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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Sound Transit Central Link back on track


Last April, Sound Transit faced mounting criticism about rising cost estimates and community consensus regarding the agency’s Central Link light-rail project, prompting Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead to recommend federal funds be put on hold.

Since then, the agency completely reorganized, strengthened cost and budget controls and intensified community outreach. And its efforts seem to be paying off.

Federal Transit Administration’s Annual Report on New Starts, released March 22, gave Central Link’s initial segment a "Recommended" rating, which means the project again is eligible for federal funds.

With community input, Sound Transit’s board last year identified an Initial Segment running from downtown Seattle to Tukwila, with a shuttle service to SeaTac Airport. The administration’s fiscal-year 2003 budget did not, however, include a funding recommendation for Central Link. Sound Transit officials expect to renegotiate a federal funding agreement later this year.

A financial analysis the agency released March 21 likely will aid Sound Transit in those discussions. Last year, Sound Transit collected about $268 million in tax revenues — $5.93 million (2.26 percent) more than forecast in late 2000. And, the agency collected $8.62 million (3.32 percent) more than a forecast revision post-Sept. 11.

"Even with the recession and the economic fallout from the events of Sept. 11, Sound Transit’s forecasting methodology is performing very well," said Kevin Phelps, Sound Transit board member and Finance Committee chair, in a prepared statement. "The best news is that the agency’s original revenue forecast anticipated — and correctly adjusted for — the recession that started in the second quarter of 2001."

Sound Transit receives its revenues from retail sales and use, motor-vehicle excise, and rental car taxes.