A nearly $1.2-billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration to the Seattle-area Sound Transit agency marks the largest transit grant since Donald Trump became president. As part of its designated federal Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program, the current administration has signed 13 funding agreements for $3.3 billion. 

The $1.17-billion full funding grant agreement for Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail extension, signed in December, comes along with a $658-million low-interest loan from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Build America Bureau. 

Under the grant, the FTA’s $1.17 billion equates to 36% of the total estimated cost on a project expected to begin construction in 2019 and open in 2024. Under the terms of the deal, Sound Transit commits to completing the project on time, within its budget and in compliance with all applicable federal requirements. 

The light rail northward extension, covering 8.5 miles from Northgate to the Lynnwood Transit Center, will include four stations and grade-separated track, along with 34 vehicles to service the line. 

“Thousands more commuters will escape congestion thanks to the administration’s support, which culminates long and hard work by our congressional delegation and advocates across the region,” says Peter Rogoff, Sound Transit CEO, in a statement. “Securing this highly competitive grant also reflects the federal government’s confidence in Sound Transit’s capabilities and track record.”

The project’s design was handled by a joint venture of HNTB and Jacobs Engineering Group. The preliminary construction contract for $88 million was awarded to the joint venture Stacy and Witbeck-Kiewit-Hoffman. Two more phases of construction contracts have yet to be awarded.

K. Jane Williams, FTA acting administrator, says contributions from regional funding helped Sound Transit secure the grant. 

“These funds provided through the FTA Capital Investments Grant program have been matched with significant state and local funding,” she says, “and represent an infrastructure investment in one of the nation’s fastest-growing and congested transportation corridors.” 

The federal program requires projects to go through a multiyear, multistep process for eligibility. The Sound Transit agreement marks the fourth full funding grant agreement signed under the Trump administration. Since Jan. 20, 2017, the FTA has signed funding agreements for 17 new CIG projects totaling about $4.8 billion in commitments. 

The Build America Bureau Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program allows Sound Transit up to $658 million in USDOT credit assistance. Sound Transit says the loans are forecast to save regional taxpayers between $200 million and $300 million through lower interest costs. Sound Transit can also draw on $200 million of previously approved CIG funds toward the $1.17 billion, with $100 million coming from fiscal year 2017 and $100 million in fiscal year 2018. 

While Trump and the FTA haven’t enjoyed positive press on spending grant money on transit projects, the FTA says that funding 17 projects shows the agency’s commitment to transit. 

Transportation for America spokesperson Steve Davis says that after a year and a half of inaction, his group is pleased to see the signing of full funding grant agreements. “After two years of devoting most of their awards to much smaller transit projects requiring only a single award, the Lynnwood project represents a major multiyear, ongoing funding commitment,” he says.

Dave Somers, Sound Transit Board chair and Snohomish County executive, calls this agreement a win: “This is great news for everyone in the Puget Sound region who wants to see more commuting options and our freeway congestion eased.”