City of Kent staff disputes Sound Transit’s estimate of $1.3 billion to build a light rail Operations and Maintenance Facility on the former Midway Landfill, so the city will hire a consultant to determine a calculation.
The City Council’s Public Works Committee approved on Feb. 25 to spend up to $100,000 to hire a engineering consultant to come up with a new estimate. The full council approved the measure Tuesday on its consent calendar, items the council considers non-controversial and that are adopted without any discussion.
“Our staff strongly believe one of the alternatives for the former landfill site is way high,” City Public Works Director Tim LaPorte said to the committee. “We do not concur with the numbers that we have seen come from the consultant being utilized by Sound Transit.”
Sound Transit released the estimated costs on Feb. 19 for six sites the agency will consider for the new 30,000-square foot facility that will store and maintain up to 144 light rail vehicles. Three sites are in Kent, two on the former landfill west of Interstate 5, with estimated costs of $1.3 billion apiece, and one is at the site of the Lowe’s store and Dick’s Drive-In restaurant, with an estimated cost of $800 million.
“We have very early preliminary estimates for all six sites for comparative purposes,” Sound Transit spokesman Scott Thompson said in a Feb. 27 email. “The costs will be refined as our evaluation process moves forward.”
Two other proposed sites are in Federal Way and one in unincorporated King County near Federal Way.
HDR Engineering, based in Omaha, Neb., with offices in Seattle and 200 locations around the world, provided the cost analysis to Sound Transit. The board awarded a $10.2 million contract (with a 1 percent contingency up to $11.3 million) in December 2017 to HDR for the Tacoma Dome Link Extension, including a preferred route, location of light rail stations and finding potential sites for the Operations and Maintenance Facility.
“The city of Kent is free to hire an engineering consultant,” Thompson said when asked to respond to the city’s dispute about the cost estimates. “We will move forward with our scoping process and evaluation of all six sites.”
Kent city leaders told Sound Transit in January that they want to agency to build the facility on the former landfill site (that closed in 1983) and not where Dick’s just opened in December near South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South.
“It’s unfortunate we find ourselves in the position of debating with another public agency over the need to better consider redeveloping a regional asset such as the Midway Landfill,” Councilman Dennis Higgins said at the committee meeting. “We absolutely have to make sure the city’s case is made fully, thoroughly and properly that the site is preferable in every way to lopping off half of the area available for transit-oriented development (near Dick’s) adjacent to the Kent Des Moines light rail station.
“Why they would shoot themselves in the foot in that way is beyond me. We are going to help them come to their senses, and I would like to see this move forward very quickly.”
Sound Transit plans to open a new light rail extension from SeaTac through Kent to Federal Way in 2024 and a Federal Way to Tacoma Dome extension by 2030. The project includes two light rail passenger stations in Kent, one at 30th Avenue South near Pacific Highway South and other at South 272nd Street near Interstate 5.
The council in January passed an emergency land use zoning change to ban the maintenance facility from being built on the Lowe’s/Dick’s property. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff responded to that step that local zoning isn’t the final word and that agency has gone to court over such matters in the past.
Rogoff also said besides the higher costs, the former landfill is a Superfund site, and building on that site could pose significant environmental risks – not just to neighbors – but to workers at the facility. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the landfill as contaminated by hazardous waste. The site has been cleaned up and is monitored, which Kent city officials claim make it ready for development.
City staff will move quickly to hire a consultant because Sound Transit opened the public comment period Feb. 19 about where to put the facility and closes that period April 1.