North Seattle (District Five) city council member Debora Juarez and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff exchanged letters this week about the "provisional" 130th Street light rail station. Provisional is the agency's euphemism for unfunded. (Juarez actually sent her letter to ST board chair and King County executive Dow Constantine, and Constantine forwarded it to Rogoff.)
Here's some background: The 2008 voter-approved ST2 plan did not include a 130th Street station. However, last year, in response to Pinehurst neighborhood demands—and data showing a 130th stop had better ridership than ST2's 145th station (thanks Seattle Transit Blog)—the Sound Transit board, at the behest of then-ST-board member Mike O'Brien, prioritized the possibility of adding one more station into ST2's Northgate-to-Lynnwood line. The resolution directed ST to make the site at 130th—between Northgate and 145th—"station ready." That meant: If funding materialized from savings, ST was mandated to add the 130th Street station into the route when they opened the ST2 Northgate-to-Lynnwood line in 2023.
(Orwellian alert, and pet peeve: ST1 was originally supposed to go at least to Northeast 45th in the U. District, so I'm rebelliously sticking with the original terms, rather than the newspeak version which frames ST1 as SeaTac-to-Husky Stadium and ST2 as 45th-to-to-Lynnwood.)
Anyhow: When the ST board unveiled its ST3 proposal late last month (with the northern leg going from Lynnwood-to-Everett in two phases, by 2036 and 2041) and the 130th St. station was listed as "provisional," it was something of a shocker to North Seattle residents who thought the station was at least a possibility for ST2. Adding insult to injury: 130th wasn't even part of ST3.
New city council member Juarez, who's had trouble finding her footing (in comparison to the other newbies like populist Lisa Herbold, urbanist Rob Johnson, and civil rights leader Lorena González), finally found an issue that clicked. And earlier this week, she sent her protest letter challenging ST's explanation for taking the 130th Street station out of the ST equation. ST head Rogoff, who joked this week that Juarez has filled out the ST3 survey numerous times, has said that a touchy $1.2 billion federal grant for the Northgate-to-Lynnwood line—which is in the works, but not signed yet—would be jeopardized by any sudden moves, like adding a new station to the route.
Juarez's letter outlined an apparent gotcha. Light rail planners in Denver had added an extra station to the mix despite a standing agreement with the feds.
Juarez had inadvertently picked a fight with wrong guy, though. Rogoff, the brand new ST CEO, comes to the agency after a long stint in D.C. as first, a senate budget committee staffer where he worked for 22 years, including working closely with U.S. senator Patty Murray on ST funding, then as head of the Federal Transit Administration between 2009 and 2014, and finally as undersecretary for policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Rogoff has intimate knowledge of the Denver project; he's the one who signed off on it.
He explained to Juarez that Denver was able to add a station because the Panasonic corporation put up private money for its local headquarters. Public private partnerships like that are tricky to pull off in Washington state thanks to state legislative rules that are skeptical of the potential for privatizing profits while make the risks public.
Here are excerpts from the letter exchange between Juarez and Rogoff.
A concerned constituent recently drew my attention to a quite germane and recent example of an FTA project in Denver, referred to as the 61st and Peña Station.
Notably, both the Denver station and NE 130th are infill stations set to be constructed along rail lines that have received Federal Transit Authority grants. In Denver, city and county officials successfully added the 61st and Peña Station to the broader “Eagle P3” project while construction was underway. Officials in the Federal Transit Administration initially resisted the addition of the Denver station, but soon relented after continued advocacy by city and county officials. As such, the federal grant was never jeopardized. The station was paid for with local funds and the FTA did not penalize the community for prioritizing and paying for its needs.
I am well familiar with the Denver Eagle P3 project as I negotiated and signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for the project on behalf of the Federal Government when I served as Federal Transit Administrator. Importantly, Peña Station was never part of the Federal Eagle P3 project and was proposed for construction only after the Eagle P3 project had received a Full Funding Grant Agreement and after it began receiving annual Federal Appropriations. Moreover, the construction of Peña Station wasn't funded from either the Federal Government or the transit agency that built the Eagle P3 Project. Funding for Peña Station was instead provided from the private sponsor of the much larger surrounding real estate development that now includes Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. as its anchor tenant. A much smaller funding contribution was provided by an airport enterprise development fund from Denver International Airport.
Rogoff also pointed out that the Denver agreement with the feds was already a done deal. Not so with ST2. Committing to a new station as part of ST2, despite last year year's board pledge, would kick the grant application to the back of the line and jeopardize the entire Lynnwood route, he says.
However, this doesn't answer another, separate question: Why isn't the 130th Street station—once a possibility in ST2—even part of ST3 now.
I asked Rogoff that question this week at an ST3 forum. He told me it could be—and it could certainly be added to the line as part of the ST3 schedule just like the infill Graham Street station (coming in 2036) in Southeast Seattle. However, he said that was a board decision. And at the moment it's not on the list.
I have a call in to Juarez. But her transit wonk city council colleague (and Sound Transit board member) Rob Johnson—who is also advocating for the the 130th Street station—says given the cost savings we've seen in ST1 ($200 million...which would more than cover the 13oth Street station), he's currently lobbying his fellow board members to include 130th in the ST3 plan by banking on similar savings in ST2.
He also points out that the recent $930 million transportation levy included some money ($10 million) for the Graham Street station in Southeast Seattle and could, he hopes, for 130th—though currently it does not.
In an ST3 funding scenario—which wouldn't jeopardize federal money for the current Northgate-to- Lynnwood line—Johnson would like to see 130th built as an infill sometime shortly after ST2 came online, perhaps 2025 or 2026.
I don't have a PDF of Rogoff's letter to link (Juarez's letter is linked in full above), so here is Rogoff's letter in full as an email:
April 14, 2016
Thank you for copying me and Members of the Sound Transit Board into your letter to Chairman Constantine regarding the proposed 130th Street Station. Your letter speaks to the eligibility of the proposed project to be considered as part of the current Federal Lynnwood LINK project. The letter also advances the observations of one of your constituents who sees parallels between the proposed 130th Street Station project and the Peña Station project in Denver. Since I have strongly advised the Board against reopening the Federal Lynnwood LINK project for any scope or alignment changes, I thought I should share for all involved an explanation of how the two projects differ and the rationale for my advice.
I am well familiar with the Denver Eagle P3 project as I negotiated and signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for the project on behalf of the Federal Government when I served as Federal Transit Administrator. Importantly, Peña Station was never part of the Federal Eagle P3 project and was proposed for construction only after the Eagle P3 project had received a Full Funding Grant Agreement and after it began receiving annual Federal Appropriations. Moreover, the construction of Peña Station wasn't funded from either the Federal Government or the transit agency that built the Eagle P3 Project. Funding for Peña Station was instead provided from the private sponsor of the much larger surrounding real estate development that now includes Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. as its anchor tenant (see http://www.fulenwider.com/Properties/Pena-Station.aspx). A much smaller funding contribution was provided by an airport enterprise development fund from Denver International Airport.
In contrast, the Lynnwood LINK project does not yet have a Full Funding Grant Agreement and has not yet received any Federal funding. What it has received is admittance to the "Engineering" phase which precedes the negotiation of a final FFGA. That recent designation followed the submission and evaluation of voluminous documentation regarding alignment, cost, and expected passenger travel time savings, none of which assumed the construction of the 130th Street Station. Based on the content of those very detailed submissions, the FTA admitted the project into "Engineering", established a Federal rating for the project, and set a maximum Federal contribution for the project of $1,172,730,000. The following day, the Administration submitted a budget to Congress seeking the first $125,000,000 toward that contribution. Having achieved these major milestones, my advice to the Sound Transit Board is that they not now go back and seek to reconfigure the project, pull out of the Engineering phase, and submit all new documentation to the FTA over the course of the following year in the hope of convincing a new Congress and a new Administration to again advance the project - all before we have received the first Federal dollar. I believe that this course could put the entire Federal contribution at risk.
That is not to say that the 130th Street Station can never be built. My advice to the Board centers solely on seeking to build the 130th Street Station as part of the Federal Lynnwood LINK project. The draft ST3 plan released by the Sound Transit Board for public comment last month identifies the 130th Street Station as a provisional investment. Should this plan be adopted by the voters, the Sound Transit Board will be free to fund the station at a later time if sufficient revenues can be found to pay for it. Moreover, as you pointed out during the City Council session on Monday, the draft ST3 plan also includes infill stations proposed to be built to augment already-completed light rail segments that received Federal funding in the past.
I hope this explanation sheds some light on the differences between the two aforementioned projects and the current status of the Federal funding process. I would be happy to meet again in your office to discuss this matter further if it would be helpful. In the interim, please don't hesitate to contact me with further questions.
With best wishes,