News

Ready to roll

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Elected officials –– from the Federal Way City Council to Congress –– joined more than 100 citizens, Sound Transiti officials, project engineers and local business leaders for the grand opening and ribbon-cutting for the Federal Way Transit Center, located downtown at South 316th Street and 23rd Avenue South.

While bus drivers on the five routes — including the new route 577 to downtown Seattle — will serve the transit center on their way to Seattle, Tacoma, Auburn and into Federal Way several times a day, they won’t be driving along South 320th Street, the main artery into Federal Way from Interstate 5.

With the transit center’s opening, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) access ramps from I-5 will bring buses, carpools and vanpools off the freeway’s HOV lanes into the city via South 317th Street.

In late 2001, when the transit center was little more than a contentious environmental study and sketches balanced on easels in civic meeting rooms, there was considerable community hostility toward the project. Some people viewed it as a five-story, 1,200-stall monument to closed-door government decisionmaking that would only increase noise, air pollution and traffic congestion near a high school and senior housing.

A group of business owners led by former Gateway Center principal Dan Casey led the fight to stop the project in King County Superior Court, and several Federal Way residents’ voices shook with anger during testimony before the City Council and in other public hearings. It was a rocky time for the project.

“There were a number of people who thought we didn’t have a prayer for this facility, and now it’s a reality,” said Metropolitan King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who is a member of the Sound Transit Board.

Von Reichbauer initially opposed the project, saying it would swamp Federal Way’s city center and would only serve as a facility where people would park their cars on their way out of the city. Later, he was appointed to serve on Sound Transit’s Board and changed his mind.

“After some initial opposition, I’m proud to stand here and say the Federal Way Transit Center will be opening on time and on budget,” he said, Monday, adding the facility will be a boon “for anyone who has to drive South 320th during rush hour or search in vain for a parking spot at the park-and-ride lot.”

Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who serves as chairman of Sound Transit’s Board, said the center will serve as a critical piece of the regional mass-transit network. “These projects make transit faster and empty out regular lanes,” he said. “It’s a real benefit not just to people who use transit, but to everyone driving up and down I-5.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, lauded by her colleagues for her commitment to the project, agreed the center will help alleviate congestion and will make it easier for Federal Way workers to commute.

“This really is a great day for Federal Way,” she said. “For years, (the South 320th Street exit) was a real trouble spot. For commuters, parking limited how many people could take advantage of transit opportunities.”

Murray secured $5.1 million in federal funding for the transit center, which cost about $38 million. The associated freeway access ramps cost about $32 million.

Despite the project’s bumpy beginning, many now are looking forward to getting the center operational. Some even see it as a triumph of community partnerships and cooperation.

“It has been a difficult, very delicate process, but local government and regional, state and federal governments and community members worked together, and we completed this wonderful facility,” Federal Way Mayor Michael Park said.

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

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