EVERETT — President Donald Trump’s “America First” budget proposal would pull up the drawbridge on federal funding for light rail to Lynnwood and other major regional mass-transit projects.
The financial plan, released Thursday, could take away nearly $1.2 billion in New Starts grants for the Northgate-to-Lynnwood light-rail route. That could delay the project, currently slated to start service in 2023.
Leaders at Community Transit, meanwhile, are in talks with Washington’s congressional delegation to save $48 million in federal money for a new Swift bus rapid-transit line between the Boeing Co.’s Everett plant and Bothell’s Canyon Park area.
A federal transportation grant program that has helped pay for infrastructure projects in Everett, Mukilteo and elsewhere in Snohomish County also would be on the chopping block.
Washington state’s Democratic lawmakers panned the Republican president’s plans.
“In the Pacific Northwest transportation means jobs, and a healthy American economy cannot exist without the efficient movement of goods and people,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a senior member of a House committee that oversees transportation issues. “The president is taking a sledgehammer to America’s infrastructure.”
Trump’s budget outlines big policy shifts for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
It would only honor federal New Starts capital investment grants already signed by the Federal Transit Administration. That would affect 57 projects. The seven in Washington include light rail to Lynnwood and Community Transit’s second Swift bus line.
The proposed budget would end federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance trains and get rid of a subsidy for commercial service at rural airports.
After Trump’s victory in November, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff expressed doubts about any radical changes for mass-transit funding, noting that such projects have typically enjoyed bipartisan support.
The regional transit agency covering parts of Snohomish, King and Pierce counties was banking on $7.7 billion in federal funds for projects approved by voters in 2008 and 2016, spokesman Geoff Patrick said. Of those grants, more than $5 billion were from New Starts. The agency expected federal officials to sign off on the Lynnwood Link extension later this year. Designs are almost complete for the 8.5-mile segment with stops in Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline.
Sound Transit also had been relying on $500 million from New Starts to build out Link light rail to Federal Way. Several other projects could face funding challenges, leaving the agency’s board of directors with difficult decisions.
“In many cases we likely will be able to continue forward with local funding, but that requires a longer period of tax collection to raise the funds,” Patrick said. “And potentially heavier use of bonds, higher interest costs, things like that.”
Community Transit is hoping Congress approves money for its second Swift rapid-transit bus line. Construction is still scheduled to proceed in May on the Seaway Transit Center, across from the entrance to Boeing’s Everett plant. That would be the northern terminus of the route, also known as the Swift Green Line. Service had been scheduled to start in 2019.
The project was in line for federal grants from a program called Small Starts, which is separate from New Starts, Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia said. If it doesn’t materialize this year, it could delay the purchase of buses and work building 30 stations on the route from Paine Field to Canyon Park, via 128th Street and the Bothell-Everett Highway.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said she would fight to save the TIGER grant program she created in 2009. Since its inception, the program has awarded $5.1 billion nationwide, including $239 million for 16 projects in Washington. The name is an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.
“To see the president just zero out programs and try to cut off project funding demonstrates this administration’s complete disregard for working families in Washington state and in communities across this country,” Murray said.
A $10 million TIGER grant was awarded last summer to the Port of Everett to improve cargo-loading areas. Another $10 million grant in 2015 went toward future improvements at the Mukilteo ferry terminal. Those funds are not at risk.