Sound Transit considers four sites for parking garage in Kent

Sound Transit has identified four potential sites for a new 450-stall parking garage near the Kent Sounder Station.

After meeting with stakeholders and hosting an open house earlier this year, Sound Transit narrowed eight sites down to four for further study.

The four sites to be analyzed are: a vacant lot on the north side of James Street on the east side of the BNSF railroad tracks; the Kent Station surface parking lot south of James Street and west of First Avenue North; a site combining the cold storage facility and parking lot south of James and west of Railroad Avenue with the Sound Transit-owned surface parking lot south of James and east of Railroad Avenue; and a site combining Kaibara Park and a portion of the King County Library parking lot between Smith and Meeker streets west of the railroad tracks.

Representatives from Sound Transit gave a presentation about the sites at the Kent City Council’s Economic and Community Development and Public Works committee meetings in March.

Factors considered when evaluating the sites included transportation access, engineering, environmental conditions and transit-oriented-development, land use and ownership.

Commuters now park at the Kent Station garage, 301 Railroad Ave. N., which opened in 2001. The garage and surface lot provide 996 parking spaces but fill up quickly.

Voters in the Sound Transit district approved an additional parking garage for Kent in 2008 as part of the ST2 package.

The Sound Transit board suspended the project in 2010 because of the Great Recession when sales tax revenue for the agency came up shorter than projected.

The board restored funding last year for parking garages in Kent and Auburn.

The timeline for the $33 million project calls for a site to be selected by early 2019 with construction beginning in 2021 and the garage opening in 2023, although officials hope it could be competed sooner.

Sound Transit also plans to look at ways to improve station access for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Given that 80 percent of park and ride passengers come from the east of the station, Councilman Jim Berrios said it makes sense for the station to be east of the railroad tracks.

“If we are considering sites on the west side, we are possibly creating some problems for ourselves coming and going, and that would be a huge concern of mine,” Berrios said during the Economic and Community Development Committee meeting on March 13.

He added that traffic already backs up near the railroad tracks during the commute.

The impact on traffic will be taken into consideration, said Sandra Fann, Sound Transit project manager.

“We will be conducting a preliminary traffic analysis for all four of the sites so that we can assess how they will affect congestion on the streets,” she said.

Where the Sounder train stops while at the station compounds traffic, said Ben Wolters, the city’s economic and community development director.

“It’s a big problem on Smith Street, particularly on the evening commute south,” Wolters said. “The nose of the engine is out on Smith Street blocking traffic and backing everything up and creating some of that snarl. One of the projects in the ST3 package is extending the platform on the rail. That may allow the opportunity… so that the train can load and unload without putting itself in the crossroads. That might alleviate some of that conflict.”

Sound Transit will continue to work with the city, stakeholders and the community to determine the best site for the garage.

An open house is being planned for early June, as well as another presentation to the Kent City Council.

“At some point, just with the Link light rail project, the Sound Transit board will be looking for some resolution of support for whatever preferred alternative is selected,” Wolters told the Economic and Community Development Committee.