News In Brief
- Four years of work remains, but drivers will soon to start to see the fruits of 17 years of construction on I-5 through Tacoma, according to a report in mynorthwest.com. The new northbound Puyallup River Bridge should open to all drivers in May. That is a huge step forward for the HOV widening project. But it’s not the only change. The horrible, temporary, collector-distributor lane on southbound I-5 that forces drivers to leave the freeway about two miles before the actual exit to Highway 16 will go away in a few weeks. However, the ramp from eastbound 16 to northbound I-5 is going to be reduced to one lane again. That change will happen in early April. It will remain that way until August. Construction continues to move along on the new dedicated HOV to HOV ramps from I-5 to Highway 16. Overnight closures on Tacoma Way began this week as workers began moving girders around. Work to rebuild the McKinley overpass continues too. Next year, construction will begin on the new southbound Puyallup River Bridge. That work will take several years to complete. Construction on this entire HOV project is set to finish in 2022. The projects began in 2001.
- National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) premium rates are set to rise an average of 8 percent on April 1. Although this increase is slightly more than the one implemented last year, it is consistent with the annual 5-10 percent increases that were characteristic of the period prior to the enactment of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, which made significant reforms to the insurance program.
- A light-rail corridor to Lynnwood gained momentum late March when Congress released a budget that maintains federal transit grants, after President Donald Trump proposed slashing the program. This likely means Sound Transit’s proposed 8.5-mile, Northgate-Lynnwood line can qualify for a $1.2 billion Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant, to finish construction by mid-2024. An estimated 68,500 daily riders are expected to ride the route, which provides an option to escape some of the nation’s worst highway delays. Trains from Lynnwood would reach the University of Washington in 20 minutes, or downtown Seattle in 28 minutes. Meanwhile, the former $2.4 billion Lynnwood project estimate has risen to $3.1 billion, reflecting increased financial risk and strains. Lynnwood isn’t specifically named in the “omnibus” House-Senate compromise budget issued late March. But it was a leading contender and approved by the FTA for final engineering. The bill contains $2.64 billion for major grants nationally, an increase from last year, and is to be spent mostly within two years. It requires that grants be distributed in the usual way, which has delivered more than $1.3 billion to Sound Transit’s existing network from Husky Stadium to Angle Lake Station in SeaTac. The congressional bill also raises the odds that Seattle will secure another $25 million for its First Avenue streetcar link, and $61 million for Madison Street bus-rapid transit. Federal Way light rail is also in line for a possible $499 million. Meanwhile, the official budget for Lynnwood Link swelled this month to $3.1 billion – compared to $2.4 billion in 2016 as the project started final design. In another change, the project also assumes $658 million in low interest federal loans. Seattle’s land and construction inflation drove costs up, but Sound Transit and the cities of Seattle, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood also caused “scope creep” by requesting more station land for bus and car access, and amenities such as festival plazas. The agency acknowledged a $517 million cost increase last year. Even now, the FTA warns that Sound Transit’s “capital cost estimate is optimistic” and gives Lynnwood a medium-low rating in that category. Sound Transit has the nation’s top credit rating and massive cash flow, while scoring high for local plans to increase housing density around stations.
- The omnibus appropriations bill passed last month contains important provisions related to housing that Realtors® have been fighting for, including alleviating the weakening of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) from the new law, and extending the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through at least mid-summer. The LIHTC gets a significant increase in funding and a change in the average income test, which should result in hundreds of thousands of new affordable housing units. The NFIP is extended until July 31, 2018. This avoids another lapse and provides several more months for the Senate to act on 5-year reauthorization and reform legislation adopted by the House last November. It also doubles the flood map funding to $263 million, up from $177 million in the previous year and more than a 150 percent increase over the Administration’s request this year. Additionally, it maintains funding for the flood mitigation, proofing and elevation of properties ($175 million), as well as the Office of Flood Insurance Consumer Advocate ($5 million) to assist homeowners with concerns over flood mapping and/or insurance ratings.