Passing Budget 2021 Brings Current Light Rail Expansions Full Steam Ahead

The Sound Transit Board has approved a 2021 budget that will continue intensive work to complete voter-approved transit projects across the region while continuing to operate existing services.

Over the next four years the region’s light rail system will grow from 22 to 62 miles and from 22 to 50 stations, including a 7.8 mile extension from SeaTac through Kent to Federal Way which will be completed in 2024, according to a December 17. press release on the council vote.

These expansions also include work to open service to Seattle’s Northgate area in 2021, Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood in 2022, Bellevue and Redmond in 2023, and Lynnwood in 2024. These major infrastructure investments will not only support future mobility region, but will also provide thousands of jobs that are helping to fuel our region’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

While these near-term extensions will remain fully funded, 2021 will also include critical work to address the major revenue impacts of COVID-19 needed to continue advancing other voter-approved projects not yet in progress. construction, according to the press release.

These projects include further light rail expansions, as well as investments in the establishment of Stride bus rapid transit and the expansion of the Sounder commuter rail. The Sound Transit Board will continue work on its realignment process, which will update the agency’s capital program schedules and plans to accommodate agency revenues that have been reduced due to the pandemic. . At the same time, the agency will continue to work to manage the impact of rising project costs due to very difficult construction market conditions.

“Despite the headwinds we and other governments are facing amid the pandemic, Sound Transit is firmly committed to providing the services and infrastructure expansion our region’s residents need to survive and thrive,” said Kent Keel, Chairman of the Board of Sound Transit and member of the University Place Council, in the press release. “We will make 2021 a year of significant construction progress that will help fuel our region’s economic recovery. »

“Sound Transit is now on track to nearly triple the length of our network over the next four years as we add 40 new kilometers of light rail crisscrossing our region,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “These projects will not only provide our region with much-needed transport mobility, but they will also put thousands of people to work.

2021 Budget Summary

Overall the 2021 budget assumes revenue and other sources of funding of $3 billion and expenses of $3.1 billion, with the difference coming from unrestricted cash balances, according to the press release.

The capital and other projects budget is $2.5 billion, primarily for preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition and construction for network expansion projects, an increase of 119 $.5 million or 5% from the 2020 budget. The budget includes modest amounts to advance project preparation and explore scope reduction options to help inform the board as it works to produce a final realignment plan.

The 2021 transit operating budget is $380.6 million, 5.9% higher than the 2020 budget. The increase is limited to incremental operating costs related to the opening of transit. Northgate Link extension and O&M installation is in 2021. Due to the significant impact of COVID-19 on agency revenue and the need to find savings where possible , Sound Transit internally absorbs other anticipated cost increases, such as increased fares from our transit operating partners and higher costs associated with public safety, insurance and maintenance .

The budget includes $207.6 million for debt service, operating contingencies, contributions to other governments, tax collection costs, and sales and use tax clearing costs . The agency’s unrestricted cash balance is expected to be $672.8 million by the end of 2021.

The board is currently working on a realignment process to determine which plans and timelines for voter-approved projects will need to change due to lower revenue projections, in the absence of alternative revenue. The agency currently projects that lost tax revenue by 2041 will be between $6 billion and $12 billion. Forecasts will continue to be updated throughout 2021.

With revenue significantly depleted, Sound Transit will not be able to complete many expansion projects within the original timelines unless we receive alternative revenue from federal or state sources without securing financial support.

Next year, the board will seek feedback from the public and partner agencies on the realignment in order to make a final decision on changes to the project over the summer. For more information on realignment, visit

Jose P. Rogers