Sounder train commuters can expect a second parking garage in Kent within the next seven years or possibly sooner.
Sound Transit officials started steps this month to find potential sites for what’s proposed to be a 450-space multi-level parking garage at an estimated cost of $33 million. Commuters now park at the Kent Station garage, 301 Railroad Ave. N., which opened in 2001 and has 996 parking spaces but fills up quickly.
“We haven’t pinned down the sites we are looking at yet,” said Sandra Fann, Sound Transit project manager, at the Kent City Council’s Economic and Community Development meeting on Jan. 9 to introduce the proposal. “We are working with consultants to come up with the top four or five sites to evaluate further and look at over the next month.”
Voters in the Sound Transit district approved an additional parking garage for Kent in 2008 as part of the ST2 package. But 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.
Fann said it can take up to seven years to complete a parking structure after going through alternative sites analysis, preliminary design, final design and construction. She added it can take 12 to 18 months to select a site after public hearings and studies.
“We are looking at strategies to expedite the project,” Fann said. “We want to see projects happen faster. We are taking that to heart – you at the city of Kent have waited a long time for these projects to come along. We are looking at ways to do it faster.”
Sound Transit also plans to look at ways to improve station access for bicyclists and pedestrians. But council members told Fann the primary complaint they hear from residents looms around the lack of vehicle parking.
Councilwoman Tina Budell said commuters are parking in the nearby Mill Creek neighborhood because the garage fills up. She said Mill Creek might go to a permit parking policy to stop commuters from parking in the neighborhood.
“What bothers me – the alternatives are shortsighted thinking 450 spaces is enough when the one on the corner is full when you started running trains,” Budell said. “We need to stop thinking three to five years. …when you add more trains and cars that means more riders. You are looking to get more people in the valley to walk but that doesn’t account for people from Maple Valley and Covington who drive here for the train.”
Sound Transit plans to add two peak hour commuter rail trips in September between Lakewood and Seattle, which was part of the ST2 package. The ST3 package will eventually extend Sounder platforms at Kent and other stations to serve trains up to 10 cars in length, carrying 40 percent more passengers.
The agency plans to form a stakeholders committee later this month to help pick a parking garage site. That committee could include representatives from the Kent Chamber of Commerce, Kent Downtown Partnership, Green River College, transit riders, neighborhood councils, local businesses and property owners and bicyclists.
Open houses for the public about the project are expected to be held in February and April with dates still to be determined. The agency plans to pick three to five potential sites by March or April and get a recommendation in June from the city council that will go to the Sound Transit board in August.
“We hope to get through in eight months what takes 18 months,” Fann said about the timeline.
Councilwoman Dana Ralph said she has heard an empty gravel lot along Railroad Avenue and stretch of businesses and buildings north of that lot could be a primary site.
“I hope we’re not focused on one location that takes out established businesses,” Ralph said at the committee meeting. “I think it’s important we look at multiple sites.”
Ralph also emphasized the need for more vehicle parking over the agency’s plan to improve bicycle access at the new garage.
“I have never heard anyone say I rode my bike to the station and couldn’t park it,” she said. “That is not the problem we are hearing about from our residents.”
Fann said while the agency wants to look at ways to improve access to the garage by pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders, she hears what city leaders are saying.
“We understand the preference for Kent is to focus on parking,” she said.