What Trump Budget Proposal Could Mean For For Sound Transit's Light Rail Plans

Mar 20, 2017

As the president's proposed budget ripples through various sectors of Washington state, one question that arises is what potential cuts to transportation could mean for Sound Transit's ambitious light rail plans.

The biggest potential problem is the president's proposal to eliminate all grant funding for transit projects that don't already have it.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff called the proposal "really rather unprecedented."

For these federal transit grants, projects have to go through several steps of approval before the money is released.  Rogoff, a former federal transit administrator, said new administrations will typically honor funding commitments to projects that are already in the pipeline.

"That's the only way a program like this can work," Rogoff said. "You're not going to get a project planned, designed, built and open during a 4-year period of one administration."

Sound Transit is worried about $1.2 billion in federal grants for the Northgate-to-Lynwood leg of light rail and $500 million for the Angle Lake-to-Federal Way leg.

Voters approved those projects in 2008. If they lose grant money, taxpayers would have to make up the difference by paying for a longer period of time.

An agency like Sound Transit estimates how much federal funding projects will receive based on how much similar projects have received in the past. 

As far as the recently approved Sound Transit 3 expansion, most of those projects are too far out to be directly affected by a slash to federal funding during this presidential term. But delays in one segment of light rail could lead to more down the line.

Presidential budget proposals don't usually make it through Congress unchanged. But Rogoff says he takes even proposed cuts seriously.

"At times when you've got this much dynamism and this much controversy, certain things end up on the cutting room floor at the end of the debate," Rogoff said. "My concern is we don't want our federal participation in getting to Lynwood or Federal Way or anywhere else to be left on the cutting room floor."