Federal Way residents can expect “a robust public outreach effort” as Sound Transit analyzes which sites to move forward for a new light rail vehicle operations and maintenance facility, says the agency’s CEO, Peter Rogoff.
Rogoff told the Sound Transit board last month about the plan in response to an uproar from the city of Kent that the newly opened Dick’s Drive-In restaurant on the West Hill is one of six properties under consideration. The 18-member board includes elected officials from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, who are nominated by their respective county executives and approved by their respective county councils.
Rogoff said a preliminary analysis of the six sites will be available in March for public review and comment. The agency needs about a 30-acre site for the facility.
“This will include a robust public outreach effort to engage residents in Kent, Federal Way, King County and even beyond in this effort,” Rogoff said during his Jan. 24 report to the Sound Transit Board.
The agency initially looked at 20 sites – starting last spring – and narrowed the list to six sites. The facility is needed to handle additional light rail cars as Sound Transit extends the line 7.8 miles from SeaTac to Federal Way by 2024 and by 9.7 miles to the Tacoma Dome by 2030.
The six sites are: Lowe’s/Dick’s property at South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South in Kent; Midway Landfill, two potential sites on the property, west of Interstate 5 between South 246th and 252nd and east of Pacific Highway South in Kent; South 316th Street and Military Road South, which includes a neighborhood in unincorporated King County; South 336th Street near I-5, which is the Christian Faith Center in Federal Way; and South 344th Street near I-5, which is an industrial area in Federal Way that includes several businesses.
Following the three-month site analysis, the board will consider in May all input received and along with technical input from staff and identify which sites to study in the EIS (environmental impact statement), Rogoff said.
“We must by law evaluate a range of sites in this upcoming two-year EIS process,” Rogoff said to the board. “Existing commercial uses and incompatibility zoning alone are not enough to protect Sound Transit from a potential legal challenge later in the process.”
The Kent City Council adopted a temporary zoning change last month to ban developments such as the operations and maintenance facility from the Lowe’s and Dick’s site. Dick’s just opened in December. The council, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, as well as Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell prefer the former landfill site.
The Kent Council had a recent public hearing about the zoning change. Eight people testified in favor of the zoning change to ban the facility and a couple of council members strongly stated their position for Sound Transit to remove the Dick’s site from consideration.
The Sound Transit Board might not advance all six sites into the EIS process, Rogoff said. But at least a couple of sites need to be considered.
“This is one of the two new (operations and maintenance facilities) required to realize the light rail expansions voters approved in Sound Transit 3,” said Sound Transit spokesman Scott Thompson in a Monday email. “Sound Transit cannot expand congestion-free light rail service without more capacity to store and maintain trains.”
The agency has such a facility in South Seattle, is building a new one in Bellevue and must find a location north of Seattle as well.
Sound Transit awarded a $10.2 million contract (with a 1 percent contingency up to $11.3 million) in December 2017 to HDR Engineering, based in Omaha, Neb., with offices in Seattle, for project development services for the Tacoma Dome Link Extension, including a preferred route, location of light rail stations and finding potential sites for the operations and maintenance facility.
Since the Tacoma Dome Link won’t be operational until 2030, the consultant didn’t look at any Pierce County sites.
“After learning that the (facility) needed to be operational by 2026 that narrowed the locations to South King County to be near a light rail line,” Thompson said.
HDR and agency staff looked at several components to pick the sites.
“Some of those factors included size, configuration, proximity to the light rail system and operational feasibility,” Thompson said. “The site including Lowe’s and Dick’s met enough of our initial criteria to warrant further consideration.”
Thompson said no further decisions about the six sites have been made.
“Sound Transit doesn’t favor any of the six sites more than another,” he said. “We are very early in this process.”
Rogoff said the costs to develop the landfill could be prohibitive and the property is a Superfund site, which could pose significant environmental risks to neighbors and workers at the facility.
“There is no easy location to site an operations maintenance facility,” Rogoff told the board. “Each come with complications and trade-offs.”
Rogoff said the agency is, “communicating about the project with potentially impacted property owners, residents and businesses before they read about the impacts in the newspaper.”