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Sound Transit center moves forward

It’ll bring more than $38 million in property improvements in the City Center, 1,200 new parking spaces, and more commuter connectivity in Federal Way than ever before.

But also more traffic, more gridlock and more headaches, some fear.

Sound Transit is carving a place for itself in Federal Way to bring its service, a transit center, freeway access lanes and an expansive parking structure.

The agency has targeted the corner of South 317th Street and 23rd Avenue South for the proposed transit center. The site, which remains under environmental review until early next year, would affect 10 parcels and eight property owners, including a Cucina Cucina restaurant and Federal Way Public Schools land. Most of the affected land, however, is the vacated site of an old Silo appliance store.

The agency has eminent domain power and could condemn the property to obtain it at a fair market value, Sound Transit officials said.

Right now, Sound Transit’s design proposals include a parking garage, street-level retail, and possibly a clock tower. It also will include bus bays, a transit-boarding island, pedestrian connections, and space for future transit-oriented development.

After years of cost overruns and delays, Sound Transit’s image has gotten a shellacking as a central issue in the recent Seattle mayoral race. Now, the agency’s plans for light rail transportation are in the cross-hairs of tax-opponent Tim Eyman, who would sidetrack the agency’s plans for electric rail trains in the Puget Sound Basin.

The Federal Way transit center is one of Sound Transit’s 45 Regional Express capital projects. But many of the agency’s projects have been plagued by setbacks and cost increases, casting doubt on whether the agency’s 10-year plan to bring express buses, commuter trains and light rail to the region will be what voters approved in 1996.

Last month, Project Manager Vicki Youngs acknowledged some schedule delays and cost increases for the Federal Way project — which does not include light rail — in an open house meeting at SeaTac Mall. But she said getting the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, the state Department of Transportation and various city and county officials to approve projects has been a daunting task. The mission hasn’t been helped by attrition within the agency.

But Youngs said Sound Transit officials are pleased with the proposed transit center site.

“It works for a variety of reasons,” she said, noting its proximity to City Center retail and freeway access. After the environmental assessment is complete, the agency will start its property acquisition process.

Don Vogt, a Sound Transit real estate specialist, said negotiations for property can go either way.

“Sometimes that’s very successful and sometimes we have to let the court decide what the value is,” Vogt said.

Vogt said he could not divulge the agency’s budget for property acquisition because “it puts us at a disadvantage.”

More than other citizens in Sound Transit’s coverage area, Federal Way residents have made themselves heard regarding agency plans in their city.

About 30 Federal Way residents, not including public officials, offered comments and concerns about Sound Transit’s future presence in their city — “a strong level of feedback,” said Lee Somerstein, a Sound Transit spokesman.

One of those who sounded off was retiree Gordon Wingard who lives in Belmor Park just south of SeaTac Mall. He says he likes to shop at REI and other retailers, but traffic makes him hesitant to venture north of South 320th Street. He says adding more buses and commuters to the mix will slow things down exponentially.

“That’s going to be a horrendous impact,” Wingard said.

Other residents also had concerns. They included:

• Restricted access to Gateway Center, as well as nearby residences and businesses.

• Visual impacts of the parking garage and architectural consideration.

• Noise and air quality impacts.

• Pedestrian safety issues.

• Transit connections between Metro, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and other agencies.

Wingard was especially concerned about the HOV lanes that will offer buses and carpoolers access to Interstate 5 from 317th Street, saying the lanes will force too many cars onto the freeway in just a few short blocks making Federal Way a perpetual slow zone for freeway traffic.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be a disaster in there,” he said.

But City Traffic Engineer Rick Perez said the city began working with Sound Transit early on. Concerns about access to Gateway Center and freeway access were addressed by routing some traffic away from the transit center site, Perez said.

“It took a while, but we got pretty much what we wanted,” he said.

Federal Way Chamber of Commerce CEO Delores Shull said she looked forward to a new transit center as a meeting place and a site for businesses to locate

Shull said also will work with city and Sound Transit officials to set up an interactive visitor services center, much like those seen in the SuperMall and other retail outlets.

“That’s where we could do a lot of good,” she said.

Maps, discounts, coupons, information and a local calendar of events will be posted, Shull said.

“Right now, we are just at the point of researching what that could look like,” Shull said.

People living in Sound Transit district boundaries pay for the projects with a voter-approved 0.4 percent local sales tax and 0.3-percent motor vehicle excise tax in the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

All of Sound Transit’s revenue is targeted to projects where the compulsory taxes have been levied. Snohomish County taxes, for instance, won’t pay for light rail between Seattle and Tacoma.

The motor vehicle excise tax, however, would be eliminated if tax-opponent Eyman, a Mukilteo direct mail watch salesman, is able to place his latest initiative proposal on next year’s General Election ballot and have voters pass it. The initiative was filed on Tuesday in Olympia.

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