A pair of Federal Transit Administration grants will help expand transit in the Pacific Northwest. K. Jane Williams, acting administrator for the FTA, visited Washington state and Portland in late January to officially announce two grants, one that brings $790 million to Sound Transit to extend light rail for Federal Way and another $87.4 million to TriMet to bring bus rapid transit to a 15-miles stretch of Portland streets. 

Both projects have significance beyond the dollar figures. 

For Sound Transit, the regional transit agency for the Puget Sound, the $790 million Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Federal Way Link Extension project will extend light rail 7.8 miles while serving three stations. Demolition and utility relocation work has already started, and full construction is planned to begin early this year. 

“Completing this light rail extension to South King County will transform people’s commutes and position us to start building light rail from Federal Way to Pierce County starting only five years from now,” says Kent Keel, Sound Transit board chair and University Place council member, in a statement. 

Williams says the one-seat ride between King County, Sea-Tac Airport, downtown Seattle and the University of Washington improves access for everyone in the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit is growing its reach throughout the region. 

The grant, along with a $629.5 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, finalized in December 2019, will support Sound Transit launching construction this year. The new loan is the fourth and final under Sound Transit’s $1.99 billion TIFIA Master Credit Agreement signed with USDOT’s Build America Bureau at the end of 2016. The agreement, Sound Transit says, saves regional taxpayers between $200 million and $300 million in borrowing costs. 

Williams made an additional stop to hand out FTA grants while in the Pacific Northwest, dropping in on Portland’s TriMet to award $87.4 million to build out a bus rapid transit corridor along a 15-miles stretch of Division Street, connecting Portland east to Gresham, one of the most heavily trafficked bus lines in the region. 

The grant will pay approximately half of the over $175 million project cost to improve service with 60-ft-long articulated buses, larger stations and upgrades to the roadway infrastructures along the route. 

The project, set to begin in early 2020, is planned for a fall 2022 opening. 

The contract was awarded to Raimore Construction, the largest Disadvantaged Business Enterprise contract in Oregon history.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb