Angry Federal Way city leaders say they’ll fight Sound Transit’s plan to postpone expanding light rail to Federal Way from 2023 to as late as 2040.
Delaying the project also would put off and potentially jeopardize construction of light rail farther south. Tacoma City Council member Jake Fey said Wednesday that Sound Transit should now reconsider the goal of connecting light rail to Tacoma from Sea-Tac Airport.
Federal Way City Council member Jim Ferrell erupted Tuesday night when a Sound Transit official said the planned extension from Highline Community College to South 272nd Street is the only proposed cut from Sound Transit projects to be finished by 2023.
“That’s absolutely incredible,” Ferrell said at a City Council meeting. “You left us with the impression that times are tough all over. Apparently, they’re only tough for South King County.”
Sound Transit now projects the earliest light rail will arrive in Federal Way is 2034. That means Tacoma will have an even longer wait, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest said.
“If you’re in Tacoma, I don’t think you’ve been born yet if you’re going to see light rail,” Priest said. “If it is a dream here, it is a mirage in Tacoma.”
Three years ago, the Federal Way council lobbied successfully to have the extension included in the $17.9 billion measure for mass transit expansion that voters approved in November 2008. Sound Transit projected then that the measure would bring light rail to South 272nd Street by 2023.
“We helped you to get the bond passed,” council member Linda Kochmar told Sound Transit official David Beal. “Now, you’re telling us, ‘Sorry, guys.’”
Council member Dini Duclos said she doesn’t believe rapid transit will ever make it to Federal Way.
“While everyone else is getting the trains, we’re getting the shaft,” Duclos said.
The Federal Way City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to craft and approve a resolution opposing the delay. City officials then plan to speak out at Sound Transit’s board meeting May 26.
Beal, the transit agency’s acting director of planning and development, told the council the proposed delay is due to falling revenue projections. The Federal Way extension is estimated to cost $600 million. It, along with other South King projects, required more money to be borrowed than in other areas of the three-county light rail system, Beal said.
The economic downturn has only compounded the problem, he said.
Tax revenue for Sound Transit’s South King County subarea is projected to fall by 31 percent from 2009 to 2023. That’s a shortfall of $851 million.
Overall, Sound Transit is grappling with a $3.9 billion shortfall – or 25 percent – due to declining tax revenues, he said.
The 2008 measure raised the sales tax by 0.5 percent to expand light rail north to Lynnwood, east to Redmond and south to Federal Way. It also included $100 million to buy up right of way for light rail to Tacoma and to do some preliminary engineering on that segment, Beal said.
Beal told the Tacoma council earlier Tuesday that delaying service to Federal Way likely will put off building light rail from Pierce County to King County for decades.
There is money to build everything in the Pierce County portion of the transit plan by 2023, Beal said. “However, some of the connectivity and some of the benefits of those investments, you won’t be able to avail yourselves of until South King can build its projects,” he said.
Beal said Pierce County’s program sought to invest in far more varied projects beyond its relatively small investment in light rail.
The plan initially included improving access to five Sounder stations, extending Sounder rail platforms to eventually allow for longer commuter trains, and investing $40 million in advance right-of-way purchases, Beal said. Pierce County also planned to invest big in “pre-engineering,” to ensure key parcels from the Tacoma Dome to Federal Way that would be needed in the future, for example, “didn’t get large hotels developed on them,” he said.
Now, Sound Transit staff members suggest “downscaling” some of that work, Beal said.
Fey, who is a Sound Transit board member as well as a Tacoma council member, said Sound Transit funds dedicated to Pierce County should now be considered for other local transit projects.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland stressed the need to examine alternative ways to use existing heavy rail corridors to enhance commuter travel to Pierce County.
“There must be something we can think of or do to try and make that connection without having to wait until the year, you know, 2080, to get some service from Tacoma,” she said.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
Staff writer Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.