion needed to extend service 8.5 miles from Northgate to Lynnwood with stops in Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. The amount includes financing costs, rail car purchases and some maintenance expenses, Rogoff said.
“This is great news for everyone in the Puget Sound region who wants to see more commuting options and our freeway congestion eased,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers in a statement. Somers is chairman of the Sound Transit board of directors.
Also Monday, the Federal Transit Administration announced it had approved a separate $658 million loan for the Lynnwood project. While the loan will need to be repaid, it cements further the federal government’s commitment to the regional transit authority’s northward expansion.
“Christmas came early to Puget Sound with a major investment in light rail going to Snohomish County,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Edmonds. “This agreement will link commuters and businesses throughout the region, build more parking for commuters and ease traffic congestion.”
The funding is coming through the Federal Transit Administration capital investment grants, also known as the New Starts program.
Sound Transit began the grant application process in 2013 and in December the board of directors voted to submit the agreement for full grant funding to the federal government.
When Sound Transit started working on it, the money had seemed all but assured given the history of federal government support for major infrastructure projects. But Trump’s attempts to scuttle the program incited anxiety.
Congress rebuffed the president. In the past two years, federal lawmakers approved $200 million toward the light rail project, contingent on completing a grant agreement. A month from now, those dollars can start to be sent to Sound Transit.
Rogoff praised the “bicameral, bipartisan advocacy” in Congress to keep the New Starts program alive. Those efforts led to “greater receptivity” among Trump Administration officials in recent months, giving him greater confidence an agreement could be reached.
Light rail now reaches Husky Stadium in Seattle with service on pace to arrive at Northgate Mall in 2021.
Once light-rail trains reach the Lynnwood Transit Center, commuters can expect a 27-minute ride to downtown Seattle and an hour-long ride to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, according to Sound Transit.