LYNNWOOD — Community Transit officials breathed a happy sigh of relief Monday upon learning a long-awaited $43.2 million federal grant is finally arriving.
Those dollars from the Federal Transit Administration will be used to complete construction of the Swift Green Line, Community Transit’s second bus rapid transit line that is scheduled to open early next year.
Congress approved the funding in May 2017. It is coming out of the federal agency’s Small Starts program through a competitive process. Small Starts is a component of the Capital Investment Grant program that President Donald Trump tried to eliminate but Congress resisted and funded instead.
“At times it has felt like we were running a marathon, but we’ve finally crossed the finish line,” Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath said.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell announced the release of funds in a joint statement.
“Snohomish County commuters just got a shot in the arm with more funding for Swift Bus Rapid Transit,” said Cantwell, a senior member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “By expanding this critical transit service, commuters can expect increased reliability, improved travel times, and ultimately less congestion.”
Murray, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been pressuring the agency for months to free up the dollars. She also was involved in the negotiations to protect the grant program.
“As transit ridership increases, we must ensure our transportation systems are evolving to support our growing economy and keep our communities connected,” she said in the statement.
Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia lauded the senators for their efforts.
“They have been our allies in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “That’s been very helpful.”
When Swift buses started running on the Blue Line down Highway 99 in 2009, it was the first bus rapid transit line in the state. The final station on that line opened in early 2016 near the entrance to Edmonds Community College.
The Swift Green Line will be a 12.5-mile east-west route and intersect with the Swift Blue Line.
When complete, Swift Green Line buses will run every 10 minutes between Bothell-Canyon Park and Boeing-Paine Field along the Bothell-Everett Highway, 128th and 132nd Streets and Airport Road. There will be a total of 34 stations.
Community Transit actually got started on the project the same month Congress passed the 2017 federal budget with the critical grant.
The agency broke ground on the Seaway Transit Center, an $11 million project funded with a $6.9 million state grant plus different federal dollars and Community Transit funds. The center is expected to be completed this year.
Last fall the agency got to work on building future Green Line stations. It has been paying for the work with local dollars generated from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2015.
Munguia said Community Transit only acted after receiving letters from the federal agency that essentially were promissory notes. Those letters authorized the transit agency to spend up to a certain amount of its own money with the understanding those dollars would be paid back with the grant, he said.
The agency was closing in on that maximum amount, he said.
“We haven’t been been at a point where we’re panicking. Unless the Federal Transit Administration gave us the grant or gave us another promissory note, we might have had to shut down the project,” he said. “But we’re not worried any more.”