Bush budget includes $75 million for Sound Transit

The $2.33 trillion budget that President Bush presented to Congress Monday includes $75 million for the Puget Sound region’s cash-strapped light-rail project.

Central Link light rail was one of only two transit projects in the nation to receive a “highly recommended” Federal Transit Administration rating – the highest possible under the agency’s process for prioritizing applicants for New Starts funding.

If approved by Congress, and passed in a final appropriations bill, the money to help build the line from downtown Seattle to the edge of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport would be available in September 2004.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Bush Administration and FTA to help us restore public confidence in this project,” said Ron Sims, Sound Transit Board chairman and King County Executive. “It’s clear today the Bush Administration is committed to helping solve our region’s transportation crisis and supports us in our remaining work to complete the Full Funding Grant Agreement process. We will work hard with the FTA every day over the next several months and with Congress so the FFGA can be executed this year and we can start laying tracks this summer.”

“President Bush, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and Federal Transit Administrator Jenna Dorn have worked with us from Day One of the Administration,” said Dave Earling, Sound Transit Board vice chair and Edmonds City Council president. “They have given us the time, opportunity and assistance we needed to make changes in the project and the way we operate. Now that we’ve shown we’re back on track, we are very grateful for the support they’re giving us.”

The project’s “highly recommended” rating, contained in the FTA’s annual New Starts report to Congress, is based on the project’s ridership, cost-effectiveness, local financial commitment and level of design.

Sound Transit has already received $91 million toward development of its light rail line, including $50 million released to the agency in January by the Federal Transportation Department.