The Sound Transit Board next month will pick a preferred site in Kent or Federal Way for a new Operations and Maintenance Facility for light rail vehicles.
The choice could be the former Midway Landfill in Kent that sits between Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway South or either the South 336th Street or South 344th Street sites in Federal Way.
Building a facility at the former landfill will cost more money and take more time than the Federal Way sites, according to Sound Transit. Once a preferred site is picked, more studies will be done before a final decision by the board in late 2022. The agency wants the facility ready to go in 2029.
Claudia Balducci, a King County Council member and chair of Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee, said at the Nov. 18 board meeting that she will bring a recommendation to the Dec. 9 committee meeting. The recommendation by that eight-member group will then go to the full 18-member board on Dec. 16 for its selection.
“I want us to be ready,” said Balducci, who has toured the three sites. “It is time for us to make a call. Not one of the options rises to the top as simple and easy and better than the rest. There’s real considerations on all of them.”
Balducci didn’t tip her hand about which site she prefers.
Kent Keel, an University Place City Council member, is chair of the full Sound Transit Board and a member of the System Expansion Committee. He indicated at the Nov. 10 committee meeting that he had some concerns about the landfill site.
“Adding years to get (light rail) to Tacoma and adding billions of dollars, it’s hard for me to get there,” Keel said about the longer timeline and higher costs. “That’s where I am today.”
Keel was the only board member this month at the committee meeting or full board meeting to comment about concerns with picking the Kent location.
Sound Transit is governed by an 18-member board made up of local elected officials proportional to the population included in the Sound Transit district. Ten members are from King County; four are from Pierce County; and three members are from Snohomish County. The last seat is held by the state secretary of transportation.
While no board members are from Kent, the representatives include King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, of Des Moines, whose District 5 includes part of Kent. Other members include King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer of Federal Way.
Costs to build the facility at the former landfill range from $1.7 billion to $2.8 billion, depending on which option at the site is chosen, according to Sound Transit.
It would cost an estimated $2.2 billion to $2.8 billion to build a platform atop the landfill, without removing much material. A hybrid option, with some excavation, would cost $1.8 billion to $2.3 billion. Full excavation of the site prior to building the facility would cost about $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion.
The estimated cost is $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion at either Federal Way site, according to Sound Transit.
Under Sound Transit’s realignment financial plan due to recent budget shortfalls, about $1.18 billion would be available to build the Operations and Maintenance Facility South. The landfill site would exceed that cost by about $500 million to $1.1 billion depending on the option, according to Sound Transit.
The costs are higher at the former landfill because crews must do a lot of work below ground to address settlement prior to building the facility. A 3.5-foot thick concrete slab platform would be supported on approximately 700 concrete-filled drill shafts.
During a full excavation, tons of material would need to be removed from the landfill, enough to fill an estimated 900 Olympic-sized swimming pools, said Curvie Hawkins, project manager, during his report to the expansion committee.
All of that extra work below ground also would make the landfill site take an estimated six to eight years to build the facility compared to about three to four years for the Federal Way sites, according to Sound Transit.
That extra time could cause the agency to miss its timeline for having the facility ready to handle the vehicles needed to expand light rail to the Tacoma Dome and to West Seattle.
“Landfill construction could postpone the Tacoma Dome link and West Seattle link extension openings by 2.5 to 5 years,” said Chelsea Levy, Sound Transit south corridor development director, at the committee meeting.
A new Operations and Maintenance Facility is needed in the South Sound to receive, store and service a larger train fleet to support future light rail extensions to Tacoma, West Seattle and throughout the region, according to Sound Transit. As many as 144 light rail vehicles would be maintained at the site.
The SeaTac to Federal Way extension under construction is scheduled to open in 2024 and is handled by a maintenance facility in South Seattle. Sound Transit recently built another facility in Bellevue and will add one north of Seattle.
Light rail trains will go to the facility 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for cleaning and care. Approximately 60 to 70 acres (for reference, one football field is 1.3 acres) is needed near an operating light rail line.
The benefits to a city getting the facility will be 470 high-skilled, living-wage jobs, according to Sound Transit. At the facility in Seattle, the average employee wage is more than $40 per hour or $80,000 a year.
A Sound Transit analysis of public comment and feedback shows that a majority of the respondents prefer the former landfill site, in part because the Federal Way sites take away businesses, churches and some residential homes and impacts creeks and wetlands.
Most agencies also prefer the 68-acre former landfill, which closed in 1983. The city of Federal Way wants the facility built at the landfill. The city of Kent said in a letter to Sound Transit that it does not object to the facility at the landfill, although city officials haven’t lobbied for it. The city of Des Moines prefers the landfill alternative because it avoids the impact of the Federal Way sites to businesses and churches.
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians prefers the Midway Landfill primarily due to concerns about potential impacts to ecosystems (streams and downstream fish habitat) as well as water resources, according to Sound Transit documents.
Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff told the expansion committee that staff will not make a recommendation about which site to pick. He emphasized the importance of choosing a location next month.
“We need a decision in the month of December to keep everything else on track with the Tacoma Dome and West Seattle extensions and in order to design and build the facility no matter where you choose to locate it,” Rogoff said.
Board members raised concerns about job losses. According to Sound Transit, the South 344th Street site in Federal Way would displace about 217 jobs, the South 336th Street location would displace 94 jobs, and the Midway location would displace 43 jobs.
Rogoff said board members also should think about the new jobs the facility will bring.
“The impact to the cities of Kent or Federal Way is 400 well-paying jobs to those cities,” Rogoff said.
Fife Mayor Kim Roscoe, who is vice chair of the System Expansion Committee, said she has toured all three sites and talked to a few of the business owners.
“I feel comfortable and confident with the information I have received from staff,” Roscoe said at the Nov. 18 full board meeting. “I encourage board members to take a tour if you can. It’s been very, very helpful. It is going to be a tough decision, but we need to be ready to make a decision and move forward.”