Washington’s Sound Transit system faces $11.5B shortfall

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state’s Sound Transit system faces an $11.5 billion budget shortfall caused by factors including soaring land costs, community requests for route add-ons and the economic impact of the coronavirus, officials said.

The regional transportation system in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties must contend with a projected $6 billion reduction in tax revenue because of the pandemic, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.

The shortage was revealed last month in the midst of environmental studies of voter-approved Sound Transit 3 projects that will bring mass transit extensions.

Difficult options facing transit board members about how to close the budget gap include delaying lines or stations, raising taxes within Seattle or amassing more debt.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff urged the board to identify new money and cost reductions this year.

“We cannot wait until we can no longer make payments for capital projects or operations to start making decisions,” Rogoff wrote. “If you know you are going to bounce checks by the third week of the month, you don’t write the same checks you might have during the first and second weeks.”

Washington state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar suggested the Biden administration convert Sound Transit’s loans into grants.

Sound Transit received $346 million in federal coronavirus relief funds in 2020. Additional funds could ease the stress on the system’s long-term finance plan.

Sound Transit is the biggest client of low-interest, deferred-payment loans through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, borrowing $3.3 billion for five projects.

Rogoff requested another $581 million loan to help finance the 2024 downtown Redmond extension and a refinance of old loans at a 1.9% interest rate.