Sound Transit’s Federal Way Link Extension has moved into the design phase, two years after all but confirming a meandering alignment along Interstate 5 at the request of local jurisdictions. With construction slated to begin in 2019 and an opening date set for 2024, Sound Transit has compressed the entire station design review process into the next year and change. From now until September 22, Sound Transit is soliciting design feedback through an online survey and public open houses next month. Public feedback will be used to design the stations beyond the concept stage (where they are now) to “reflect the spirit of our communities and residents”.
Like the Angle Lake extension that opened last year, Sound Transit has opted to go for a design-build package to expedite the process and bring cost certainties for the project. As we recently reported for Lynnwood Link, Federal Way Link will be subject to current market conditions as well as uncertain federal funding, which may lead to reduced amenities and other corner-cutting measures.
The Federal Way Link Extension will have three stations: Kent/Des Moines, across the street from Highline College and one block from Highway 99; South 272nd Street, which clings to a freeway offramp at the current Star Lake Park & Ride; and Federal Way Transit Center, between the current transit center and The Commons shopping center. The station area concepts, posted alongside the survey, give a general sense of what each station will look like, along with its adjacent parking garages and potential sites for transit-oriented development.
Kent/Des Moines Station (Highline College)
Kent/Des Moines Station may hold a decent amount of development potential, with its proximity to Highline College and Highway 99, huge staging areas ripe for TOD, and an existing rezone to support 16-story buildings on nearby parcels (among the tallest allowed on Link). The station will cross over South 236th Street, which will gain a new signalized intersection and a bus layover facility next to the parking garage. The RapidRide A Line already serves two stops at S 240th and Kent-Des Moines Road, but the station concept envisions a new stop at S 236th that could supplement or replace one of the stops.
S 272nd Street Station (Star Lake)
South 272nd Street Station, by contrast, has very little development potential, compared to its neighbors. Squished between a large parking garage and an I-5 offramp, one would be forgiven for not seeing the station; the platforms are in a covered trench anyway, so drivers wouldn’t be able to observe the bustling all-day activity at the station. As a consolation, the bus connections are fairly good, with a dedicated bus loop and an additional bus stop on the I-5 offramp, though the latter is hard to find use for, given the truncation of most express bus service to Federal Way. A sizable chunk of the surrounding area is taken up by a forested basin, as well as the eponymous Star Lake a long walk to the southeast. One curious part of the station design is the inclusion of a second entrance on the north side of the platform, far away from the garage and bus stops, and only there to serve a cluster of homes on the dead-end 28th Avenue South.
The alignment immediately south of the station will cut across an elementary school’s playground, which prompted a land-swap deal to build a new school (assuming a school district bond measure passes next year) at the site of Metro’s Redondo Park and Ride on Highway 99. Perhaps, with the potential to use the school site for a meager amount of TOD, the station should be shifted south to cross under 272nd Street and have entrances serving both sides.
Downtown Federal Way Station (S 320th Street)
Federal Way’s only station may have the best development potential of all, at the heart of the city’s planned downtown. The station is about halfway between I-5 and Highway 99, to the south of the current transit center. The planned site is currently occupied by a strip mall and large parking lot, which would be acquired for staging; this leaves a pretty sizable amount of surplus land, which Sound Transit’s vision chops up into a small-scale street grid (a rarity in a sprawlburb like Federal Way). The current transit center would be removed, replaced by a minor street, and buses would instead use a bus-only street under the light rail station, with a direct ramp from the central roundabout. The addition of a second garage at the transit center is a bit overkill, and should be the first thing to go if the project does need to trim its budget.
Federal Way seems to be willing to reach for the skies in its downtown, readily accepting proposals for 45-story towers a few years ago before the developer pulled out. Something akin to the high-rise districts around SkyTrain stations in Burnaby and Surrey would fit nicely in the area and is something that the city looks prepared to accept. The current zoning laws allow for multi-family residences of up to 200 feet in height, but that can be further increased with public amenities.
Assuming that light rail is built as planned to Federal Way, riders should enjoy a 46-minute ride to Downtown Seattle, only slightly slower than the AM peak travel time for ST Express Route 577. If Sound Transit’s recent TOD endeavors are any indication, redevelopment of the Kent/Des Moines and Federal Way staging areas should come shortly after, if not alongside, the opening of the line in 2024. These new developments may be greeted by already finished neighbors, like Highline College’s five-story dorm for international students, and other private developers taking a gamble on an overlooked market like South King County.
Once again, the online survey runs until September 22. There will be two public open houses in mid-September where the public can ask Sound Transit staff about the project:
- Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) at Federal Way Community Center, 876 S. 333rd St. (on Metro route 903)
- Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at Highline College Building 2, 2400 S. 240th St., Des Moines (on Metro routes 156 and 166, and the RapidRide A Line)