With Puget Sound’s light rail spine set to expand in all directions thanks to voter approval of Sound Transit 3 in 2016, the agency has begun the process of looking for a place in South King County where a new maintenance base could be located.
Presently, Link has just one maintenance base, in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. A second one is under construction in Bellevue’s Spring District, which will serve the needs of the East Link extension when it comes online in 2023.
Sound Transit says a third base will be needed to enable Link to properly serve Federal Way and Tacoma, and is identifying places where that base might go. Some of the locations the agency is studying would displace existing businesses, like the new Dick’s Drive-In Restaurant in Kent or these businesses in Federal Way.
The ownership of Dick’s is, shall we say, less than thrilled about the prospect of having to move somewhere else, even if it wouldn’t happen for several years.
The company has been using its customer mailing list to lobby Sound Transit and the City of Kent in opposition to the potential taking of its property.
“Just one month ago we opened our seventh restaurant, on Pacific Highway South in Kent,” Dick’s EVP Jasmine Donovan wrote in a January 28th email.
“As we did in 2011, we asked our customers to tell us where to build it. We received over 170,000 votes. With all the amazing community support and participation we were shocked to learn that Sound Transit was considering tearing down our brand-new restaurant along with the rest of this shopping center [the Midway Shopping Center] to build a Transit Maintenance Facility,” she continued.
“It’s not easy to locate this facility when you are looking for thirty unobstructed, flat acres near the rail line,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff observed when he was asked about the possibility of the restaurant having to move. “This (Midway) was one of the six sites that could be reasonable. We are going to study it. We are not selecting it… we are studying it along with other alternative sites.”
Other sites Sound Transit is studying include a large church (the Christian Faith Center in Federal Way), a residential neighborhood near S 316th Street and Military Road S, and a collection of commercial parcels in Federal Way that are home to several businesses, namely Garage Town, Ellenos Yogurt, and NW Equipment Sales.
The reaction in Federal Way has been comparable to the reaction in Kent, where city officials sided with Dick’s and are demanding Sound Transit remove the Midway Shopping Center site from its list of possible OMF South sites.
As it so happens, there is a site where OMF South could go that would not displace any homes, churches, or small businesses — and it’s also on Sound Transit’s list. It’s the former Midway landfill in Kent, near South 246th and 252nd (PDF).
This sixty-acre property sits between Pacific Highway South and Interstate 5. It was once home to a gravel pit (1945 through 196) before it was used by the City of Seattle as a landfill (1966 through 1983). It subsequently became a Superfund site.
Management of Dick’s wants Sound Transit to pick the Midway landfill site for OMF South, as does the Mayor of Kent, Dana Ralph. But as Sound Transit points out, it’s legally required to consider the alternatives before it makes a decision.
“People must understand that under the law we must look at a range of reasonable alternative sites,” Rogoff told KIRO7 back in January. He went on to observe: “Having to build over the landfill could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cost in comparison to some of the other sites under consideration.”
That may be true. But Sound Transit must consider more than just dollars and cents when making this decision. Whenever possible, the displacement of homes, businesses, and churches should be avoided for public works projects like the extension of Link light rail. Sparing households and small business owners the anxiety and hassle of relocating should be a priority for Sound Transit.
Sometimes the taking of property is unavoidable, as there are no better alternatives. But here would seem to be an obvious answer to the question Where should we put this base? The former Midway landfill site, that’s where!
Naturally, Sound Transit is obligated to investigate all the options, and we do not begrudge them for doing their due diligence, even if that process offends some.
But when it comes time to make a decision, we think the former Midway landfill site ought to be chosen for this project, even if it entails a higher price tag.
Would there be risks involved with picking the Midway site?
Yes, almost certainly.
But further environmental remediation of the Midway site would be a worthy investment that would benefit everybody, especially communities in South King County. In our view, projects that clean up our built environment and reverse the mistakes that previous generations made are always worth it.
The cost of any repurposing of the site will likely have to be borne by taxpayers anyway, since the previous user of the site was a city… Seattle.
We can understand Sound Transit’s staff and board potentially being concerned with the prospect of choosing a location for OMF South that runs up the costs associated with the project. After all, critics would surely turn that into fodder for attacks. But let’s face it: those critics are going to attack ST no matter what it does.
The agency’s critics either openly clamor for its total demise (like Tim Eyman, who wants to rip away ST’s funding with I-976) or demand the impossible: deliver projects on the cheap, quickly, with no disruption to anyone’s livelihood. That is simply not possible when a project involves constructing new right-of-way.
And new right-of-way is what Sound Transit is in the business of building.
Sound Transit won’t win over its diehard critics no matter what decision it makes with regards to this or any other project. However, the agency has a golden opportunity to leave South King County better than it found it.
Picking the former landfill site for OMF South would be taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. But Sound Transit has welcomed difficult challenges before.
For instance, figuring out how to get Link across Lake Washington was no picnic. Light rail has never been deployed on a floating bridge before. The critics said it couldn’t be done. Sound Transit is proving them wrong.
The agency doesn’t have to take on this challenge alone. In fact, it shouldn’t. The Washington State Legislature should step in to help with the further cleanup of the former landfill by appropriating funds for environmental remediation.
Sound Transit could also approach the federal government for assistance.
As the agency has learned following the recurring failures of its escalators at Capitol Hill and University of Washington Stations, sometimes trying to save money in the short term doesn’t work, and produces major headaches down the line.
We think it makes more sense for Sound Transit’s leadership to think long term and make decisions that will stand the test of time. Boardmembers must act in the best interest of the communities Sound Transit is trying to serve and the region as a whole, even if that may entail accepting higher risks and costs on a given project.