Kent City Council wants more light rail parking

The Kent City Council wants Sound Transit to build more parking at the new light rail station scheduled to open in 2024 on the West Hill.

The transit agency’s proposal includes a 500-stall parking garage to be built near 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South. Sound Transit opened the Angle Lake Station last year in SeaTac with a garage and surface parking for 1,100 spaces.

“Kent with only 500 spaces, right next to a (Highline) junior college and a very busy Highway 99 where there’s tons of apartments and houses that people go to Seattle, you are shooting yourself in the foot,” Councilwoman Tina Budell told Sound Transit staff during a June 6 council workshop. “You are going to have a public perception that the sixth largest city in the state doesn’t really count – that Seattle’s more important and Federal Way’s more important. I would think you would want to put in a few more.”

Sound Transit plans to build a 500-space garage at the south 272nd station on the Kent/Federal Way border to go along with about 600 surface spots and construct a 400-space garage at the Federal Way Transit Center to add to the 800 surface parking spots.

“Can you explain why three stations around us have 1,000 or more spaces but Kent is still at 500?” said City Councilwoman Brenda Fincher. “We have shared concerns before about the parking. I am not understanding the disparity there.”

Sandra Fann, Sound Transit project manager, replied that the agency studied how many parking spaces to put at each station as part of the 7.6-mile extension from SeaTac to Federal Way.

Construction on the estimated $1.5 billion extension is expected to start in 2019 and finish in 2024.

“We looked at street capacity and how congested are the roadways surrounding the station,” Fann said. “As you know, the Kent-Des Moines Road is a very congested roadway and so is SR 99. You don’t want to put too many parking spaces in one location unless the roadways can accommodate that. … It does not mean more spaces cannot be built.”

Of course, more spaces costs more money. The council wants to know how much it would cost and whether another floor or two of parking could be added at the Kent/Des Moines station garage.

Councilwoman Dana Ralph shared her concerns about how quickly the Angle Lake garage in SeaTac fills up each weekday and how Highline College students might want to park at the new Kent station so close to their Des Moines campus where parking lots fill up. The light rail garages are built to be for transit riders.

“Angle Lake has not been open a year and I’m already seeing County Councilmember (Dave) Upthegrove saying, ‘I can no longer take Sound Transit because I can’t park,’ ” Ralph said. “I just am really concerned with only 500 stalls at the station.”

Chelsea Levy, Sound Transit government and community relations officer, told the council that many questions about parking loom.

“Parking is a challenge for all of the transit agencies. There is so much demand for transit in our region,” Levy said. “Providing access is a key thing of what we are focusing on. The region cannot afford for us to build a parking stall for every single person who wants to drive to the station, so we are looking for ways to provide access for bus connections and increased development around the stations to allow people to walk and bike to the stations.”

Councilman Les Thomas wondered if land that will be used for construction staging prior to light rail opening could then be converted to a surface parking lot. Thomas also asked about adding another floor or two to the parking garage.

“We need more parking,” Thomas said. “How you do that, I don’t know.”

Ben Wolters, city economic and community development director, said at the workshop that the council initially agreed the land around the new parking garage would be for mixed-use developments.

“We have a long adopted council plan for Envision Midway that anticipates this area would be an opportunity for mixed use such as apartments, retail stores, offices or a hotel,” Wolters said. “Do we want this property for surface parking? Or to do we help build ridership and attract investors for new residents to live next to the station?”

Wolters said he has a preferred option if the council wants more parking.

“From a land-use perspective, I would add more floors to structured parking rather than consume a lot of land with surface parking,” he said.

The new light rail line will cross over Pacific Highway South from Angle Lake as it runs along the west edge of the planned State Route 509 extension. The route then goes along the west edge of I-5 before it heads west around Kent-Des Moines Road to the elevated Kent/Des Moines station on the west side of 30th Avenue. The line then goes east back to I-5 to head to the elevated south 272nd station prior to going to the Federal Way Transit Center near South 320th Street.

The city of Kent and Sound Transit are scheduled to sign off on a development agreement for the extension and parking garage in early 2018. Sound Transit has started a two-year process to buy properties along the extension.

The council plans to have Sound Transit staff return in September for further discussion about parking.

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