Seattle, Washington/Central Link LRT (MOS)

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Central Link LRT (MOS)

Seattle, Washington

(November 1999)

(Central Link LRT Map)


Sound Transit (Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority) is planning a 23.5-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, Washington. Link will consist of 23 stations, four new park-and-ride lots, and one existing lot. The system would operate on existing and new right-of-way (ROW), including the existing 1.6 mile Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit estimates a total of 156,400 daily riders on the 23.5-mile system in 2020. Capital costs for the entire project are $3.1 billion (escalated dollars), with annual operating costs estimated at $62.5 million (escalated dollars).

Sound Transit proposes to implement the system in several minimum operable segments (MOS). The MOS being proposed for Federal funding under TEA-21 will extend 7.2 miles from NE 45th Street station southward to the South Lander Street station. This alignment includes 4.5 miles of wholly new and exclusive ROW, 1.3 miles of exclusive transit ROW in the existing Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and 1.4 miles of ROW reconfigured from an existing busway south of Downtown. Sound Transit estimates average weekday boardings of 87,200 for the MOS in 2020. The estimated cost of this segment is $1,500 million (escalated dollars).

The Link LRT system is one element of Sound Transit's voter-approved ten year, $3.9 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.

Central Link LRT Transit Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line (MOS)
7.2 miles, 10 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $1.5 billion
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $0.5 billion
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $62.5 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 87,200 average weekday boardings
39,800 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: High
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The Highly Recommended rating is based on the project’s strong estimated cost effectiveness, transit supportive land use plans and policies, and local financial commitment. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999 . 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 Sound Transit 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 (EIS) was published in December 1998. The Final EIS was initiated in February 1999 and was distributed for public review in November 1999. The Sound Transit board formally adopted the 7.2 mile-MOS for Federal participation on November 18, 1999. Sound Transit expects to begin LRT operations in 2006.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(85) authorizes the Seattle Sound Move Corridor (Link and Sounder), of which Link is one element, for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $41.44 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 MOS and for the full LRT system. This evaluation pertains only to the 7.2-mile MOS. FTA has concurred with Sound Transit’s methodology that evaluates the Link TSM and No-Build scenarios as equivalent with each other. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. FTA will re-evaluate the project when it is ready to advance into final design and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The High project justification rating reflects strong cost effectiveness and transit supportive land use and the adequacy of the other justification criteria.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

The 7.2-mile MOS is expected to serve 87,200 average weekday boardings, including 39,800 daily new riders. 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 12.8 million

Based on 1990 data, Sound Transit estimates that 7,879 low-income households are located within a ½ mile radius of the 10 proposed stations (representing 11 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 301 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) N/A decrease of 2,303 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) N/A decrease of 171 annual ton
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A 5
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) N/A decrease of 32,758 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 increase of 407,589 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

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

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) N/A $0.47 $0.45

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low

Sound Transit estimates the following cost-effectiveness indiex.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger N/A $3.30

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: High

The High land use rating reflects the dense and transit supportive land uses along the proposed MOS corridor and the strong land use policies in place throughout the region.

Existing Conditions: The proposed Federally-funded MOS begins in the University District , parallels Interstate 5, runs through the Seattle central business district (CBD) and terminates in the Duwamish industrial area. Station areas (one-half mile radius) in the central LRT corridor contained an estimated population of 95,800. Employment within a one-quarter mile radius was 231,800. Average population density within a one-half mile station radius is 7,000 people per square mile. It also runs through some dense residential areas, and serves several large trip generators with a large portion of existing transit trips. Major trip generators include: the University of Washington (UW); UW Medical Center and Hospital; UW football stadium and basketball arena; the Capital Hill/First Hill neighborhood (density = 16,000 persons per square mile); Seattle Central Community College; Seattle University; four hospitals; Denny Regrade Area (high density residential); and sports stadiums and exhibition centers at the proposed Royal Brougham Station.

The CBD and several neighborhoods served by the project are characterized by mixed land uses in a pedestrian-friendly environment. Single occupancy vehicles constitute less than 50 percent of the mode split in the University District, Capital Hill/First Hill neighborhood, and Downtown Seattle. High parking costs in the CBD, averaging over $20 per day, limit the desirability of parking. In March 1999, the Seattle City Council adopted a Station Area Interim Overlay District Ordinance restricting the development of new primary parking facilities and other restrictions on the location and access to parking in an area ¼ mile around proposed station areas.

Future Plans and Policies: The State of Washington adopted the Growth Management Act of 1990 which attempts to contain sprawl and focus development in urban areas. The Puget Sound Regional Council has adopted Vision 2020, the long-range Plan for the region which promotes development of urban centers, and each locality has adopted a comprehensive plan that builds on this regional plan and emphasizes consistency. Land use planning is well-coordinated with transportation planning. Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan identifies a network of Urban Centers, Hub Urban Centers, and Residential Villages within which new growth will be concentrated. Seattle monitors its progress on implementing the plan and prepares a report every two years. The City has completed several planning documents that include policies to support transit-oriented development (TOD) and has adopted a resolution that establishes goals and strategies to promote TOD. These include: Background Report for Light Rail Station Area Planning in Seattle: Existing Conditions and Future Prospects for Transit-Oriented Development; Background Report for Light Rail Station Area Planning in Seattle: Station Area Profiles; neighborhood plans for all neighborhoods along the line; and Ordinance #119394 – Station Area Interim Overlay District.

Zoning to support transit-related development is already in place. The LRT corridor was planned specifically to link urban centers identified in Vision 2020, (a regional land use plan/growth strategy) where high densities are accommodated with existing zoning. Several Seattle city departments, in cooperation with the Washington Department of Transportation and King County, are collaborating on a comprehensive parking study as part of the Seattle Light Rail Station Area Planning process and implementation of the Transportation Strategic Plan.

The City has adopted an interim zoning overlay to prohibit new auto-oriented uses in and around station areas. This measure expires in March 2000. Upon completion of the station area planning process, City staff will recommend that the Council adopt station specific objectives. Furthermore, the City is partnering with a bank and Fannie Mae to establish a Location Efficient Mortgage program that allows homebuyers purchasing homes in close proximity to transit to qualify for higher mortgages than they would otherwise be eligible for.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 67%

Sound Transit proposes $500.0 million (33 percent) in Section 5309 funds, and $1.0 billion (67 percent) in local funds for the project. Local sources will consist of a sales and use tax, motor vehicle excise tax, and local issue bonds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the solid financial condition of Sound Transit and the agency’s dedicated local revenue sources.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The financial condition of Sound Transit is strong. In 1996, voters approved a $3.9 billion Sound Move regional transit plan to be supported by two dedicated local tax sources. The taxes continue in perpetuity with no sunset provisions and are dedicated solely to Sound Transit projects. Sound Transit intends to bond against these revenues to implement the Sound Move program and has received an A1 rating from Moody’s Investor Service.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Cost estimates have increased from last year, for both the MOS and the entire project, because of increased right-of-way costs and mitigation components. Adequate provisions exist to cover unanticipated cost overruns. The agency applies adequate cost contingencies to all capital items. Furthermore, it maintains two capital reserve funds which are a bond reserve fund equal to one year’s debt servicing and an operating reserve fund equal to two months of operating expenditures. The agency’s ultimate contingency is its untapped debt capacity. Sound Transit could issue additional bonds without violating its debt policy or legislated constraints on capacity.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-New Starts funding exists and is committed. Sound Transit has access to two strong local tax sources for its exclusive use – a Sales and Use Tax and a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) - which will contribute $475 million to the project. These sources are separate from sources that fund other transit services in the Seattle area. Growth in tax revenues from these sources has outpaced inflation. The 0.4 percent Sales and Use Tax and the 0.3 percent MVET have existed since the inception of Sound Move in 1996. These sources help Sound Transit contribute a strong local match and to issue and service long-term debt ($524 million in bonds) as part of the local match.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed capital revenue sources currently exist. No new sources are needed.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects Sound Transit’s stable and reliable operating revenues, but acknowledges some concern with the operating condition of other transit providers in the region.

Agency Operating Condition: In recent years Sound Transit has experienced a zero operating balance (operating costs equal operating revenues), a 20 to 25 percent farebox recovery ratio, and consistent ridership levels. According to the financial plan, operation of the MOS, as well as the full project, will not detract from other Sound Transit project initiatives (e.g., commuter rail, express bus).

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Operating costs are estimated at $62.5 million and appear reasonable. If economic growth slows or financial difficulties occur, sales tax revenues may be used to secure additional debt funding.

Existing and Committed Funding: The financial plan uses the same tax revenue sources to fund operations as are used to fund capital expenditures. These dedicated local sources are anticipated to provide 86 percent of all operating revenues when service is open in 2007. Sound Transit assumes a farebox recovery ratio of 55 percent for the overall Link project. Analysis by the agency actually projects a recovery ratio of 66 percent, but the more conservative estimate is used for the financial plan.

Initiative 695 (I-695), which voters adopted in November 1999 adds a degree of uncertainty about the operation of services provided by other providers in the Central Puget Sound region.

I-695 replaces the state motor vehicle excise tax (SMVET) with a flat tax and requires voter approval for any increase in taxes, fees, or charges. This legislation becomes effective January 2000.

Although the Initiative did not repeal Sound Transit’s ability to impose a MVET, a separate source with a similar name that was approved in 1996 by voters, it could result in a 30 percent decrease in funding for regional operations unless new revenue sources are found. The entire Sound Move project relies on strong partnerships with local transit agencies, which may be affected by the loss of the SMVET. While local transit agencies are developing strategies to address projected revenue reductions, changes in service levels for these operators could indirectly impact the proposed service plans and projected ridership levels for Sound Transit services.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed operating revenue sources for the Link LRT currently exist. No new sources are needed.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Start $500.0 $41.44 million appropriated through FY 2000 for entire system
Local: Sales and Use Tax and MVET $475.0


Local: Bonds $524.0


Total: $1,500.0

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 LRT (MOS) Map of a 23.5-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, Washington. Link will consist of 23 stations, four new park-and-ride lots, and one existing lot. The system would operate on existing and new right-of-way (ROW), including the existing 1.6 mile Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit estimates a total of 156,400 daily riders on the 23.5-mile system in 2020.