President Obama budgets $75m for Tacoma Link expansion

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Tacoma Link Expansion Options
Segments A1 and B1 are the preferred alternatives for Tacoma Link expansion.

President Obama has released his 2016 budget, which places a strong emphasis on transportation funding. A portion of that funding could end up in the hands of Sound Transit if all goes to plan. Under the President’s budget proposal, $75m from the Small Starts federal grant scheme would go directly toward Tacoma Link expansion.

Tacoma Link is a 1.6-mile light rail system that stretches from the Tacoma Dome to the Theater District in Downtown Tacoma. Another 2.4 miles could be added to the system for a relatively small price tag. The expansion plan would cost up to $165 and go from the Theater District to the Hilltop District via Stadium Way, Division, and MLK Way.

Funding for this expansion has already been partially secured. Sound Transit has pledged $50m to the project under Sound Transit 2 revenues. A further $13m has come from the City of Tacoma, which is a mix of local tax dollars and separate grants. But even with existing funding sources and the possibility of federal grants, the project has a serious funding hurdle to cross–$27m remains unsourced at this point. As a partner of the expansion project, the City of Tacoma must help secure the remaining $27m in order to make good on their promised $40m.

In a statement yesterday, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said:

I am grateful to the Obama Administration for including the Tacoma Link Expansion in its FY 2016 budget. The City of Tacoma and its residents have spent several years working with Sound Transit to identify an alignment to best serve the needs of those who live, work, visit and invest here. This Small Starts grant, if approved, will help secure the remaining funding needed to advance this important regional project for Tacoma.

Of course, there should be a word of caution to this news. The President’s budget must first be approved by Congress. And, there’s no guarantee that the Small Starts grant program will be fully funded, especially by a Republican-controlled House and Senate that are rabidly anti-transit. As the legislative process moves forward for 2016 FY, we’ll have a better idea of whether or not the grant will flow into the coffers of Tacoma Link.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.