Sounder parking garage in Kent back on the table for now

Board moves project forward but uncertainity remains about construction

A new parking garage in Kent for Sounder train commuters is back on the table.

The Sound Transit Board approved moving forward parking garage projects in Kent, Auburn and Sumner at its Sept. 24 meeting. The projects had been paused because of the agency’s declining sales tax revenue due to COVID-19.

“The board will make further decisions on these projects next summer,” said Scott Thompson, Sound Transit public information officer, in an email.

But $4 million will be spent up until then to further study parking and access improvements in Kent and Auburn. Sound Transit staff recommended advancing the projects in order to develop lower cost scope and contract packaging options to determine if the projects can be delivered within the Transportation Improvement Plan estimates. The funds will pay for a design build project management consultant.

It doesn’t mean, however, the project is a done deal.

“The work recommended for advancement will help staff provide the board with better information next year and will neither predetermine future decisions nor cause material financial impact to other projects,” according to board documents.

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 project was still in the planning phase when COVID-19 hit in March. Sound Transit moved forward with projects already under construction, including the Federal Way Link light rail extension from SeaTac through Kent to Federal Way, scheduled to open in 2024.

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.

Sound Transit estimates revenues could decline anywhere from $656 million to $921 million in 2020 and 2021. Revenues could drop from $7.2 billion to $11.9 billion through 2041, according to agency documents.

“The COVID-19 crisis is greatly reducing the revenues Sound Transit relies on to expand the regional transit system,” according to an agency statement. “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, state or other new sources.”

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.

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