In recent weeks there has been much public debate about the proposed Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector. Public debate on major projects like this is healthy and can improve the final outcome. But it’s important to be mindful of accuracy when portraying information related to the project. Recently a Letter to the Editor was published in My Edmonds News entitled “Facts about likelihood of funding for proposed Waterfront Connector” by Rebecca Elmore-Yalch. The writer had apparently done some research into the project’s projected cost and a potential federal funding source, but her letter included some inaccuracies and, more importantly, failure to include a great deal of additional important and relevant information. Consequently, we would like to share the following information to correct the record:
- Elmore-Yalch questions the financial feasibility of the Waterfront Connector project because of information she cites about one federal transportation infrastructure program she mentions: “Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development” or BUILD. She is correct in most of what she cited about the increasing competition for BUILD funds around the country, and the increasing expectation by the federal government for higher “local matches” (“local” meaning city, county, regional, state, etc.).
- However, she failed to mention that the city has applied for, will apply for, and is investigating other federal funding sources, in addition to funds from local, regional and state partners. Such other federal sources include the “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” (INFRA) program, the “Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant” (CRISI) program, and the “Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act” (TIFIA), among potentially others.
- While the city may not be able to expect an 80% federal funding match as with past projects, even with a higher “local match” of, say 50%, it is incorrect 1) to assume that the remaining 50% would come solely from the BUILD program, given these other, above-mentioned funding sources. There is certainly reason to apply for, and even expect, more robust federal funding contributions, given a richer mix of funding sources.
- What’s more, Ms. Elmore-Yalch cited that the 2019 BUILD appropriation had decreased over previous years, ostensibly to make the point that even less money will be available for local projects from this source. However, the House has already proposed increased funding for 2020, and there is reason to believe that future year’s BUILD appropriations may continue at higher levels, especially given Congress’s recent push for greater infrastructure investment.
- She also mentioned that previously incurred expenses “cannot” be included in “local match” requirements for BUILD applications. This is not accurate. While she cited information from Patrick Doherty in an email to Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, she misstated that information. In that email Doherty informed Councilmember Buckshnis that the Administration had recently stated its preference to exclude “previously incurred” expenses from a project’s “local match.” However, since that initial preference was made public, the push-back from around the nation has been loud and swift. Our city’s work led to a letter, signed by many regional entities and issued by Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, to our federal elected representatives as well as Administration officials. Additionally, members of Congress are now pushing hard to rescind this Administration preference. In fact, as of the most recent check, the INFRA statute is currently silent on the issue of previously incurred expenses. This is an issue that all parties must continue to push back against, but it is not true that our already-incurred expenses of approximately $1.7 million for the Waterfront Connector cannot be included in our “local match” at this time.
- The city has spent a relatively minor amount of money on this project to date: $250,000; only 15% of the $1.7M expended. The next phase of the project, comprised of continuing design work, environmental review and identification of mitigation measures, permitting, etc., will be funded entirely by state grant monies — no additional city money at this time.
- To conclude that this project is not financially feasible at this still early date is both incorrect and premature. We have received and/or secured commitments for over $10 million from local, regional and state agencies which comprises the current level of our “local match.” If we were to aim for, say, a 50% local match, that would be approximately $14 million from a variety of nonfederal “local” sources. Continued outreach to our partners, BNSF, the state, etc., could bridge that approximately $4 million gap.
- And to expect up to 50% in federal funds from a variety of sources (BUILD, INFRA, CRISI, TIFIA, etc.) is neither unreasonable nor infeasible.
- Multiple city projects in the past, current city projects now in the queue, and future city projects not even conceived at this time, will rely on funding from a variety of resources outside our city. This is how these projects get funded and accomplished. It requires patience and perseverance and our city has both of those qualities to tackle long term projects that will have a lasting and positive impact in our community.
One last point that needs to be stated: the financial cost pales compared to the potential loss of life and property due to blockages of our two at grade crossings. Whether it is a five-minute blockage from a mile-long train or a four-hour blockage due to an accident on the tracks, an emergency on the westside of our city will require an immediate response. And to those who say we have yet to suffer such a loss of life or loss of property, how long should we wait? What is the casualty limit that triggers a response? One life lost, two lives? A major fire in the marina or a local restaurant? We need to be proactive not reactive as the number of residents and visitors using our many waterfront amenities continues to grow. And like all projects in our city, a great deal of thought and public input has gone into the selection of the location and the design of the waterfront connector, which was identified as the best solution of over fifty potential options for creating emergency waterfront access. We now have 40-plus trains a day going through our city on one track. In the near future we will have 100-plus trains a day on two tracks. We simply must be prepared.
Dave Teitzel, Edmonds City Council, Pos. #5
Thomas Mesaros, Edmonds City Council, Pos. #6