Sound Transit has once again delayed construction of a new parking garage in Kent for Sounder train commuters.
Voters approved additional parking garages for Kent and Auburn in 2008 as part of the Sound Transit2 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 the impact of COVID-19 on potential sales tax revenue for Sound Transit caused the agency to put the project on hold.
“The Kent Station Access and Garage project was still in the planning phase when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were put in place,” said Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson in a Sept. 17 email to the Kent Reporter. “Because of that, Sound Transit has seen a significant reduction in revenue and made the decision to pause all projects that were not in construction or under contract for construction. The Kent project is one of several projects that were paused.”
When told about the project delay, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said she wants the agency to keep its word.
“Sound Transit promised this development to Kent residents as part of the ST2 package that was approved by voters years ago, well before COVID-19,” Ralph said in an email. “The city is committed to continuing to work with the Sound Transit Board to ensure they fulfill that promise they made to Kent residents and voters.
“We believe this is an important project and one worthy of funding and finishing. It will be a major benefit to Kent residents, commuters and businesses and is a huge asset to Kent’s downtown. We recognize times are tough with revenue loss happening across the board. But we also recognize the importance of maintaining the trust and positive relationship Sound Transit has with our communities. We will continue to urge them to fulfill this promise.”
The board will meet Sept. 24 to consider moving forward incrementally on several projects including the Kent Parking and Access Project, Thompson said.
“Sound Transit staff is recommending moving the project forward by hiring a design build project management consultant at a cost of $4 million,” Thompson said.
The garage, with 534 parking stalls, is planned 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 said in February prior to COVID-19. Even that opening is a year later than what transit officials said a few years ago.
The estimated cost of the Kent Sounder Station project is $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 a Sound Transit spokesperson in a February update about the project.
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 fill up quickly.
The agency also has paused Sounder parking garage projects in Auburn and Sumner.
As businesses closed and people stayed home, sales tax revenues critical to funding transit construction have declined rapidly, according to Sound Transit.
“We estimate that cumulative fiscal impacts over the next two decades will range between $8 billion and $12 billion, or 12% to 18% less revenue than previously assumed,” according to a statement on the agency’s website.
The board plans to establish clear expectations about project delivery timelines by summer 2021.
“With greatly depleted revenues, Sound Transit will not be able to deliver many expansion projects on their original timelines unless we receive alternative revenue from federal or state sources,” according to its website.
Because the projects are already in construction phase or under contract, light rail extensions to Federal Way, Northgate, Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond and the Tacoma Link Hilltop Extension remain on schedule. The Federal Way extension, which includes two new stations in Kent, is expected to open in 2024.