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With light rail in limbo, Sound Transit explores alternatives in Federal Way

Sound Transit hosted an open house Nov. 13 to discuss transit solutions for the Federal Way area. This photo was taken from Sound Transit
Sound Transit hosted an open house Nov. 13 to discuss transit solutions for the Federal Way area. This photo was taken from Sound Transit's Facebook page.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Sound Transit held an open house at Truman High School on Nov. 13, as the first step in the process of determining alternative solutions for increasing transit capacity for Federal Way and South King County.

Community members, city officials, and various Sound Transit staff members were on hand to talk about the new direction of the 2008 ST2 ballot measure, which was set to bring light rail to Federal Way.

"What we would like to do is, at least, start planning work for the extension to Federal Way," said Kimberly Reason, media relations and public information officer for ST.

"So even though we don't have funding to construct all the way to Federal Way, what we want to do is get into a position where we have an approved alignment, an approved number of stations and locations. This is the first step in the whole planning process."

Reason said this first step is important for the community to be involved in because it lets ST know what issues need to be met for Federal Way residents in their use of public transportation.

"This step is critical because it's the first public comment set," Reason said.

Sound Transit will be looking at light rail alignment (along Highway 99 vs. along I-5), mode of transportation, stations and locations, among other things, she said.

"We want to be thorough in looking at all the alternatives so that when we whittle it down to preferred alternatives, we feel that we've looked at everything," Reason said.

This whole process was made possible by an additional $24 million in funding approved by the ST governing board back in February, Reason said.

That $24 million is essentially earmarked to explore options for increasing transit capacity between South 272nd Street and the Federal Way Transit Center at South 320th Street.

"It looks as though we have the means to construct to Kent/Des Moines, and the second part of this is...to work with the community to develop a shovel ready plan to get to Federal Way," Reason said.

Area resident Joshua Kelley said he's a regular user of Sound Transit, and described his daily commute. Kelley said more options, and quicker options, would be welcome.

"I typically either take the bus to either Federal Way then to Seattle, or the bus to Tukwila and then to Seattle. It tends to take a while, but it's getting better. The Sound Transit Express buses from the Transit Center are relatively quick to downtown, compared to taking RapidRide to Tukwila or either light rail or another bus to Seattle," he said.

"But, the light rail going from here (Federal Way) all the way down (to Seattle) would be quicker and more comfortable."

Kelley said his preferred alignment for a light rail system into Federal Way would run along Highway 99, and not Interstate 5.

"I don't see much room for development along I-5, it's just a concrete barrier. There are few places to cross, and not as much development right close to it as there is (with Highway 99)," he said.

Federal Way City Council members Susan Honda, Jeanne Burbidge and Dini Duclos were on hand for the open house as well. All three said they hope the open house signals a new chapter in the city's saga with Sound Transit.

"I'm glad they're here, and I hope that they listen to what the citizens are saying," Honda said. "I think the council needs to stay on top of this, and make sure it's moving forward and doesn't stall."

Burbidge echoed Honda's thoughts, and added that the community's involvement in this whole process is vital.

"I'm pleased to see the process get off the ground. This is what was needed to get it started," Burbidge said. "People are here, looking around, talking, and voicing their opinions. That's important."

Duclos, one of the council members who took a more aggressive stance with Sound Transit when the news first broke about the issues with getting light rail to Federal Way, is still skeptical of the transit agency's good intentions.

"I still want to know why they've never answered the question…how much money have they collected from the citizens of Federal Way, and what have they done with it," she said. "They've had an audit and didn't answer the question. They can't tell us."

When asked if she thought the Nov. 13 open house was a step in the right direction, Duclos had a short and simple response.

"Time will tell," she said.

Learn more

• Public comments are requested by Nov. 19. To learn more about the project, or to leave comments for Sound Transit, visit www.soundtransit.org/FWExtension.

• For more background information on Federal Way's struggle with light rail, click here.

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