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Donald Trump’s budget would cut federal funding for light rail expansion

As Sound Transit announces skyrocketing ridership, the President’s budget could cause major delays

A light rail train with blue, green, and teal details. The LED reader on the front says “Sound Transit.” VeloBusDriver/Flickr

A year ago Sunday, Sound Transit opened two new stations on the Link light rail line, Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium. The expansion has made riding light rail part of everyday life for many; compared to February 2016, average weekday ridership is up 89 percent.

Link light rail is expanding even further, with stations in the University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate planned for 2021.

Sound Transit was toward the end of securing the $1.17 billion in funding needed for jumping even further northward to Lynnwood and south to Federal Way when it hit a major snag: President Donald Trump’s budget, which would cut off the federal grant program that Sound Transit was relying on.

According to the budget blueprint, the America First budget “[l]imits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only. Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

Former President Barack Obama had allocated $125 million to get the project started in his 2017 budget. But if the current President’s budget passes as written, more than half of the $1.9 billion price tag will remain unaccounted for.

Voters approved the extensions in November 2016 as part of the Sound Transit 3 package, and abandoning the project altogether, Q13 reports, is not an option.

With the package, voters also approved an increase in car tab fees to partially cover the cost of the project—a hike that was already unpopular. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogloff told Q13 that while the rate won’t go up any further, the higher rate could go on for longer until the projects are done.

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that the future of around $90 million in funding for the line’s Tacoma expansion is less clear.

Nothing is set in stone yet. Trump’s proposal is an early step in a months-long budgeting process, which involves budget resolutions in both the House and Senate—not to mention committees of the House and Senate—before becoming a final budget bill.