Community Transit CEO says proposed federal bill would further hurt local bus service

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A proposed federal transportation bill aimed at ending long-standing dedicated funding for the nation’s transit agencies would deliver yet another financial blow to transit service throughout the region  and could delay the extension of light rail service serving Edmonds, according to Puget Sound transit leaders.

King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Kitsap Transit officials on Monday outlined the implications of losing funding that has long been dedicated to transit through the Federal Highway Trust Fund, but could shift to a smaller one-time “alternative transportation account” set to expire in 2016. The move would also leave transit systems scrambling to compete with other programs for the smaller pot of money.

If approved by Congress, the measure will further shrink transit budgets and eliminate one of the few remaining predictable funding sources for preventative maintenance and capital investments to support economic recovery and access to jobs. In 2011, the region’s transit agencies received about $324 million in federal grant revenues for transit.

Already, nearly 80 percent of public transit systems across the nation are scaling back service and raising fares due to budget challenges, according to a recent American Public Transportation Association (APTA) study.

Sound Transit, which is planning to expand its light rail service from north Seattle to Everett in the next several years, said that the bill could stop or delay voter-approved light rail expansions,  and the jobs associated with that work. The University Link light rail extension is now creating more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, and the Sound Transit 2 projects are positioned to create another 100,000, the agency said.

“The House bill calls into question some key assumptions built into our capital plan in both the short and long term,” said Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl. “Our ability to deliver on key projects, whether it’s extensions to the University of Washington, Bellevue and Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Tacoma Link, will be in question if our federal partner becomes less reliable. It is crucial that our congressional delegation work to defeat this bill.”

Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor noted that transit service “is already hurting due to the economy and this legislation really kicks us to the floor again. A reduction in federal funding would add to an already grave situation for people who take our buses to work every day and could further stall our economic recovery.”

Community Transit receives about 9 percent of its annual operating budget from these federal formula funds, and uses the money to pay for paratransit service, maintenance and replacement buses. If it is unsure whether this funding will be available year to year, those budget gaps will be filled from the general fund, which — based on current estimates — equates to a service cut of up to 9 percent. That would come on top of the 37 percent in service cuts Community Transit has already made over the last three years due to low revenues, the agency said.

The bill, approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, now goes to the full House for action. You can find more information here:

HR 3864, Tax Title approved by the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee
• Text of U.S. House Surface Transportation Authorization Bill (H.R. 7)

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