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Sound Transit in 2001 Reported its Plan to Obtain Federal Grant Funding for the Starter Segment of Link Light Rail

Note from the PITF editor: On September 27, 2001 the Sound Transit Board gave preliminary approval by a 12 to 4 vote to the south-focus, Link Light Rail initial segment, starting at the north end of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and going to a park and ride lot one mile north of Sea-Tac Airport. This was a significant interim step in a complicated sequence of events required to switch previously-committed Federal funding to a different segment of track than the one previously submitted for that same Federal funding.  Below the boxed update, in Sound Transit's own words, is the remainder of the process to be followed for gaining the $409 million residual funding from the $500 million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) that was blocked by the US Department of Transportation in April, 2001.

Click here for the latest news on the progress of Sound Transit obtaining Federal funding for Seattle light rail.

Quoting a Section from the Central Link September Progress Report of September 13, 2001, page 29

Federal Issues

Status of Federal Funding

The interim report issued in April 2001 by the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General called into question Central Link’s project schedule, cost estimates and long-term federal funding assumptions. As a result of the IG report, the Department of Transportation held the $500 million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) that was awarded to Sound Transit in January 2001. Congress has already appropriated $91 million of the $500 million agreement, but $50 million of these appropriations are being held in abeyance pending resolution of project issues.

Maintaining the federal funding commitment contained in the FFGA is central to Sound Transit’s ability to afford the project. It’s important to note that the Department of Transportation and the Washington Congressional delegation have expressed support for maintaining this partnership, provided Sound Transit can address the issues raised in the IG report. As the Board now considers building the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) in phases, starting with an initial segment from downtown Seattle to the south, the staff has outlined the process for revising the FFGA so that the funds can be applied to the initial segment. Staff is focused on revising the FFGA in time to receive funding in the FY 2003 federal budget cycle.

Revising the FFGA involves considerable financial, technical review and oversight by the Department of Transportation as well as a 60-day review by Congress. Completing this process in time for the FY 2003 budget cycle will require considerable coordination with our federal partners. However it is possible that, with the support of the Federal Transit Administration, ST can complete renegotiations of its FFGA as well as a Congressional review to execute an agreement in late 2002 in time for the final decisions on the FY 2003 transportation budget next fall [PITF editor note: FY 2003 funding did not happen.].

Revising the Full Funding Grant Agreement

In January 2001, the Department of Transportation awarded a $500 million FFGA to Sound Transit for the construction of the "Minimum Operable Segment (MOS)" from NE 45th through downtown to the maintenance base at Lander Street. These funds, authorized by the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21), were to be appropriated through federal FY 2006.

If Sound Transit chooses to apply the federal funding to a different segment of the project than that described in the FFGA however, the agency needs to take a number of steps. These steps, described to the Board earlier this year, include:

Identification of a new MOS - The agency needs to identify a revised MOS which can be independently operated and submit the segment to the FTA for evaluation through the New Starts rating process.

New Starts Rating - Using the New Starts criteria, the FTA evaluates the project based on several factors, including ridership, local funding commitment and mobility improvements. Possible ratings are: "highly recommended," "recommended," and "not recommended." To be eligible for a FFGA, projects need only a "recommended" rating. Based on preliminary analysis, the staff believes that the MOS options presently being considered would receive at least a "recommended" rating.

The next round of New Starts ratings begins this fall, with ratings released in March. Preparation of the technical documentation for the New Starts rating process has already begun, based on the options for an initial segment currently being discussed. The materials necessary for the New Starts rating will be ready to transmit to the FTA after the Board makes its preliminary decision on an initial segment Sept. 27th.

Environmental Review – All formal environmental work on the MOS must be complete. This means that the MOS must be included in the LPA that has been adopted by the Board and has received a Record of Decision (ROD) from the FTA. Staff is currently working on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Tukwila freeway route that, with FTA concurrence, could be incorporated into a revised LPA later this year with an amended ROD as early as the first quarter of 2002. Staff has also requested concurrence from the FTA that the initial segment and revised MOS would not require additional formal environmental process. [Note from PITF editor: Concurrence was not granted, an Environmental Assessment document was issued February 5, 2002 with a 30 day comment period following.] The assumed schedule calls for both completing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and the Board adopting the LPA in November.

Complete Design Work – The MOS must be at a sufficient level of Final Design such that FTA can adequately evaluate the project’s technical capacity and the agency’s financial capacity to construct it. Final design is proceeding on the southern portions of the current LPA and is anticipated to begin on the Tukwila segment after that segment has been incorporated into a revised LPA and an amended ROD, and the segment has received Final Design Authorization from the FTA. The Tukwila segment could be poised to proceed to final design in the first quarter of 2002.

Complete FFGA Renegotiation and Revisions - The financial analysis, technical work and negotiation with FTA on revising the FFGA is detailed and will require close coordination and cooperation with the FTA Region X and Headquarters staff. The amended FFGA must also be reviewed by the Secretary of Transportation and the White House Office of Management and Budget. In addition, staff will continue consultations with the Inspector General to ensure that the issues raised in the interim IG report are addressed. Once the revised FFGA clears the Administration, it will be transmitted to Congress for a 60-day review.

Earlier Article: Seattle Light Rail Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) Probed by USDOT Inspector General Audit; Light Rail Project Significantly Revised as a Result

List of members of four Congressional Committees reviewing the FFGA, summer-autumn, 2003

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Last modified: February 07, 2011