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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Where should Sound Transit put Link’s South Maintenance Base? There’s an obvious answer

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.

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2 Comments

  1. That fam­i­ly run busi­ness is just a bunch of self serv­ing land­ed gen­try. What a bunch of com­plain­ers for peo­ple born into a liveli­hood. I’m not hav­ing anoth­er Dick­’s burg­er ever.

    # by Aaron P :: February 12th, 2019 at 3:37 PM
  2. In my opin­ion the best place for the OMF SOUTH
    would/should be the Mid­way Land­fill.
    It’s not being used for any­thing else, is very avail­able, and
    you would­n’t have to tear down any exist­ing busi­ness­es or
    res­i­dences.

    We haVe been wait­ing a long time for the new DICK­’s in Kent
    so please don’t tear it down.

    # by Mary Mickels :: March 10th, 2019 at 5:09 PM