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Seattle, Washington/Seattle Link Light Rail

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Seattle Link Light Rail

Seattle, Washington

(November 1998)


Sound Transit (Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority) is planning a 24-mile Central Link light rail transit (LRT) project running north to south from Northgate, through downtown Seattle, Southeast Seattle and the cities of Tukwila and SeaTac. At least 21 stations are planned, with six additional stations along the corridor under consideration. The system would utilize new right-of-way, except in the existing 1.6 mile Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit estimates a total of 155,200 daily riders, including 57,000 daily new riders, on the 24-mile system in 2020. Capital costs for the entire project are $2.9 billion (escalated dollars), with annual operating costs estimated at $44.4 million (1997 dollars). Sound Transit is requesting a 50% Section 5309 share of project costs. Sound Transit will break the system into a series of minimum operable segments as a means of implementing the project.

The Link LRT system is one element of Sound Transit's voter-approved ten year, $3.914 billion ($1995) Sound Move regional transit plan, which also includes implementation of a 2-mile LRT line in downtown Tacoma; an 82-mile Sounder commuter rail system operating between Lakewood and Everett; 20 new regional express bus routes; 14 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) direct access ramps (providing access to over 100 miles of existing HOV lanes); 14 new park and ride lots and 9 transit centers; and other service improvements.

Seattle Link Light Rail Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line;
24 miles, 21 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $2.92 billion
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $1.46 million
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $44.4 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 155,000 average weekday boardings
57,000 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: High
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


The RTA Board adopted the Sound Move regional transit plan in May, 1996. Voters approved $3.914 billion in local funding for implementation of the plan in November, 1996. A Major Investment Study of Sound Move's services was completed in March 1997. Sound Move is included in the Puget Sound Regional Council's (the area's MPO) Transportation Plan and Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

FTA approved initiation of preliminary engineering on the Link LRT in July 1997. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled for publication in December 1998. Sound Transit will examine minimum operable segments (MOS) of the project in the final design phase of project development.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(85) authorizes the Seattle Sound Move Corridor, of which Link is one element, for final design and construction. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $16.91 million for the Link light rail project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Information was provided by Sound Transit comparing the New Start to the TSM alternative for the 24-mile LRT project. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

Sound Transit estimates the following travel time savings for the New Start compared with the TSM alternative.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) N/A 21.1 million

Based on 1990 US Census data, Sound Transit estimates that 11,081 low-income households are located within a ½ mile radius of the 21 proposed stations (representing 21 percent of total households located within a ½ mile radius of stations).

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

The Central Puget Sound Area is classified as a maintenance area for carbon monoxide and ozone. Spot areas in the region are designated as non-attainment for PM10. Sound Transit estimates the following reductions in emissions for the Link light rail.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) N/A decrease of 307 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) N/A decrease of 2,274 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) N/A decrease of 362 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A decrease of 24 annual tons
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) N/A decrease of 57,178 annual tons

Sound Transit estimates the following changes in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units - BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) N/A decrease of 526,176 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

Sound Transit estimates a decrease in the systemwide operating costs per passenger mile in 2020 for the Link light rail compared to the TSM alternative.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) N/A $0.46 $0.44

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium-High

Sound Transit estimates the following cost-effectiveness indices.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger N/A $10.39

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: High

The 24-mile Link Central LRT project is rated High for the strong transit-supportive policies in place along the corridor and the regionís commitment to growth management and transit-oriented development. The corridor links the Seattle CBD with surrounding neighborhoods to the east, south, and north, and is characterized by high density mixed uses (commercial, retail, residential) in a pedestrian friendly environment. The proposed alignment serves several high trip generators. Current bus transit ridership along the corridor totals 140,000 daily riders. Strong growth management policies are in place supported by the State's Growth Management Act, the Puget Sound Regional Council's Vision 2020 land use plan, and locally adopted comprehensive plans which concentrate growth into urban centers served by high capacity transit. Local jurisdictions along the corridor have demonstrated a strong commitment to station area planning aimed at supporting transit-oriented development, and several communities have prepared transit-oriented development plans and programs. Zoning adjacent to stations generally support mixed-use, high-density development. Station area planning is underway, with significant community involvement. Parking policies in Seattle promote reduced parking supply in the vicinity of transit.

Other Factors

Multimodal Emphasis with Regional Integration: Sound Transitís Sound Move is a multimodal program of commuter rail, light rail, bus, and HOV systems connected to a network of park and ride lots and transit centers. Forty percent of projected riders will be on modes other than light rail. Sound Transit intends to integrate its services with the region's five other existing bus operators, the State ferry system, the operation of the State's HOV system, and other regional, interstate, and international services. By 1999, Sound Transit projects that the region's public transit riders will be able to ride regionwide on a single fare/pass.

Independent Review and Citizen Oversight: The cost and ridership projections and financial methodology for the project were reviewed by an independent State-appointed Expert Review Panel.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 50%

Sound Transit proposes to fund the Link light rail system with equal shares of Federal Section 5309 funds ($1.46 billion) and local resources, consisting of a combination of motor vehicle excise tax revenues, a sales and use tax, and local issue bonds ($1.46 billion).

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: High

The Link capital financial plan demonstrates a very high degree of local financial commitment to the project. Sound Transit's Sound Move program, which includes the Link light rail project, is supported by two local tax sources: a 0.4% sales and use tax, and a 0.3% motor vehicle excise tax (MVET), approved by the region's voters in November 1996. The taxes continue in perpetuity with no sunset provisions and are dedicated solely to Sound Transit projects. In 1998, Sound Transit expects to receive $175.1 million from the sales and use tax, and $44.5 million from the MVET. Growth in tax revenues from these sources has outpaced inflation, reflecting positive regional economic growth. Conservative forecasts of local economic growth and inflation were used to project funding from local tax sources. Capital cost estimates are reasonable given the size and proposed design of the project, and adequate contingencies exist to cover unanticipated cost overruns.

The financial plan calls for a $1.46 billion in Section 5309 New Starts funds. Sound Transit plans to examine a series of MOS alignments to best reflect potential Federal participation in the project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The Link operating finance plan rating of High reflects the dedicated operating revenues available to operate the entire Sound Move transit plan. Sound Transit has a dedicated revenue stream that is available in its entirety to finance Sound Transit projects; no revenues will be drawn from sources that are used to support existing transit services (local bus operators independently collect their own transit-dedicated sales taxes which are matched by locally collected motor vehicle excise taxes). Sound Transitís financing plan fully covers all operating costs, debt service and capital replacement costs following completion of the construction program. Sound Transit has stated that if no major capital programs are undertaken (beyond the Sound Move transit plan), it will be possible to reduce Sound Transitís local tax rate and still meet all on-going financial requirements.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $1,458.0 $16.91 million appropriated through FY 1999
Sales and Use Tax $706.7

MVET $187.8

Bonds $564.5

Total: $2,917.0

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Seattle Link Light Rail Map (PDF)]

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact