NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 19th, 2018

A great day for Sound Transit: Hilltop Link breaks ground; Lynnwood Link gets funded

Thanksgiving is only a few hours away, and this year, Sound Transit certainly has a lot to be thankful for. The agency, formally known as Puget Sound’s Regional Transit Authority, had a stellar day. Not only did ST break ground on the Tacoma Link Hilltop Streetcar extension just as the fog lifted, but it got word that federal funding for Lynnwood Link — a vitally important ST2 project — is on the way.

Let’s start with the latter news, which was triumphantly announced by Senator Murray’s office this afternoon. Sound Transit is slated to receive $1.2 billion in grants as well as $650 million in low-interest, deferred-payment federal loans from the Federal Transit Administration. This is a really big deal.

The Trump administration is finally giving our region — and specifically the communities of Shoreline and Lynnwood — the light rail expansion money we were allotted months ago, after Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell successfully demanded that the U.S. Department of Transportation stop holding it hostage.

“This is fantastic news for North Sound residents who are one step closer to seeing our shared goal of expanding public transit options in their communities become reality,” said Murray, the dean of the state’s D.C. delegation, in a statement.

“Completing the Lynnwood Link light rail extension will help commuters and consumers connect with employment and education centers, local businesses, as well as address congestion concerns, and I am grateful to Secretary Chao and the Federal Transit Administration for following through on their commitment to move forward with this grant agreement and get this critical project underway soon.”

“As a voice for our state on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue doing my part to ensure the necessary federal investments continue to flow to Lynnwood Link to see this important project through to its completion.”

“Christmas came early to Puget Sound with a major investment in light rail going to Snohomish County,” agreed Senator Maria Cantwell.

“This agreement will link commuters and businesses throughout the region, build more parking for commuters and ease traffic congestion. I appreciate the hard work of Secretary Chao and the Department of Transportation given the complexity of this project and the importance of this next phase.”

“This is great news for everyone in the Puget Sound region who wants to see more commuting options and our freeway congestion eased,” said Dave Somers, Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive.

“Lynnwood Link is the first major investment in light rail for Snohomish County, and we appreciate the hard work of our congressional delegation and the Federal Transit Administration. Sound Transit has an ambitious plan to deliver for the people of our region, and Lynnwood Link is a key part of that plan.”

As Executive Somers emphasized in his statement, Lynnwood Link brings light rail across the border from King County into Snohomish County. It is a project of tremendous importance to residents living in and around the communities of Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Mukilteo, and beyond, because it will provide a desperately-needed way of bypassing Interstate 5 gridlock.

Sound Transit is currently midway through the construction phase for Northgate Link, which will add three stations to Link’s trunk line beginning in 2021. Lynnwood Link will take light rail eight and a half miles further north from there, through Shoreline and into the home county of Executive Somers.

Planning for Lynnwood Link has been complicated by rising costs for real estate acquisition and community requests for station designs.

Sound Transit has been counting on getting federal support to get Lynnwood Link going, but the Trump regime has been making it wait for the money.

Thankfully, it now appears the wait is over.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff used to work at the Federal Transit Administration, and is thus intimately familiar with the process of disbursing federal money to agencies like the one he now runs. While the money is not in hand yet, it’s really all downhill from here. The last major stumbling block has been overcome.

Sound Transit plans to approve the first contracts for initial construction work on Lynnwood Link next month. Groundbreaking will take place in early 2019.

NPI congratulates Sound Transit on today’s breakthrough. We salute the determined work of our United States Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in making this happen. They have delivered for us, and we won’t forget it.

Prior to announcing the Lynnwood Link news, Murray joined Rogoff and U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer at the groundbreaking for Hilltop Link, a Sound Transit 3 project that will extend the agency’s Tacoma streetcar 2.4 miles.

Hilltop Link will add six new stations to the existing streetcar line, built back in 2003 during ST Phase One, and relocate one existing station. The new stations will connect the Stadium District and Hilltop neighborhoods to the system.

Construction will be performed by Walsh Construction Company II, LLC, and is due to be finished in 2022. The City of Tacoma and the federal government are jointly funding the project in cooperation with Sound Transit.

The new stations will be as follows:

  • South 4th
  • Stadium District
  • Tacoma General
  • 6th Avenue
  • Hilltop District
  • St. Joseph

Tacoma Link currently runs from the Tacoma Dome transit hub at Freighthouse Square to the Theater District. The Theater District Station will close and its relocated successor will be be known as the Old City Hall Station.

Hilltop Link Streetcar extension map

Click for a larger view (Map courtesy of Sound Transit)

Today’s groundbreaking took place at Tacoma’s Peoples Park and brought together civic leaders, union construction workers, neighborhood activists, and agency officials. Local businesses — including the famous Johnson Candy Company — provided refreshments, and the Tracy Knoop Octet provided music.

Joining the elected officials for the speaking program were Pierce County Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Mark Martinez, Hilltop Action Coalition’s Brendan Nelson, and North Slope Coffee House owner Denny Faker. They emphasized the value Hilltop Link would bring to neighborhoods that have been waiting a long time for an investment like this streetcar project.

I was pleased to represent NPI at today’s Hilltop Link groundbreaking. It’s nice to see a Sound Transit 3 project getting on track so quickly in Pierce County.

Hopefully Pierce voters beyond the boundaries of Tacoma (where ST3 did receive majority support!) will see the construction and realize Sound Transit is serious about liberating them from auto dependence and never-ending gridlock.

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