News

A new center of attention

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Just a handful of construction workers are left at the Federal Way Transit Center to put on the finishing touches before service begins at the facility Feb. 11.

The five-story, 1,200-stall parking garage isn’t the biggest in the region, but Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said it appears to be the grandest. From the bus bays, which sit under gleaming, chrome coverings, the tiered railings of the parking garage rise like the sides of an ocean liner.

Even people who once opposed the project say they’re willing to give it a shot.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” said Marlene Beadle, who owns Marlene’s Market and Deli at nearby Gateway Center. “They’re certainly doing a nice-looking job.”

The project generated a significant amount of community response and outrage in the early days of its development. People felt the design and siting process lacked public notification and input, and many felt there were shady, behind-doors dealings that led to the city’s approval of the facility.

An opposition group formed by former Gateway Center principal Dan Casey filed appeals of the project in King County Superior Court, all of which were either dismissed or found in favor of Sound Transit. Casey returned to Alaska, where he lives, soon after Gateway Center filed for bankruptcy in February 2003.

Now that the project is almost finished, Beadle said she’s going to withhold judgment to see how it affects her business and the Gateway Center retail area.

“The proof will be in the pudding when the buses are coming by,” she said. “I’m expecting positive things. What’s done is done. I think it’s going to be okay.”

Jerry Dahl, Sound Transit’s construction manager, said the project is running “right to the wire. Everything’s on time.”

The dozen or so workers who remain at the facility have been pressure-washing the floors, painting, checking fire extinguishers, and installing dull-yellow, domed pavers along the sidewalks and waiting areas so people with sight disabilities can feel where the edge of the curb is.

At its peak, the project employed about 60 construction workers, who made between $25 and $35 an hour plus benefits, Sound Transit’s resident engineer Scott Perry said.

Meanwhile, state Department of Transportation workers are almost finished with the center’s freeway access ramps. In fact, Sound Transit officials said it’s likely the ramps –– which rise from the high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) lanes of Interstate 5, bend west into Federal Way, and curve around a roundabout toward the transit center –– will be done before the center.

“We’re expecting to open them in late January, probably a few weeks before the transit center,” DOT spokesman Greg Phipps said, adding he expects there will be some kind of ribbon-cutting ceremony at the end.

While buses will head straight for the 12-bay area where they’ll line up by route, a separate “kiss and ride” lane alongside the bays will allow spouses or carpoolers to drop each other off before going their separate ways for the day.

A pedestrian bridge from the garage will provider park and riders covered access to the bus bays, and there are elevators on each floor.

Sound Transit will maintain 24-hour security staffing at the center, and there are six panic buttons on each floor of the garage. If one is pushed, one of several cameras installed on the ceiling of each floor zooms in on the person pushing the button so security staff, located in a station in the bus bays across from public restrooms, can see what’s going on and respond to the right place.

On the grounds near the center, construction workers have already built the beds that will house landscaping and public art. Stainless steel representations of trees will fill some of the bedded areas leading to the garage, and there are recessed areas that will be set with tile and red glass. A clock over the pedestrian bridge will depict a cut log, and a maple leaf design element will be installed at the front end of the bus bays.

Dahl said the project is within its construction budget of $21 million — an amount that doesn’t include right-of-way acquisition, design work or environmental studies.

Metropolitan King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who represents the Federal Way area and is on the Sound Transit board of directors, said he anticipates the transit center will give a boost to existing businesses in the city and help in city’s efforts to revitalize the downtown.

“It’s all about access and parking,” he said, surveying the area outside the center. “I see mixed-use here.”

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

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