Sound Transit starts light rail plans for Kent
By STEVE HUNTER
Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter
November 2, 2012 · Updated 4:51 PM
The preliminary plans are under way to extend light rail across Kent's West Hill by 2023.
Residents can attend an open house from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8 to find out about the project to build a 7.6-mile line from a future light rail station at South 200th Street in SeaTac through Kent to the Federal Way Transit Center. The open house is at Highline Community College (Building 2) in Des Moines.
"We'll ask for people's ideas and introduce the project," said Cathal Ridge, South Corridor development manager of Sound Transit. "There will be no formal presentation. But we will have a lot of staff, displays and input cards so people know how they can participate."
It's so early in the process, transit officials have yet to pick an exact route, whether the train should be elevated or at ground level and where the stations will go.
Transit officials want the public to learn about the project background, purpose and timeline; help identify potential routes and station locations; comment on the criteria Sound Transit will use to evaluate project alternatives; and comment on potential benefits and impacts of the project to the community, environment and transportation.
Ridge gave a presentation about the expansion project to the Kent City Council's Public Works Committee on Oct. 22.
"This is a brainstorming period about station location and alignment," Ridge said. "We'll look at ideas from the public and evaluate the alternatives and review the results with the public. We're trying to generate ideas now."
The trains could run along Pacific Highway South, Interstate 5 or maybe another route. Stations could be built near Highline Community College, South 272nd Street and the Federal Way Transit Center near South 320th Street.
The Sound Transit Board plans to make a route selection by next August. So far, funds exist to build light rail to South 272nd Street on the Kent-Federal Way border.
"We have not identified funding to Federal Way Transit Center," Ridge said. "Right now we are funded to Kent/Des Moines to open in 2023. If we get funding for further south, it all could open in 2023 but there are a lot of uncertainties now."
Ridge said he did not yet a specific total cost for the extension from South 200th Street to South 272nd Street. Specific costs will be known once more details for the extension are known.
Light rail currently runs from Sea-Tac Airport to downtown Seattle. Sound Transit plans to open a new 1.6-mile line from the airport south to South 200th Street by 2016. That route will run on an elevated guideway primarily along 28th Avenue South.
Sound Transit is funded through sales taxes and vehicle licensing fees. Because of the recession, funding estimates are much lower than initially projected which resulted in cutting about $4 billion in proposed projects. Revenue in South King County is about 40 percent less than projected through 2023 and has caused Sound Transit to consider asking voters to approve new taxes to fund more projects, which could include a $2 billion extension to Federal Way from South 272nd Street.
Voters initially approved funding light rail in 1996 and approved a sales tax increase in 2008 to fund expansion projects through 2023 to Southwest King County, Overlake and Lynnwood. Sound Transit estimates it will cost $18 billion for the expansion.
The proposed 2013 budget includes $754.7 million in capital investments for work to extend light rail to the north, east and south. That includes $8.1 million for ongoing environmental review and public involvement to identify a route southward from South 200th Street to Kent/Des Moines and Federal Way.
"We have to give our input now rather than later," Kent City Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson said at the committee meeting. "We have to get on the record soon."
That input will include letting Sound Transit know about the zoning regulations and design guidelines the council adopted last year for what's known as the Midway area along Pacific Highway from South 216th Street to South 272nd Street. City officials worked with the city of Des Moines to adopt regulations in anticipate of light rail coming to town.
The cities want to turn the Midway area into a transit-oriented corridor with high-rise buildings for businesses and residents.
Ridge said once a route is picked, it will take until 2014 to compile a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and until 2016 to get a final EIS. Design of the project takes another two to three years and construction takes three to four years, with a projected start in 2019. That pushes the project completion date to 2023.
For more information about Sound Transit's light rail plans, go to projects.soundtransit.org.
• Light rail open house
4-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8
Highline Community College (Building 2)
South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South
Editor's Note: This story was corrected with the correct name of the Sound Transit official.
Contact Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter Steve Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.