‘Disappointed, but not surprised’: Federal Way site recommended for Sound Transit light rail vehicle facility

Sound Transit board to vote on preferred alternative Dec. 16; final decision to be made late 2022.

The Sound Transit System Expansion Committee has recommended a Federal Way site to house the new Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) South.

The System Expansion Committee voted 6-0 during a virtual meeting on Dec. 9 for the site over the former Midway Landfill in Kent and a South 344th Street location in Federal Way.

“It’s affordable with our realignment financial plan, has about half as many residential and business displacements, and it keeps the Tacoma Dome Link and West Seattle Link extensions on schedule,” said Claudia Balducci, chair of the committee and a King County Councilmember, who proposed the recommendation to select the South 336th Street site.

The South 336th Street alternative location is a 59-acre site between South 336th Street and South 341st Place and between I-5 and Pacific Highway 99. The option is projected to cost about $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion, and the project completion timeline is about three and a half years, with the facility opening in about 2028.

Federal Way City Council President Susan Honda, who advocated against selection of either Federal Way site, said she is disappointed, but not surprised in the committee’s recommendation.

“I’m disappointed they made that decision in light of all the public comments … I’m just not convinced this is the better location. It would have been in the public’s best interest to build this at the Midway Landfill.”

The recommendation takes much more than 60 acres away from Federal Way, Honda said.

“The future is so unknown, but now they’ve taken that away from us. It’s unfortunate,” she said.

If selected, two churches — including Federal Way megachurch Christian Faith Center — and two businesses with 94 employees will be removed. About 73 residents would also be evicted.

Honda said she is calling upon her fellow Federal Way City Council members and community members to speak against this recommendation at the Dec. 16 Sound Transit board meeting.

The South 336th Street recommendation will go to the full 18-member board for a vote on Dec. 16 for its selection. Identifying a “preferred alternative” is not a final selection, said Curvie Hawkins, project manager. The identification indicates the current preference, but the final site selection is to be made in late 2022.

Brian Nash of the Protect Federal Way political action organization said he is encouraged by the Dec. 9 vote.

“I am especially encouraged by how much the committee members are thinking about what’s best for the community and how much time they have personally each taken to investigate this and meet the people and businesses involved,” Nash said. “Each of them seem to have made that effort and I applaud them for it.”

While many wish the Midway Landfill could be recommended, Nash said, “being stewards of the public money and champions of our regional transit goals are important parts of their job, too.”

In his view, the South 336th Street site balances keeping the timelines for light rail service in Federal Way and minimizing the impact on homes, businesses, and jobs. It’s the best realistic outcome they could expect, he added.

Despite recommendations to pick the Midway Landfill by several Federal Way residents and business owners as well as the Federal Way City Council, nobody on the committee favored the landfill because of much higher costs and a longer timeline. The landfill sits west of I-5, east of Pacific Highway South and between South 244th and South 252nd streets.

Balducci said the landfill site would have the fewest impacts to residents and businesses. But staff reports showed total costs of $2.2 billion to $2.8 billion, nearly $600 million to $1.1 billion higher than the Federal Way sites, and a longer construction schedule by a few years that could delay the opening of lines to Tacoma and West Seattle.

“I’m convinced construction costs and the timeline would be too risky of a choice to pursue,” Balducci said.

About the OMF South

The OMF sites are where light rail trains are cleaned, stored and maintained for the expanding Sound Transit Link routes. The OMF South will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to Sound Transit.

A new facility needs about 60-plus acres near an operating light rail line, according to Sound Transit.

Benefits of the OMF South site include the addition of more than 470 living-wage, union jobs in Federal Way, in addition to the undetermined amount of construction jobs necessary to build the facility. At the OMF Central site in Seattle, the average employee wage is about $40 per hour, or $80,000 per year

All three sites — South 336th Street, South 344th Street and the Midway Landfill — will remain as alternatives until the board makes its final selection in late 2022, according to Sound Transit staff. But the recommendation of South 336th Street puts that site as the preferred location to be studied next year and the issuance of a final environmental impact statement.

Reporter Steve Hunter contributed to this story.