Aerial view of Highline College (Joe Mabel/Flickr – CC-BY-SA)

The Link light rail extension to Federal Way is up next for federal funding approval, but Sound Transit is looking beyond for its future operational needs once the Tacoma Dome extension is completed in 2030. Among the priorities is identifying sites for an operations and maintenance facility (OMF), which is the subject of an ongoing search and environmental review.

Sound Transit is considering six general sites between Highline College and southern Federal Way for the OMF, which would require a 30-acre plot of generally flat land that is adjacent to the proposed route of the Federal Way Extension. One of the options, at the site of the recently-opened Dick’s Drive-In and a Lowe’s home improvement store, is causing a ruckus that has mobilized city officials in Kent.

The Dick’s-Lowes site is obviously causing some controversy, as the beloved burger chain opened its first South Sound location there a month ago after a public poll pulled the region ahead of the Eastside. The implications of an OMF on potential transit-oriented development around the Kent/Des Moines Station, located two blocks north, were also cited by Kent city officials. The city council passed an emergency zoning ordinance last week that would specifically prohibit the construction of a transit OMF within the Midway subarea, which it had zoned for mixed-use development.

Kent’s 2012 Envision Midway subarea plan, with the Lowe’s site visible in the bottom-center (City of Kent)

Kent, with support from Federal Way and Des Moines, is instead asking Sound Transit to remove the Dick’s/Lowes site from further consideration and choose one of five other alternative sites that are being studied for the OMF’s environmental impact statement. Chief among them is the Midway Landfill, a decommissioned landfill that sits slightly to the south of the Dick’s/Lowes site but would potentially require costly environmental cleanup. The landfill was closed in 1983, after nearly two decades of accepting local industrial waste, and was added to the EPA’s Superfund program in 1986. The EPA and City of Seattle finished construction of a cap in 2000 to prevent gasses from escaping the landfill, but it would need to be redesigned to accommodate use for an OMF. The additional costs of building at the landfill, which would require careful environmental cleanup and mitigation, could be backfilled using brownfield development grants from the federal government, but there have yet to be specific estimates released to the public.

According to the Kent city government and the Kent Reporter, there are three other sites that are under consideration: a rural lot on the east side of I-5 near South 320th Street; and two sites located further south from Downtown Federal Way that would be connected by the Tacoma Dome Extension and thus pose less disruption to Link operations.

In an email to STB, Sound Transit said it plans to complete early scoping for the OMF project by summer, which will be taken into the two-year EIS process. The OMF itself would be open in 2026, in time to receive and store an expanded LRV fleet that is being prepared for the Tacoma Dome, West Seattle, and Ballard extensions.

Rendering of TOD at the East OMF in Bellevue (Sound Transit)

While having an enclosed trainyard might “spoil” the area’s chances at attracting good mixed-used TOD, it’s not exactly the end of the world. The East Link OMF near the Spring District in Bellevue will integrate several office buildings that serve to buffer the OMF from the rest of the development, which is quite close to the 120th Street Station. By siting the OMF within walking distance of the station, it’s possible that operator changes would be little more than an extended dwell time at the station rather than an extra stop like SODO’s current changeovers.

A public hearing is scheduled to take place on February 5 at 7 p.m. in the Kent City Council chambers. With the coverage that this decision is getting due to the brand appeal of Dick’s, this meeting might be worth the spectacle.

38 Replies to “Link OMF Decision Could Threaten Future TOD at Kent-Des Moines Station”

  1. “Of course they are targeting Dick’s DRIVE-in. WAR ON CARS WAR ON CARS WARRONCARZZ!!1”

    Over/under on how many people at the hearing are told to go eat a bag of … cheeseburgers?

    But srsly,
    “and two sites located further south from Downtown Federal Way that would be connected by the Tacoma Dome Extension and thus pose less disruption to Link operations.”

    Yes, this. Don’t waste passenger’s time with operator changes, it’s a minor inconvenience but it is also galling that the system is designed with such little regard to the passenger experience. Also the landfill site seems like a great opportunity to get a polluted area cleaned up and turned into useful space again. Dick’s could be moved so that’s a dumb reason not to pick a site but it seems like there are better alternatives anyway so why pick at a sore spot?

    1. +1 on making the Midway Landfill a useful space again. Start applying for the Federal clean up grants the day that the Feds re-open for business (if that ever happens).

    2. I don’t see why anybody wants a 1970s hamburger; I was glad to be rid of them. Give me a real burger from any of dozens of pubs and diners around town. I’m glad Dicks uses real ice cream in its shakes and pays its workers well, but the burgers…? However, the other base locations sound better. This coverage earlier this week made it sound like this was the only possible base location, and so we’d lose another large chunk of TOD walkshed.(cough, restrictive zoning around Mt Baker, Beacon Hill, and Capitol Hill; golf course and school around Shoreline South, etc).

      In a sane world the cost of keeping a former landfill safe wouldn’t be taken out of the transit budget or dependent on iffy grants; the state and cities and former company would take care of that. Like how paratransit should come from a social-service budget, not taken out of transit’s limited operating funds when our transit is already less than other countries and we need to get out of car dependency.

    3. Please tell me this Dicks is compact and pedestrian-friendly like the one on Broadway, not a suburban monstrosity like the others with a large parking lot. Could Dics, ST, and Kent be creative in designing a compact lot for it that would complement the TOD/urban village rather than detracting from it?

      1. Parking lots are needed for Dick’s customers to park, place an order, receive their food, eat in their car, and then leave to make room for others to do the same. No parking lot, no customers.

      2. Orv, I believe the key difference here is parking lot vs massive Walmart-style parking crater. Even the location on Capital Hill has a parking lot.

      3. The Broadway one has two small parking aisles going front to back, and a lot of walk-up customers.

      4. The post title is: Link OMF Decision Could Threaten Future TOD at Kent-Des Moines Station, not Dick’s Threatens Future of TOD at Kent-Des Moines Station.

      5. “Parking lots are needed for Dick’s customers to park, place an order, receive their food, eat in their car, and then leave to make room for others to do the same. No parking lot, no customers.”

        That’s the 1950’s way of thinking. Which, for a place like Capital Hill in 2019 is totally non-nonsensical. Of course, people will walk to their place to buy a hamburger, and without the excessive amount of parking, there would be plenty of room for a seating area, since chair and tables take up much less space per person than parking spaces.

        Perhaps the idea is that parking lots are cheaper to maintain than seating areas, which need to be enclosed and heated in the winter. Or perhaps their business strategy is to cater toward those who will never leave home without their car – even to go across the street. But the reality is that a parking lot with a larger land footprint than the actual store is a very inefficient use of valuable Capital Hill land. And from a streetscape perspective, we need businesses that cater to people arriving on foot, rather than driving from their home 3 blocks away, to enjoy the free parking.

      6. ASDF2 – you are describing a 50’s diner where locals go for their meals and coffee. This is not Dick’s business model or any successful model in the area. Starbucks it the closest idea, but they do a lot of drive thru or stop and pick-up business. No need to bash Dick’s, it’s an area icon, very successful. Check out Dick’s on 105th in Crown Hill, how do customers get to that location? How many customers go each day? Here’s the answer: by cars and a whole bunch each day.

      7. Is that what we want our future to be? You could also ask, why does Holman road have such bad land use, and why is Dick’s located there? In any case, this part of Link is about to get an urban village and a Link station, so it’s not the same situation as Holman Road or other suburban locations.

    4. I don’t think the real issue is the Dick’s, it’s clearly that Kent thinks that lot with the Dick’s and Lowe’s is way to valuable to put an OMF on it. That make sense given a station would be half a super block away from the site. The land value isn’t worth putting an OMF on. This is also in one of the few areas of this line that will actually allow for TOD. If I’m not mistaken the alignment south of here starts to just follow I-5. So why not build the OMF someplace further south? You could put it between the freeway and the LR tracks in a number of locations. I see a few site that are completely undeveloped or have existing surface parking only.

      In other words, why does Sound Transit want to minimize TOD in the one part of this extension that actually has the most potential by being on 99 instead of I-5?

      1. “it’s clearly that Kent thinks that lot with the Dick’s and Lowe’s is way to valuable to put an OMF on it.”

        That gets into how the Dick’s is designed. Is it making the most of an emerging urban village or is it a car-sewer wasteland like the existing buildings there? Maybe I’ll go down there today and see.

      2. Yes, let’s make every effort to take tax revenue, job producing resources to sacrifice to the transportation God.
        There is a population larger than this committee of 100 that has to share the space and pay for the improvements.

      3. I went down to look. Dick’s is a fair walk from the station site; in Broadway terms about Roy Street, so it makes sense that density would start to taper down a bit, especially with it being on the far side of 240th Street and Lowe’s. Lowe’s should be TOD, however; it’s across 240th but still close enough to the station that not doing so would be a waste.

        The Dick’s in Kent has a modest amount of parking, maybe a bit more than Broadway but not that much. It’s counter-only; there’s no dining room like the Queen Anne one. There’s a small hill next to the sidewalk that makes it impossible to put the restaurant right next to the sidewalk; instead you go up an inclined driveway and turn twice to get to the restaurant. Given the hill I don’t see how they could do much better. But it does give a reason to say maybe the site should be redeveloped with Lowe’s, and then the developer could cut a building into the hillside. A smart ST/city/developer/Dick’s partnership would find a place to relocate the restaurant closer to the station and with a better walk-up design, and make the parking aisle as unobtrusive as possible.

  2. “By siting the OMF within walking distance of the OMF” – I think you meant walking distance of the station?

  3. I recommend people read a post in the archives from July 25, 2014 by KJ Hiramoto entitled Sound Transit Selects BNSF site in Bellevue as Preferred Alternative for Rail Yard for a little education on what ST looks for in an OMF location. In reading that post, you also learn ST will absolutely locate a facility where future TOD would otherwise go, as they did with the Spring District OMF selection.

    1. I think the East OMF was somewhat dictated by the lack of appropriate land. Real estate along the entire corridor is pretty much developed and expensive. The site appears the to be the easiest to buy and to operate an OMF.

      In this situation, there appears to be more options:

      – Could it use I-5 right-of-way at all? Maybe even a lid over the interstate could be created.

      – Could it added along the SR 509 project? Building it there could help mitigate highway noise.

      – Could it go just a bit further south in Fife? It seems logical to put these facilities as close to the end of the line as possible, and locating here would take advantage of the difficulty with elevation and soils that make it much harder to build a TOD. Pierce County leaders may actually support it because it would bring more jobs into their area!

      – Could it be somewhere underneath the approach flight path for SeaTac? Those areas have heigh restrictions anyway and uses like this are better for a flight path.

      I sometimes feel that ST is more dogmatically hard-headed rather than logical and rational. Rolling out a limited number of sites is just one more example of how they choose whatever they want by proposing few options.

    2. Put it on top of KDM Road. That area is already a wasteland that can’t be redeemed as long as the road is there.

  4. I don’t suppose ST could build the OMF in such a way that that TOD could be done above it?

    1. Drive-in fast food restaurant vs. public transit operations base that will impact operational costs for decades and decades… and you go with the fast food joint?

  5. Speaking from the most basic formative years in my own career in public transit, I think it’s critical to locate the facility where max number of seven-year-olds can look out their second grade classroom windows and see the train yards.

    No measure can be more effective in providing a large and expanding pro-electric rail transit constituency, from the young people themselves – when you’re seven, you vote in only eleven years. Good formative lead-up time to next ST-.

    And short term, major ridership increase prompted by loud repetitive demands on parents for another train ride, whatever the destination. And you didn’t hear this from me, but if trolleywire is visible in the yard, slack will be cut for dual-power rapid-ride buses too.

    But possibly most important: Incentive to faculty to learn to hold students’ interest. To out-compete a working light-rail base out the window, a faculty really needs to know everything the average Roman ever said in Latin that was not bo-rrrring.

    A wagon designed by ancestors of those responsible for our Breda tunnel fleet doubtless provoked some expressions from drivers, mechanics, and passengers that deserve to resound through the ages. And every trolleybus dewirement also carries vivid and time-long geometry lessons.

    Which brings me around to Dick’s, who are literally throwing away the good will of their own most important customers. When you’re seven, only “draw” equal to a Link-ride is being able to eat a cheeseburger while looking at the trains before you get on.

    But I mainly think what Kent needs to worry about more is what the EPA under the current Administration is going to relocate from Hanford because it’s cheaper to put it in and underneath Kent.

    Mark (“I asked you what 7 + 14 equals!!!!”) Dublin

    1. If you want little kids to grow to be transit supporters, you’re much better off if they’re actually riding the train. This means more kids living next to the station, which means more housing next to the station.

      Besides, most of ST’s other proposed sites are also visible from the tracks.

      1. Thanks for chance to clarify, Donde. I do feel that to be an informed transit advocate, it’s important that every little holy pro-transit terror I’m trying to breed has thorough understanding of the trade.

        Can any regular STB reader deny the value- and attraction- of math exercises in transit double entry book-keeping? And History! And most important of all….real, actual courses in the Government necessary to transit excellence.

        Still regret lifelong setback in my technical drawing career. While I had correctly scoped out the perspective, my kindergarten teacher congratulated me on my life-like string of dark green balloons because I could not pronounce the “r”‘s in “North Shore Interurban!”

        The ridership question has a way of taking care of itself. Have been told by source with direct personal knowledge that before they can speak, children in strollers being wheeled past Downtown Link Station entrances will start pointing and indicating when they hear the bell.

        In other words, we’ve already won. All we need to do is consolidate our victory. And once we show we mean Business, Dicks will find us a place in his Plan. All along the Skokie Valley north of Chicago, every town had at least a drug-store soda fountain, and most a little “Grill” of some kind across the sidewalk and a car lane or two from the tracks.

        Admit it, Dick, you’re already into Transit Oriented Development. Start practicing your chocolate malt, and your fears will float away on the creamy brown foam.


  6. Can’t they just sell the air rights and build basically anything Kent wants or needs on top of the yard?

  7. Sound Transit has the legal right to make the decision they see fit for the best sight for this OMF. As a transit advocate, I support them. But I already know plenty of people who see Sound Transit as being run by a sexist d bag, not my words, who just took a raise after going to sensitivity training and announcing late openings for 2 extensions.

    Dick’s Drive Inn , on the other hand, gives out college scholorships, paid child care, and money to many charities. People will take sides.

    That may not be a completely fair comparison, but I am pretty sure the 170000 people who voted on the Dick’s will also see it that way. I don’t even believe that sight will likely get picked. But I believe this is not a good place to be for Sound Transit.

    1. Very well said, his training coach was paid 550.00 per hour to teach him how to act like a human, I don’t think it worked, he is still an arrogant…… u can fill in the blanks!

  8. I sure hope they don’t end up on the landfill. I can’t imagine how much the cost overruns would be if you have to somehow support all of the rails & buildings on top of a cap that wasn’t designed to support 50-ton rail cars, and that may settle over time ??? Or should I say: “I can’t imagine what features they would cut from the South line extension to accommodate the cost overruns if…” :-( Probably just cut the FW-Tacoma segment until ST 4 in the 2060 timeframe….

    I have also heard that the OMF is ideally located in the middle of the line, not at the end, since it is more efficient to cycle the fleet through the facility each night for cleaning & maintenance. Kent is a much better choice than Tacoma…

    1. It depends on their operation plan. Do all of the first northbound trains start in Tacoma and all the last ones end there? If so, then Tacoma is the best place. If they plan to start service with trains only headed north starting at Kent and southbound starting at Kent, running inbound to both, then then the best place is to have it at Kent, or Federal Way or whatever.

      My guess is that they are best off starting the first trains at the end of the line,

      The other thing is heavy equipment such as wheel lathes are a bit easier to bring n by freight car than by truck. Long light rail cars can be expensive or difficult to deliver by truck too. Access to a freight railroad could be useful, and this happens in Tacoma.

  9. They’re asking for federal funds ,I thought we were paying with that with our car tabs.its all bull and the reason we are leaving the Puget sound region .

    1. Car tabs are the smallest part of ST’s tax revenue. The budget was based on the price of an ordinary property, so of course a landfill site would be more expensive and would need supplemental funds. Wherever you’re going, if it doesn’t have as good transit you’ll spend more on gas than the car tabs cost. Since most cities in the US with good transit have high taxes I don’t know where you’d go.

  10. I do like the idea of using the old land fill site. I mean now that JP doesn’t live there anymore it’s just “going to waste” so to speak ;-) I can see a couple of issues but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with creative engineering. Of course that’s not ST’s strong suit. One thing to consider is that at the OMF-E they dug out a retention vault big enough to house several basketball courts. To do this they’d be digging up old garbage. Anybody know what they are doing now with the methane they are capturing from the site?

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