As federal lawmakers negotiated the final content of an omnibus spending bill late Monday, the leader of Sound Transit kept close tabs to see if a critical source of funding to extend light rail to Lynnwood would make the cut.
Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff said he was “tentatively hopeful” Congress would sustain a grant program — from which the regional transit authority is seeking $1.17 billion to complete its Lynnwood Link Extension by 2024 — in spite of President Donald Trump’s desire to eliminate it.
The Trump budget released in February sought to limit Federal Transit Administration capital investment grants to projects with signed agreements in place. That jeopardized funding for projects such as Sound Transit’s extensions to Lynnwood and Federal Way, which lack such accords.
But the capital investment grant program enjoys backing among Republican and Democratic lawmakers who face a Friday deadline to pass a bill to keep government agencies funded through Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year. Release of a proposed spending bill was not expected until late Monday or early Tuesday.
On Monday, Rogoff, who was in Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional leaders, sounded confident the deal getting hammered out by Republican budget writers in the House and Senate would keep the transit funding.
“We thank Congress for reversing these cuts and implore the administration to get on board and recognize the wisdom of these investments,” Rogoff told reporters at a morning press conference of leaders of public transportation systems from across the country.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, whose district includes parts of east Snohomish and King counties, is among the many lawmakers waiting to read how negotiators handle this issue.
“I hope appropriators ignore President Trump’s ill-conceived budget, which would gut transportation and infrastructure grants for important Sound Transit projects that improve our local communities throughout our region,” she said. “This is an area where there is broad, bipartisan agreement. We need federal investments in rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and we need them now.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said federal investment is crucial to helping the Puget Sound Region build a transit network that can ease congestion and “enable people and products to move more efficiently.”
“You can’t have big league economy with little league infrastructure,” he said in a statement. “Washington state alone needs over $190 billion in infrastructure investments. Addressing these critical needs will require robust federal funding. In this way, the President’s phantom infrastructure plan and proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget struck out.”
In 2018, when Trump similarly sought to curb the grant program, Congress pushed back. It passed a spending bill containing $100 million for the Lynnwood Link. Sound Transit, however, cannot access those dollars until it secures an agreement with the transit administration for the entire $1.17 billion grant.
Rogoff said he hoped to get an agreement in place by this summer, presuming the program is preserved.
It will be a continuing challenge “to pierce through their reticence to get an agreement signed,” he said. “That signature gives us certainty.”
Community Transit also was keeping close watch Monday because a component of the program known as Small Starts has been a valued source of funds for development of the Swift bus rapid transit service.
“We’re not confident of anything right now,” agency spokesman Martin Munguia said Monday afternoon.
In a previous budget cycle, the transit agency was allotted $42 million for its Swift Green Line through the Small Starts program. They’d like to be able to get additional dollars for future expansion including a planned Orange Line to hook up with the Lynnwood Link extension.
“We are relying on the continuation of this CIG (capital investment grant) program to build out the future of our Swift network,” Munguia said.