Kent City Council prefers light rail station along Pacific Highway South over Highline CC campus

Sound Transit is in the process of picking a light rail route across Kent
Sound Transit is in the process of picking a light rail route across Kent's West Hill. The extension line from Angle Lake to Kent is scheduled to open in 2023.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO, Sound Transit

The Kent City Council wants Sound Transit officials to pick a Kent location for a new Link light rail station rather than the Highline Community College campus in Des Moines.

Council members discussed light rail as part of an information workshop on June 3. Sound Transit plans to pick a preferred route along Kent's West Hill by early 2015 with a final decision in 2016 about an extension from South 200th Street to South 240th Street. The extension is scheduled to open in 2023.

"Having the station at Highline would be very convenient for the students but I feel like it might be a missed opportunity for the city to have that catalyst for redevelopment there that a station provides," said Council President Dana Ralph at the workshop. "If it's back at the college, we lose some of what we are hoping to gain along Pacific Highway. I'd rather not see it located on the Highline campus. I'd like to see it where we can take advantage of the increased activity."

Highline sits just west of the Kent city border, along South 240th Street and west of Pacific Highway South.

City officials worked with the city of Des Moines to adopt zoning regulations and design guidelines in 2011 under an Envision Midway plan in anticipation 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.

Sound Transit is looking at as many as eight potential locations for the Kent-Des Moines station, said Charlene Anderson, city of Kent planning manager. The alternatives include on the Highline campus; on the west side, east side or in the middle of Pacific Highway South; on 30th Avenue South; as well as along Interstate 5.

"There are a lot of alternatives being analyzed in the draft environmental impact statement (EIS)," Anderson said at the workshop. "No decisions have been made yet but I wanted to give you a flavor for the number of areas they are taking a close look at."

Transit officials are looking at elevated or at surface stations next to I-5 or in the middle of Pacific Highway as well as a trench station built at Highline.

Councilman Dennis Higgins said he prefers a station to be built along Pacific Highway South, also known as Highway 99.

"I recognize it needs to be within walking distance from Highline," Higgins said. "But as much inside the city as it can be while within walking distance of Highline would be ideal from our perspective. I think 30th (Avenue South) might be too far east but the east side of Highway 99 or on Highway 99 if we could get them to do that."

Councilwoman Brenda Fincher said she likes the proposal to build the station along Pacific Highway South.

"It would help support the retail because you have all of the residences on both sides of Highway 99 and retail on 99," Fincher said. "If they go over to 30th that's not a great distance, but it's going to help being on 99."

Where to build parking spaces at a station looms as another key decision.

"We were really concerned that it was going to be surface parking," Anderson said. "But there is lot of consideration for structure (garage) parking, which takes up about 80 percent less space than surface parking."

Sound Transit is building a parking garage with 1,050 stalls at its new Angle Lake Station in SeaTac. The 1.6-mile extension from Sea-Tac Airport to South 200th is scheduled to open in 2016.

Transit officials still are studying which route to pick for the light rail tracks from Angle Lake to Kent. The agency is funded through sales taxes and vehicle licensing fees. Voters approved the extension to Kent and other Seattle areas with a sales tax increase in 2008 after an initial approval of sales taxes in 1996 to fund light rail. There are no funds to extend light rail to Federal Way, although a design for a route to the city will be picked as part of the Federal Way extension plan (that includes Kent) released in 2015.

The options include elevated or at surface tracks along Pacific Highway South; elevated along 30th Avenue South; along the westside of I-5; a mix of the westside of I-5 and the freeway median; a hybrid along Pacific Highway with track placed on the westside, eastside and possible down the median.

Sound Transit plans to have a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) done by the end of 2014, Anderson said. The Sound Transit board will choose a preferred alignment in early 2015 with a final decision in 2016.

The public will have a chance to comment further to Sound Transit about the proposed routes and stations once it issues the draft EIS, possibly in December.

"We are four years away from construction," Anderson said. "Final design and construction begins in 2018 and it takes about four years to complete the construction. The whole system is expected to be operational to Highline Community College by 2023."

Tom Brubaker, interim chief administrative officer, emphasized to the council the importance of light rail in Kent.

"Kent has two huge assets that will be here long after any of us is here," Brubaker said. "One is the Green River and the other is the Sounder rail (train) station. This is going to be the third major asset that can help change this community that we have to focus on down the road."

Tarragon, the developer of Kent Station, recently submitted preliminary plans to the city to develop an apartment complex and that wouldn't happen and The Platform (apartments) wouldn't happen without the rail station, Brubaker said.

"Midway is another incredible opportunity for us," Brubaker said. "I want to encourage you to have a discussion so we can get a clear message and influence the decisions that are made because it will really influence the vitality on the West Hill, our economic base and it will help change the face of our community."

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