OMF at S. 336th St is “preferred”

On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board made the responsible decision and designated S. 336th St in Federal Way as the “preferred” site of South Link’s Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF). It has not actually eliminated the other two sites from consideration, but the process will put somewhat more weight on 336th.

Public comment and external agency input mostly favored the landfill site. Using Sound Transit’s money to clean up an environmentally troubled area where nobody lives is good for everyone, except for those trying to build rapid transit within anything like the original budget and time constraints. Indeed, staff estimates it would cost at least $600m and 2.5 years of delay to take this remediation project off the shoulders of whoever else would be responsible. Sensibly, the board is reluctant to do so.

Of the two Federal Way sites, there were multiple tenants that didn’t want to be displaced from the parcels on 344th. Even the Christian Faith Center megachurch, which would be obliterated by the 336th option, preferred to be bought out and start somewhere else rather than lose part of the site in a way that complicates its various obligations to the city. The CFC ought to be commended for its reasonable stance, all things considered.

The staff’s technical analysis was basically a wash between 336th and 344th, so it’s not a surprise that the path of least resistance won out between them.

The final decision will come after the Final EIS in Late 2022.

38 Replies to “ST Board makes the obvious decision”

  1. Yes this was the least bad choice for OMF South.

    I’m still dubious of the logic that OMF-S must be serving Link before Tacoma Link opens so that it couldn’t be closer to the end of the line. Notably, OMF-E was sited in very similar circumstances, yet ST did not insist that it be near the 1 Line.

    We are now left with paying for decades of drivers and trains having to go 20 minutes down to Tacoma Dome empty. At least it’s better than the 30 minutes required if ST chooses the landfill site.

    1. That 20 minute empty trains part isn’t true. After all, early morning trains start at Beacon Hill, which is also where the late night trains end, because that station is closest to the operations facility there.

      They’ll just start all of their runs at one of the two Federal Way stations.

      1. I agree. All peak trains can simply start or end at FW station, which should fit the natural flow of travel demand.

        It will be helpful to have some storage tracks at the end of the line for trains that truly begin/end the day at the terminus, but Tacoma Dome isn’t the ultimate terminus so that facility shouldn’t to be built until the next extension (towards the mall or wherever).

      2. The original OMF is in the middle of the original line. That’s a different operational scheme than a secondary OMF near but not at the end of a line.

        There is a market for riders between the Rainier Valley and the airport that is much larger than between Federal Way and Tacoma. I don’t see many riders between Federal Way and Tacoma Dome as a stand-alone segment.

        However, I don’t see that very many of these mostly empty train runs will be needed. There may be three or four each day at the start and again at the end of the day. So I don’t see it as a huge cost — but but it is a cost.

      3. Twice-a-day overhead is insignificant compared to the dozen or more productive runs it makes while in service.

        Federal Way to Tacoma Dome may be a small transit market but it’s not zero. It will be at least as much as the existing buses. And that’s hampered by lousy bus service, especially if you’re coming from Auburn or Kent and going beyond Tacoma Dome (as you’ll have to, because almost everything is beyond it). Link will improve this, feeders will improve this, and the future density in downtown Federal Way, the Dome District, and Fife, will improve this. So ridership has nowhere to go but up. And even if it never reaches Rainier Valley-to-airport ridership, they still have mobility needs, and are hundreds of thousands of people, and we made a political decision to extend Link to Tacoma Dome so we might as well follow through with it. It’s not like it’s being extended to Spanaway or Orting.

      4. Mike, I think Al and I were making a relative point about ridership likely being higher north vs south of the OMF. With unbalanced demand, it will be easier for ST to provide asymmetric service and have trains start/end at the OMF, rather than all trains to deadhead to/from the terminus.

      5. The first southbound run starts at Beacon Hill at 4:15am. The next four runs start variously at Beacon Hill, Stadium, and U-District. The first full run from Northgate is at 4:45am. In the midafternoon three runs start at Beacon Hill. At night all runs go the full way to Angle Lake, the last one arriving at 1:21am.

        Northbound, the first run starts at SODO at 4:25am. Seven of the next ten trains also start at SODO. The first from Angle Lake is at 5:00am, and full-time Angle Lake service starts at 5:36am. The last seven northbound trains all terminate at Stadium, the last one at 2:03am.

        So it appears that all trains finish their full runs at Angle Lake, then go north to Stadium for bus transfers, then backtrack to the base.

        Before Nothgate Link the last northbound runs terminated at Beacon Hill, and the station schedules explained to catch bus 36 which turned into the 70, but that was probably too much for visitors and occasional riders to understand, and several downtown routes terminate just a few blocks north of Stadium. A few may be extended to Stadium in the late/early hours for Link transfers.

      6. I just realized that having all trains finish their day at Angle Lake and ricochet to Stadium, is consistent with giving the airport the most late-night service, and recognizing that most airport Link ridership is to Seattle.

    2. I always thought it was bizarre that Pierce didn’t fight more for these jobs. Perhaps Dammeier was still thinking Pierce would exit ST3 and Link wouldn’t go further south than SFW, or perhaps the Port of Tacoma and/or the Puyallup tribe thought they have better uses for their scarce industrial land.

      Biggest bummer is this OMF will be operated by KCM, or at best be staffed by King county locals, which will likely result in permanently higher labor costs than if the exact same personnel were represented by Pierce county union locals.

      This location will be most coherent if the final system ends up either another OMF (probably OMFE size) in SW Pierce near the end of the line in the 2050s

    3. On the contrary:
      The facility is ideal if something breaks and a car or train needs to be swapped out.

      There’ll probably be enough early morning demand that, if they are open to passengers, the trains will have ridership. TriMet’s first scheduled trains go through around 3:30 am, and even this section of Link has more next to it than MAX does.

      1. Yeah, you’re new to town. The idea was in the late 1990’s.

        Pierce Transit’s garage is far enough away from Federal Way that a coach exchange is generally an abandoned paddle/pullout.

        Metro plans to build a base in Auburn, so this makes sense again.

      2. I don’t follow at all. This OMF footprint is fully utilized, so there’s isn’t room for any bus facilities.

        What is a coach exchange and what is an abandoned paddle/pullout?

  2. The preferred site will mean that ST would build at least a mile of Tacoma Link tracks to reach it. This should make the accompanying Tacoma Link project cheaper.

    How does that fit in with the selection of the preferred Tacoma Link alignment? Does this change the accounting with South King and Pierce subareas?

    1. No impact on subarea accounting and no impact on the TDLE project affordability. There may be bean counting work to shift funds from the TDLE project to OMFS project to build that one mile of track, but not in a way that impacts the decision making around either project.

      The 1 mile track that will be used for in-service trains will be charged 100% to south King. The short spur off the mainline will be charged to the systemwide budget, alongside the rest of the OMF capital cost.

      I do speculate, however, that this OMF location makes it more likely that south FW station will open early, as that will be a very easy win for ST once the OMF track is built, not because of subarea accounting or other budget jujitsu but simply because the OMFS will be a high priority project (it is needed to facilitate any of the ST3 extension), so even if West Seattle or Snohomish gets first in line, SFW station will get pulled along with it.

      1. Since the OMF site is north of South Federal Way, I don’t see an early station opening. If Tacoma Dome Link gets delayed many years or if Pierce pulls out it’s possible — but given the current schedule and the way that construction and systems testing normally go it seems pretty unlikely.

    2. One specific alignment choice appears to be the alignment just south of Federal Way Link station near Belmor Park. The map shows two different lines there.

      1. I think that will be sorted out once TDLE EIS is complete. OMF construction may proceed TDLE by several years, but it does need TDLE to get through preliminary design.

    1. Fortunately, they prefer to play along. From CFC’s lawyer’s letter to the Board (linked in the OP):

      CFC would prefer not to be in any alternative, but also recognizes the reality of the situation and would prefer to not be in an antagonistic position with Sound Transit. Of the two [Alternatives], CFC prefers the South 336th Alternative which would result in a total taking of the CFC Campus and allow CFC new opportunities for campus projects. The South 344th Alternative takes the eastern portion of the CFC Campus, which has multiple adverse consequences for the remaining western portion.

      I hope they find some good “new opportunities for campus projects.”

      1. Oh snap!! I love it! Good on them! I recall ST and the former Mars Hill church kinda got into it over property purchase for East Link. Mars Hill had the opposite approach to that of CFC.

      2. @Jordon,

        The Mars Hill thing was completely different.

        In that case ST already owned the land via a negotiated purchase from a different party. MH thought god wanted them to have it instead and tried to pressure ST into selling it to them.

        Here the CFC already owns the property and ST would like to purchase it from them. And it sounds like CFC is willing to sell (details TBD of course).

      3. Does anyone else see the irony of a church supposedly dedicated to the embodiment of peace and love naming itself after the Roman god of war?

  3. Some observations and a few questions….

    First off, did anyone really believe that ST was going to touch the Midway Landfill site for their OMF-S location? Thankfully wiser heads seemed to have prevailed here.

    Secondly, I’m curious as to how this planned additional OMF compares to the recently completed OMF in Bellevue. If I’m not mistaken, the latter project is projected to come in at around $450M*, with $265M of that being construction costs and $135M being ROW acquisitions. Even considering inflation and higher construction costs, the three options studied for the OMF-S all seem to entail significantly higher capital costs. So what is different here? Is the scope of the future project quite a bit different than the OMF-E facility, and if that’s the case here, how so?

    The latest published progress report describes the OMF-E project as follows:
    “The Link Operations and Maintenance Facility: East (OMF East) project, located in the City of Bellevue, includes a 145,000 SF OMF building plus a 35,000 SF MOW Building that will maintain, store and deploy and [sic] expanded light rail fleet, including seven LRV service bays, a LRV wash facility and storage for up to 96 LRVs.”

    Additionally, the project was described this way in the July 2016 board resolution authorizing the project’s baseline budget:

    “The OMSF project will design and construct a light rail operations and maintenance facility in support of link system expansion. The OMSF site is approximately 28 acres located in the City of Bellevue, bounded by the Eastside Rail Corridor on the west and 120th Avenue NE on the east, SR 520 to the north and NE 12th Street to the south. The OMSF project includes an operations and maintenance facility that that will maintain, store and deploy an expanded light rail fleet. The facility will include seven LRV service bays, a LRV wash facility and storage for up to 96 light rail vehicles. Additionally, the facility will include material storage areas, training spaces, and office space for administration and support staff. The site will provide parking areas for staff, visitors, and non-revenue vehicles; and Maintenance of Way provisions for storage of trackway maintenance elements and train systems infrastructure for traction power substations, train signal bungalows, and overhead traction power. ”

    The three alternatives for the OMF-S facility are described as follows in the Title VI Equity Analysis that ST published last month:

    “ Build Alternatives
    The three build alternatives are shown in Figure 2-2. The Midway Landfill Alternative is located adjacent to FWLE and would connect by lead tracks directly to the FWLE mainline. The South 336th Street and South 344th Street alternatives would require the construction of between approximately 1.4 and 1.8 miles of mainline tracks from the FWLE terminus. The mainline through Federal Way is planned to be constructed as a part of TDLE, and therefore would be built regardless of which OMF South alternative is selected. However, the impacts from the mainline would occur earlier in time if either the South 336th Street or South 344th Street alternative were built prior to TDLE, so the impacts of the mainline are included in the OMF South Draft EIS and in this document.

    “Midway Landfill Alternative
    The Midway Landfill Alternative is located in Kent between S 246th Street and S 252nd Street and between I-5 and SR 99. Because the site would be located adjacent to FWLE, which is scheduled to open as an active light rail line in 2024, there would be no need to build additional mainline. The programmed site area (development footprint) of the Midway Landfill Alternative is approximately 68 acres, which includes the 2-story OMF building, the 1-story MOW building, the 1-story Link System-Wide Storage building, storage tracks, training tracks, parking, and yard areas. There would be approximately 450 parking spaces, including spaces for employees, visitors, accessible parking, and nonrevenue Sound Transit vehicles. The yard area encompasses approximately 8.5 acres.

    “South 336th Street Alternative
    The South 336th Street Alternative is located in Federal Way between S 336th Street and S 341st Place and between I-5 and SR 99, and it would require the construction of approximately 1.4 miles of mainline tracks from the FWLE terminus at the Federal Way Transit Center to the site. There are two alternative alignments for this length of mainline: the TDLE Preferred Alternative, designed for 40 mph, and the TDLE Design Option, designed for 55 mph. Both mainline alignments would be elevated, with north-bound and south-bound tracks. The mainline would extend south approximately 600 feet past the southeast corner of the site to serve as tail tracks to allow trains to access the Link system if the northeast lead tracks were out of service. The South 336th Street Alternative site footprint is approximately 59 acres, which includes the OMF building, the MOW building, the Link System-Wide Storage building, storage tracks, parking, training tracks, and yard areas. There would be approximately 435 parking spaces, including spaces for employees, visitors, accessible parking, and nonrevenue Sound Transit vehicles. The yard area would be approximately 7.2 acres.

    “South 344th Street Alternative
    The South 344th Street Alternative is located in Federal Way between S 336th Street and S 344th Street and between I-5 and 18th Place S, and it would require the construction of approximately 1.8 miles of mainline tracks from the FWLE terminus at the Federal Way Transit Center to the site. As with the South 336th Street Alternative, there are two alternative alignments for the elevated mainline track leaving the Federal Way Transit Center: the TDLE Preferred Alternative and TDLE Design Option. The mainline would extend past the southeast corner of the site to serve as tail tracks to access the Link system if the northeast lead tracks are out of service. There are two options for the South 344th Street Alternative tail tracks that follow the design alternatives for TDLE: the Enchanted Parkway alignment that would extend approximately 1,500 feet south of the site and the I-5 alignment that would extend approximately 1,800 feet south of the site. Both tail track options would be elevated their entire length. The South 344th Street Alternative site footprint is approximately 65 acres, which includes the OMF building, the MOW building, the Link System-Wide Storage building, storage tracks, training tracks, parking, and yard areas. There would be approximately 435 parking spaces, including spaces for employees, visitors, people with disabilities, and spaces for nonrevenue Sound Transit vehicles. The yard area would be approximately 11.2 acres.”

    So apparently the plan for the OMF-S facility involves a much larger footprint than the facility already built in Bellevue. Obviously this increases the ROW needed and with that comes additional costs. Why is this the case though? The yards themselves entail just 7.2 to 11.2 acres, depending on the selected alternative. Are the OMF and MOW buildings going to be significantly larger and complex than the ones built at the OMF-E? Why is so much of the facility’s space dedicated to vehicle parking?

    I’m just trying to get my head around the costs involved here since they are an order of magnitude higher than what the OMF-E entailed.

    *Just a little reminder about the original estimate for the OMSF (what the OMF-E was initially called) in ST2. From the resolution passed in July 2016 setting the baseline budget:

    “The ST2 cost estimate for the OMSF was $292.8M (YOE) based on a facility in a South King County location. In July 2014, staff briefed the Board on the updated cost estimate of $433M (YOE) for the preferred alternative. In October 2015 the Board was again provided an updated cost to build estimated at $445.6M (YOE). The increased estimate was due to higher right of way costs at the Bellevue location, larger size facility and complex site access issues. “

    1. I was worried the midway landfill site would get more support. Staff certainly would have opposed it, but it was plausible for the Board to support it. We are spending hundreds of millions of ST tax revenue on education funding and hundreds of millions of ST tax revenue on affordable housing, or it’s not a big leap to spend ST tax revenue on landfill cleanup.

      If a 3rd party, such as the Feds or State, would have stepped forward and offered to pay for the site prep, I think the Midway location could have been an elegant solution by placing the OMF such that locale business & residents were minimally displaced and station TOD minimally impacted. But without hundreds of million of 3rd party funding, it wasn’t a good option

      1. The public looks to transit to operate like a pseudo business. Sure it can make good choices that are more expensive in order to achieve other objectives, but sometimes the financial sacrifices are just too great.

        In this case, this single difference would pay for hundreds of up and down escalators throughout the region or a new light rail station with an adjacent parking garage.

      2. First rule of development is never touch a polluted site, and never allow yourself or company to become part of the chain of title, because the different statutes on remediation of polluted properties looks to the first solvent past and current owners, and lets them implead the rest.

        The city of Mercer Island recently bought a polluted town center site. I agreed with the purchase because it is the gateway lot next to the light rail station at 80th. It has had a shack on it for some time, last used by Tully’s. Mercer Island like many cities has a number of town center properties that were former gas stations or dry cleaners that are polluted. Generally if the city does not buy and remediate the parcel it never gets developed, which would be a waste of this parcel.

        The city was going to buy the property before doing due diligence. Another Island lawyer and I objected, especially since the Tully’s property adjoined public property (WSDOT and City) and it was unknown if the pollution had leached onto those properties, so the city had to be careful about any releases in the purchase of the property.

        Fortunately, BP Arco had a solvent insurer for the gas station when it was on the property. The city worked with Dept. of Ecology to “delineate” the pollution which means how far it has spread and how deep, which is the most critical step. The city was able to negotiate an agreement with the insurer that provides the insurer will remediate the polluted soil that is excavated as part of the underground parking, which is the true cost of remediation. Once that was done and DOE signed off WSDOT was willing to discuss leasing its properties to the city for underground parking and other uses as their property actually is linear park left over from the building of I-90.

        The settlement agreement between MI and ST provides $4.5 million in matching funds for commuter parking, so the city was able to match the purchase of the property ($2 million, a good deal) and $1 million for remediation against the ST match. The project is on hold while the city tries to determine a suitable use and scale for the project, in which hopefully the developer pays for the excavation of the soil and creation of underground commuter parking that before the concrete strike was running around $90,000/stall.

        A long time ago when I was a brand-new associate at a very large law firm I was assigned to the firm’s dept. on environmental pollution as we represented large insurers and chemical companies. On my first trip to AZ I asked the partner what should I do. He said, “deny everything, and make damn sure there isn’t a leak in your suit or his suit”.

        The landfill site would be more akin to a superfund site, and the one thing about a superfund site is they take decades to delineate and remediate. Modern landfill technology is pretty good, and mostly involves lining the pit and capping it, and venting the methane (many folks mistakenly think a landfill has something to do with things breaking down; you can put a transmission in a landfill). But unfortunately, older landfills had poor technology, and the bottom lining was either not installed or poorly made, people put hazardous material in the landfill, and then the pollution gets into the groundwater, and delineation can become impossible.

        My guess is at some point, if the landfill property becomes valuable enough, it will be designated a superfund type site, and everyone who ever touched the title to the property will be impleaded for a decade’s long litigation, and every past owner would salivate at ST joining the title with their huge checkbook.

      3. DT;
        Thanks for the education on how this works. That makes it all the more obvious that ST made the best choice.

        Scattered gas station sites throughout Portland are like that MI site. Development will be a long and expensive process.

  4. Based on the OMF-E FEIS (pages 25, 27):

    And the OMF-S DEIS (page 21):

    I see there are 8 tracks passing through the OMF-E sheds, and 14 tracks (conceptually) planned to pass through the OMF-S sheds. I count similar numbers of storage tracks in both OMF plans.

    OMF-S also features a Maintenance of Way building and training tracks, which OMF-E does not have. I imagine the increased parking requirements are due to the OMF-S likely having a much larger employment base. Quick search indicates ST is expecting 260 FTE jobs at OMF-E, and 470 FTE jobs at OMF-S.

    Basically, OFM-E is about $450M, and OMF-S is going to be about $900M. OMF-S will be about twice the land area as OMF-E, with twice the acquisition and construction costs. “Order of magnitude increase” implies 10x costs, not 2x costs, although you may be close to technically correct at the end of the project.

    1. Dang, I’ve been bad about making sure my replies are going to the right place, lately. This was meant to reply to @Tlsgwm.

      1. No problem. I’ve done the same thing myself a couple of times in the past few weeks. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you’re bouncing back and forth on your phone to properly cite information and/or provide a link. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. :))

    2. Thanks for the info, Nathan. I was rereading the OMF-E FEIS last night (well, actually early this morning) to see the details about the scope of the project when I started to get sleepy and called it a night. So thanks.

      Btw, the facility in Bellevue does include a MOW structure. The large amount of parking planned for transit workers at OMF-S does seem rather ironic. I did take into consideration the size of the planned workforce at this site when I was considering the differences to the OMF-E facility.

      Regarding the “order of magnitude” terminology, although I wasn’t using the phrasing in a strict mathematical/scientific context, I was considering all three alternatives that were considered in the DEIS published back in March 2021:

      “Conceptual Capital Cost Estimates:
      The current conceptual capital cost estimates for the three subsurface construction design options at the Midway Landfill Alternatives are approximately $2.4 billion for the Platform option, approximately $1.9 billion for the Hybrid option, and approximately $1.8 billion for the Full Excavation option. The capital cost estimates for the South 336th Street Alternative and South 344th Street Alternative are the same, at approximately $1.2 billion. The capital cost estimates are presented in ranges in Table ES-1 to reflect the conceptual nature of the cost estimate at this phase of project development and the level of engineering (10 percent design) that informs the cost estimates. This range was established based on industry costestimate accuracy identified by the Association for Advancement of Cost Engineering International for projects at the 10 percent level of design as well as on Sound Transit experience. The conceptual capital cost estimates include construction and demolition; property acquisition and relocation assistance; design, permitting, and program management; and allowances for construction contingencies.”

      Based on the early scoping cost estimate for ST2’s OMSF, i.e. ~$293M in YOE$, the high estimates for all alternatives for the OMF-S when escalated to YOE$ do approach the technical definition of said terminology. One needs to keep in mind the ranges given in the March DEIS are stated in 2019$.

      Perhaps ST is simply future-proofing this facility by considering site options that are 2-3 times the acreage of the facility in Bellevue.

      Again, thanks for pulling up the info you’ve included in your reply above.

      1. I don’t know the specifics, but from my time at ST I do know the OMFE was considered the ‘small’ OMF and the OMFS will be a ‘large’ OMF, with much more capacity for vehicle storage and maintenance. The OMFE was originally intended to be a satellite OMF for the main one in Seattle, but with ST3 it’s now being built out as one of 4 ‘coequal’ OMFs albeit with a smaller footprint and therefore smaller fleet support capacity than the other OMFs

        A handy check would be to look through the ST3 documents and look at the fleet growth assigned to OMFE (East + Redmond + FW projects) vs the OMFS & N. My understanding is the OMFN will have simillar footprint and scope as OMFS.

    3. At first I thought that ST somehow discretely added a MOW to OMF-E between the FEIS in 2015 and the first construction update in 2017, but it seems that they did reference it in the later chapters of the FEIS (after the summary that I searched through). However, it does appear that there was a change in plan between the FEIS and final construction, since the FEIS shows plans for offices & shops in the northern lobe of the track loops and parking in the southern lobe, but the final construction shows a single large MOW building in the southern lobe, slightly changed storage track layout, and parking in the northern lobe.


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