Sound Transit’s Federal Way Link Extension cleared a key hurdle toward gaining a federal grant as the agency continues to work with the Federal Transit Administration on obtaining funding from the Capital Investment Grant program, the government’s primary financial resource for supporting local transit capital projects. 

The Federal Way project was recently approved to advance to the engineering phase, a necessary step toward securing the full grant, while earning a “Medium-High” rating by the federal reviewers, one of the highest marks in the country. By moving the project into the engineering phase, the FTA locked in the grand funding amount at $790 million, the level requested by Sound Transit.

Moving forward, the local agency will continue work to advance the application to final fruition. 

“This is the next step to extend Link light rail to the heart of South King County and position us to continue onward to Tacoma,” said John Marchione, Sound Transit Board chair and Redmond mayor, in a statement. “Light rail will offer congestion-free travel in the South Sound across a regional system that will eventually extend 116 miles.” 

The grant program requires that projects seeking funding complete a series of steps over several years to become eligible. The FTA approved the Federal Way Link Extension to enter project development in 2016. Following this latest step, Sound Transit will work with FTA to show both readiness and capacity to reach completion by the project’s scheduled 2024 date.

The Sound Transit board had already established the scope, schedule and baseline budget of $2.45 billion last year. Under new guidelines, the FTA requires additional contingency funding for all its grant projects, which means Sound Transit is now seeking 25 percent funding of the total federal project estimate of $3.1 billion, which also includes funding the purchase of 20 additional vehicles. 

Trains on the 7.8-mile light rail extension from Angle Lake in SeaTac south of Seattle to Federal Way will serve three stations along the route in Kent/Des Moines, at South 272nd Street and the Federal Way Transit Center. Demolition and utility relocation work is scheduled to begin this fall, with major construction activities slated to start in 2020. 

“South Sound commuters critically need relief from ever-worsening traffic congestion and access to the opportunities that mass transit creates. Our partnership with the FTA is critical to getting the Federal Way Link Extension underway,” said Peter Rogoff, Sound Transit CEO, in a statement. “We’ll be working closely with the Federal Transit Administration and our Congressional delegation to obtain this funding.”

As Sound Transit continues its plan to form a 116-mile regional system by 2041 as the fastest-growing transit agency in the country, the next scheduled extension opening is Northgate Link in 2021, followed by East Link in 2023. Additional extensions to Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Ken/Des Moines, Federal Way and downtown Redmond are planned in 2024. Further light rail extensions will reach West Seattle, Fife and Tacoma in 2030, Ballard in 2035, Paine Field and Everett in 2036 and South Kirkland and Issaquah in 2041. 

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb