Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff told a Kent Chamber of Commerce audience that the agency is “looking for the least bad choice” as it picks a site to build a light rail vehicle Operations and Maintenance Facility.
Rogoff explained such a facility is needed to clean, maintain and repair vehicles as Sound Transit expands light rail from SeaTac through Kent to Federal Way by 2024 and to Tacoma by 2030. The agency has three sites in Kent, two in Federal Way and one in unincorporated King County under consideration.
The Sound Transit Board is expected to decide at its May 23 meeting which sites to move into a draft Environmental Impact Statement phase, which would mean two more years of detailed study before selecting a spot.
Sound Transit staff said the Operations and Maintenance Facility needs to be done by 2026 to service and store more than 130 light rail vehicles. The facility requires at least 30 acres and would employ an estimated 300.
“There are no good choices, we are looking for the least bad choice,” Rogoff said at the Chamber luncheon May 2 at the Golden Steer Steak ‘n Rib House on the East Hill.
One site under consideration in Kent is where Dick’s Drive-In, Lowe’s and several other businesses are located along Pacific Highway South, just south of South 240th Street. Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and the Kent City Council have told Sound Transit they want that site removed from consideration, in large part because the property is close to one of the new light rail stations that will open.
The cities of Kent and Des Moines adopted plans years ago for transit-oriented development around that station near 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South.
Ralph and the council want Sound Transit to build the facility on the former Midway Landfill that sits south of the Dick’s/Lowe’s property.
Dick’s Drive-In just opened in December in Kent after an online contest about where to build a new location, so its owners and customers want the restaurant to stay put and not be bought out by Sound Transit for a Operations and Maintenance Facility.
“Many people, obviously great fans of Dick’s Drive-In, have weighed in,” Rogoff said about numerous emails and online comments received against the site being picked. “I have personally assured (Dick’s executive vice president) Jasmine (Donovan), her dad and others that this is not a vast vegan conspiracy as has been asserted by some people. This is the challenge of trying to find a place where we can locate a suitable facility.”
Rogoff seemed to try to soothe city leaders (Ralph attended the Chamber luncheon) that plans for a site will work out in the end similar to how things went with the Bellevue City Council for a new Operations and Facility under construction on the Eastside.
“We got very imaginative and are rather proud about what we were able to accomplish in Bellevue,” Rogoff said. “There wasn’t a lot of things a few years ago that unified the Bellevue City Council like their opposition to having a maintenance facility in Bellevue. It was one of maybe their only 7-0 votes.
“But when we worked really carefully with the city on how to imagine on how to make it work, how to do transit-oriented development around it, and so we were even able to facilitate the location of office facilities as part of their BelRed Corridor plan as Bellevue converts over to Redmond. It was then a 7-0 vote.
“What made sense for that community was adjoining office facilities. But there’s nothing that it need be beyond our core requirements of rail turnaround facilities, maintenance phase and the car wash. What you build around it and how you have that integrate, can with some creativity be further innovative development.”
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove spoke briefly at the Chamber luncheon and repeated his earlier announced opposition to moving the Lowe’s/Dick’s site forward as a potential site for the facility. He prefers more transit-oriented development near the light rail station going in at the Kent/Des Moines site across Pacific Highway South from Highline College.