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Saturday, January 20, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Half-billion allocated for Sound Transit

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sound Transit yesterday got a long-sought federal agreement for $500 million.

The agreement, awarded by the Federal Transit Administration, is considered a critical step in building a $3.8 billion 21-mile light-rail system from SeaTac to the University District. But it's far from certain that Sound Transit will get the money out of Congress.

2 raise questions

Two prominent Republicans - U.S. Reps. Jennifer Dunn of Bellevue and Hal Rogers of Kentucky - this week raised questions about the project, which is $1 billion over budget and three years behind schedule. Both want an audit by the Office of Inspector General.

Rogers, the new chairman of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee, had asked for the Federal Transit Administration to hold off signing the agreement until his committee could get more information about the project.

Rodney Slater, the outgoing secretary of transportation, signed the agreement anyway during his last day at work.

In a letter to Rogers earlier this week, Slater said the light-rail project was still "highly recommended" by his agency despite the cost overruns. He wrote that the Sound Transit light-rail project was included in some "very strong projects with substantial local commitment and support that will serve to improve the mobility needs in some of our country's most important communities."

A report by the Inspector General could be completed by March.

Annual installments

The agreement signed yesterday essentially is a promise that the Federal Transit Administration will ask Congress for annual installments through 2006. Sound Transit has been advanced $91 million in federal money the past three years. The agreement promises an additional $409 million.

It commits Sound Transit to use the federal money to help build a seven-mile light-rail segment between South Lander Street in South Seattle and the University District starting in 2002.

Sound Transit plans to build an additional 14-mile stretch, starting in 2004, between South Lander Street and SeaTac.

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