Proposed federal grant: $1.1 billion for Lynnwood light rail

LYNNWOOD — Commuters in south Snohomish County got some encouraging news Tuesday in a proposed federal budget, though traffic relief still is years away.

Under President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, Sound Transit stands to receive $125 million for the Lynnwood Link light rail extension. That’s part of an eventual $1.1 billion grant the Federal Transit Administration is prepared to award the project to bring light rail service to Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline about seven years from now.

If all of the money materializes, it would cover nearly half the overall cost.

“We’re very excited,” said Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts, who serves as vice chairman on the Sound Transit board. “It’s obviously an investment in coming north and that’s exciting.”

Roberts and other Sound Transit board members credited Washington’s congressional delegation with helping to secure support for the federal dollars. Money would come from the New Starts program as part of the budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

Roberts also noted that the money should get the light-rail system a few stops closer to Everett. The Everett leg is part of the Sound Transit 3 proposal likely to reach voters in November. It would take at least another 15 years to build out the light-rail system to Everett following a successful ballot measure.

Political leaders in Snohomish County are lobbying for a route that would serve Paine Field at significant extra cost, over a cheaper option traveling straight up I-5 to reach Everett.

If the whole $1.1 billion grant materializes, it will be the largest federal grant Sound Transit has received to date, agency spokesman Bruce Gray said. No other projects in the country are rated a higher priority to receive federal funding. The final amount should be settled by the end of 2017.

Light rail is scheduled to reach Lynnwood by 2023.

Tuesday’s announcement won’t accelerate that timetable, but may help to keep it on track.

“There’s still a lot of engineering work that needs to be done,” Gray said.

Once light rail is running, a trip from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle is projected to take 28 minutes. Eventual daily ridership is expected to reach 74,000 people.

Sound Transit last year picked a route along the I-5 corridor between Lynnwood and Northgate. Stops are planned at the Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace transit centers.

Two stops also are planned at NE 145th Street and NE 185th Street in Shoreline. New parking structures planned at the Lynnwood and Shoreline stations would add about 1,500 new spaces.

The Sound Transit board also directed staff to prepare for potential stations at 220th Street SW in Mountlake Terrace and NE 130th Street in Seattle. Tracks in those areas would be built to accommodate boarding platforms with minimal disruption.

Cost estimates for the 8.5-mile Northgate-to-Lynnwood line range from $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion. With rail cars and the shared cost of a future maintenance facility, the total project budget would be about $2.3 billion.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018.

Lynnwood light-rail service is among the expansion plans that voters approved in 2008 as part of a measure called Sound Transit 2.

The agency is preparing to initiate service to the University District and Capitol Hill on March 19, six months ahead of schedule.

Light rail is projected reach Northgate in 2021.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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