A potential delay or smaller Sounder parking garage has led to another fight between the Kent City Council and Sound Transit.
City leaders won a fight two years ago when they persuaded the Sound Transit Board to remove the Dick’s Drive-In/Lowe’s site on Kent’s West Hill from consideration for a new light rail vehicle maintenance facility.
Now city leaders want to make sure Sound Transit builds a new parking garage downtown for train commuters as promised with 534 stalls plus bus, pedestrian and bicycle improvements. The garage is slated to be built along Railroad Avenue North, just south of West James Street. Construction is expected to begin in 2022, with the parking garage scheduled to open in 2024.
Sound Transit is considering which projects to pause or reduce because of the agency’s declining sales tax revenue due to COVID-19 and higher construction and real estate costs. Proposed parking garages in Kent, Auburn and Sumner could be impacted. The board is expected to make decisions this summer about where to scale back projects across the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit estimates an $11.5 billion revenue shortfall for its projects planned through 2041.
“This is something promised,” said Councilmember Bill Boyce during an April 20 council workshop. “South King County always gets the short end of the stick. We need to make some noise right away before it’s too late and they make decisions. …It’s totally unacceptable for them to shortchange South King County.”
Voters approved additional Sounder parking garages in 2008 as part of the Sound Transit 2 package. The Sound Transit Board suspended the projects in 2010 because of the Great Recession when sales tax revenue for the agency came up shorter than projected. The agency’s board restored funding for the Kent and Auburn garages in 2016, but now the project could be in jeopardy again.
The cost of the Kent Sounder Station project is an estimated $116 million, which includes planning, permits, design, and construction of all project elements including traffic mitigation, bus layover space, bike-pedestrian improvements and the parking garage, according to Sound Transit.
Matt Gilbert, city economic and community development deputy director, told the council at its workshop that Sound Transit is considering reducing the scope of the project, possibly with fewer parking stalls or reductions in the planned improvements for buses and bicycles. He said Sound Transit staff is trying to get the project cost down to about $90 million.
“I’m really concerned about the amount of stalls,” Councilmember Les Thomas said. “I would really hate to see them reduce that number.”
Gilbert said one option to save costs might be a cookie-cutter approach to build the same style of garages in Kent, Auburn and Sumner.
“Our preference is the project stays as it is,” Gilbert said.
The council agreed and decided it would send a letter to the Sound Transit Board to keep the Kent parking garage project the same as promised.
Commuters now park at the Kent Station garage, 301 Railroad Ave. N., which opened in 2001, just north of West Smith Street. The garage and surface lot provide 996 parking spaces, but they fill up quickly, which is why the agency decided it needed a second garage.