News

Sound Transit: We've listened and we're still building it

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Sound Transit’s Board of Directors told the city late last month the agency already has analyzed concerns with the transit center and parking garage slated for downtown Federal Way, putting to rest a tentatively held hope the transit agency might put the project in a different part of town.

Still, City Council members hope to negotiate with Sound Transit for the benefit of the downtown core through a pending transit-oriented development agreement.

The council met with Sound Transit’s board Feb. 19 to voice concerns still lingering in the city about traffic congestion, the impact on the economy and the city’s ability to develop new businesses, public safety, the amount and quality of community involvement, the number of parking stalls that will be present in downtown Federal Way, and on- and off-site improvements.

Board chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg responded to the concerns in a letter to Mayor Dean McColgan, saying Sound Transit “thoroughly analyzed each of these in the environmental review process” and concluded, as did the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration, that “the projects will have no significant adverse impacts.”

Opposition to the project — a transit center and five-story, 1,200-stall parking garage with associated bus and HOV (bus and car-pool) ramps to the freeway at South 317th Street and 23rd Avenue South in Federal Way — remains strong, despite the slim chance of getting Sound Transit to build the garage elsewhere.

The project is expected to cost $38 million, with another $28 million for the access ramps to the freeway. Sound Transit officials have said the agency already has spent $16 million in design, environmental work and property acquisition.

An opposition group called Citizens for a Vibrant City Center (CVCC) has suggested a solution that includes getting King County Metro to provide express service from an underused park-and-ride lot at South 348th Street and 21st Avenue South and building a smaller parking garage and access ramps from the existing park-and-ride lot at South 324th behind SeaTac Mall.

Most in CVCC have said they’re not opposed to a transit center alone because they expect the type of use associated with a transit center — people parking their cars elsewhere and riding the bus into downtown — would promote business.

CVCC filed an appealed in King County Superior Court of a City Council decision upholding Sound Transit’s environmental work, though the group hasn’t had much success with prior appeals.

Two hearing examiners and Superior Court Judge Mary Yu have already decided against CVCC, and the group asked that its case be dismissed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last July following Gateway Center’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The hearing for the latest appeal is expected to be held later this month.

Ladenburg acknowledged the dissent, but said this type of project is classified an “essential public facility” because, by its nature, it’s often controversial.

Many of Sound Transit’s projects have stirred controversy in the communities where they’ve located, but once the facilities were built, people warmed up to them, he claimed.

“We anticipate the same in Federal Way,” he said.

McColgan said city officials weren’t surprised by the response.

“As far as the actual moving of the project, we knew that would be unlikely giving they have permits in hand,” he said.

But city officials still are negotiating with Sound Transit on traffic and economic-impact concerns through the process of developing a transit-oriented development (TOD) agreement with the agency.

As part of the agreement, the city might be able to require Sound Transit to build grid roads downtown to ease traffic to and from the garage and could ask for shared use of the garage to help boost economic development.

Councilman Eric Faison asked Sound Transit’s board Feb. 19 about availability of the garage for nearby businesses to use for employees or customers. Ladenburg responded that he asked Sound Transit staff to work with city staff to “explore options,” but added that “allowing use of the garage by non-transit users would need to include appropriate compensation.”

City are developing a TOD plan to present to the council.

Assistant city manager Derek Matheson said it might be a while until the plan is ready. Once it’s drafted, it’ll have to be approved by the council and Sound Transit’s board.

McColgan said he’s optimistic about the outcome of the project.

“We’re going to try to make it the best project it can be,” he said. “We’re working pretty hard on transit-oriented development. I’m hopeful.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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