The landscape of the West Hill in Kent continues to change as construction crews work to extend light rail 7.8 miles from Angle Lake in SeaTac to Federal Way.
Demolition of more than 70 buildings has finished in Kent as the steps continue to build the guideway for the light rail trains as well as three new stations — two in Kent and one in Federal Way.
So far, the project remains on schedule to open in late 2024. It will carry an estimated 36,000 riders per day, according to Sound Transit. The governor’s COVID-19 restrictions didn’t halt work on the Sound Transit project. And Sound Transit officials have said the loss of sales tax revenue because of the pandemic won’t stop the estimated $3.1 billion project.
Kelly Peterson, the city’s Link light rail liaison, told the Kent City Council during its Sept. 15 remote workshop that permits for the work are flowing right along.
“We have a number of tools we use to make sure we are on track,” Peterson told the council during his light rail construction update. “We have not held the project up from the permitting standpoint at all.”
Crews are relocating utilities to get them out of the way, including PSE transmission poles.
“We are in the peak of permitting,” Peterson said. “We will wrap up (permitting) by February of next year.”
Station construction is scheduled to begin in January. Kent will get two light rail stations with parking garages. One will be located along a new South 236th Street between 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South, and the second one will be at Star Lake near South 272nd Street and Interstate 5. About 500 parking spaces are planned for Kent/Des Moines and another 1,100 at Star Lake.
Sound Transit has divided the project into three segments: The first from SeaTac to South 240th Street in Kent, the second from South 240th Street to South 272nd Street, and the third from South 272nd Street to the Federal Way Transit Center near South 320th Street.
Drilling for column shafts will start in October in Kent to support the elevated guideway to carry the trains. The route will come west from I-5 up to 30th Avenue South before winding behind Lowe’s and back along the west side of I-5 near the former Midway Landfill.
Crews continue to excavate the landfill along the rail line, backfill it with good soil and dispose of the waste off-site. That work is expected to be completed in October. A gas collection system, landfill cover and stormwater control will be reinstalled as part of the environmental protections. The state Department of Transportation plans to add a southbound I-5 lane from Kent Des Moines Road and along the landfill to near South 272nd Street as part of the State Route 509 extension to I-5, slated for completion in 2028.
At the Star Lake Station area near South 272nd Street, demolition is complete and permitting by the city of Kent is ongoing. Clearing and grading of the area has begun and utilities soon will be relocated.
Heavy construction on the extension will be from 2020 to 2023. Sound Transit will then test the system from 2023 to 2024 before it opens to the public.
Payment for about $1.5 billion of the $3.1 billion project cost is expected to come from Sound Transit dedicated sales as well as rental car, motor vehicle excise tax and property tax revenues. Another $629 million will come from the federal loan to be repaid by Sound Transit tax revenues and about $145 million is covered by Sound Transit bond proceeds repaid by tax revenues.
Murals coming soon
Similar to what Sound Transit installed this summer in the Federal Way section of the project, 58 murals are scheduled to be installed in October on the construction fence in the Kent/Des Moines Station area.
Eight artists were selected to do the work, which will remain in place for three years. Sound Transit will maintain the artwork.
Sound Transit includes spending on art as part of each project. Permanent artwork will be installed once the stations are built at a cost of about $3 million, according to Sound Transit. Three works will be at the Kent/Des Moines Station, two at the Star Lake Station in Kent and three at the Federal Way Transit Center station. Artists also receive fees for the temporary artwork.
Work continues on the draft environmental impact statement for a new Operations and Maintenance Facility to be built in either Kent or Federal Way. Three sites are being studied — two in Federal Way and one in Kent — at the former landfill.
The draft statement was expected to be out in November for public comment, but that has been pushed back to the first quarter of 2021, Peterson said. The facility is needed for maintenance and storage of light rail vehicles that serve the south end. Sound Transit had expected to open that facility in 2026, but it’s likely that date could be pushed back to 2027 or 2028, Peterson said.
The Sound Transit Board plans to pick a site for the facility in 2021.
Residents or businesses with any complaints about the Federal Way light rail project can call the project hotline (24 hours) at 1-888-298-2395. More calls are expected as construction expands, Peterson said.