Sound Transit CEO Julie Timm discussed the impacts of future light rail routes on Federal Way at the July 5 Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“When people do not have access to the investments we’re making, those investments lose their value or increase the cost to the public,” Timm said. “Transit is a way to … provide better economic benefits, environmental benefits, sustainability benefits to the entire region, even if not everyone rides the service that we’re building.”
Timm took over as CEO in 2022 and has over 25 years of experience in, what she calls, multi-modal transportation planning and operations. She’s also the first female CEO of the organization in over a decade.
Transit is only as valuable as it is accessible, Timm said.
“We have 26 miles of light rail that have survived COVID, and survived the civil unrest and survived so much of the inflationary pressures of the last three years, that the service and the quality of it has gone down … and people have lost faith that what Sound Transit is delivering is something that they actually want,” Timm said.
The beginning of a long construction journey of transportation extensions is underway in Federal Way.
The Federal Way Link Extension (FWLE), a 7.8-mile light rail route extending from Angle Lake to the Federal Way Transit Center. Three new stations are taking form in Kent/Des Moines near Highline College, along South 272nd Street and at the Federal Way Transit Center. Each station adds parking for a total of 3,200 spaces along the route, according to Sound Transit.
As frequent organization updates state, and as Timm reiterated in July, the project is facing delays. The projected opening date of the route is 2026. As of April, Sound Transit noted that unstable soil conditions near wetlands in Kent forced a redesign to include a long-span bridge as part of the route.
Following closely on the tail of the FWLE is the Operations and Maintenance Facility South (OMF South) building. A location for the OMF South has not been officially determined, though the Sound Transit Board of Directors in December 2021 identified a preferred location on South 336th Street.
This location is home to the Christian Faith Center church, senior homes, street properties and local properties that will be impacted.
The OMF South is responsible for the cleaning, storage and maintenance of Link light rail trains. The project is also facing delays, with an estimated opening year range from 2029 to 2032.
“Having an OMF here means we can still operate portions of the service directly from this area without having to worry about vehicles coming from Seattle or Bellevue to serve Federal Way,” Timm said.
After that, the construction of the Tacoma Dome Line Extension will connect the FWLE light rail route, beginning in the northeast corner of The Commons mall parking lot, to Tacoma.
“… Construction is coming to Federal Way and the second we stop construction in Federal Way, we’re going to start it back up again,” Timm said. “… You are that ‘end of line’ for a very short period of time and it’s going to go beyond that.”
The Tacoma Dome Link Extension will include a second light rail station in Federal Way and is still in its planning phase.
Route geography, soil issues and cultural impacts require more alternatives, which is causing delays, Timm said, noting an opening estimated to be around 2035. Some other major factors of the project delays are concrete strikes, supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic and the ever-rising costs of materials due to inflation, she said.
“These are things that are outside of our control, and yet, we’re still looking for ways to recover,” she said.
Timm also focused on safety and security and skilled labor data throughout her speech.
Labor-wise, Sound Transit is providing 323,000 indirect and direct jobs by 2046, Timm said. Its goal is to have 20% of the total construction hours worked by people in apprenticeships.
So far, Timm said, Sound Transit employs 29,000 construction workers — 5,000 of whom are from South King County, and have worked 3 million hours across various Sound Transit projects.
For more information on project updates, visit www.soundtransit.org.