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It's time to give 2 cents on transit

Sound Transit will make a stop at SeaTac Mall next week.

The agency’s officials won’t be taking riders aboard at the Tuesday open house, but they will be picking up public comment — and will continue to do so until Nov. 12.

The public hearing in the mall will allow local residents to ask the Sound Transit design team about the environmental and aesthetic aspects of its plans for a Federal Way transit center, parking garage and for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes with direct access to Interstate 5. The proposed structure would be at the corner of South 316th Street and 23rd Avenue South. The HOV lanes would go in northeast of Gateway Center near I-5, allowing bus traffic direct access from South 317th Street.

Since King County voters approved transit improvements in 1996, there has been much uncertainty among regional officials about when the vision would be realized, in part due to the need to coordinate among federal, state, regional and local agencies.

“It’s been a major project. There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes. We’re talking 1,200 stalls(for the parking garage), and we’re talking $38 million worth of investment downtown,” Gates told attendees of a recent city Economic Development Committee meeting.

It has taken time to get the plans out for public feedback, in part, due to Sound Transit staff turnover and various land-use issues, including complying with the federal Endangered Species Act.

“We got clobbered,” Gates said.

Completing the environmental assessment process has taken two years, said Lee Somerstein, a Sound Transit spokesman. But the agency expects to begin final design of the facilities and the property acquisition process in late January, Somerstein said.

“Our hope is that in 2003, we’ll actually get a shovel in the dirt,” he said, and complete the Federal Way project by 2005.

Gates said the facility should be worth the wait.

Council colleague Dean McColgan agreed.

“We wanted some design criteria for what it would look like,” he said. “We would not have moved it along if it was a plain old garage.”

The overall design includes a clock tower, pedestrian connections in to the city center, street-level retail stores, and a community plaza. McColgan said the transit center’s multiple uses would encourage economic development nearby. “Definitely our long term vision,” he said, “is the development of our downtown core.”

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