Three sites remain for a south light rail maintenance base

aerial view of 344th & I-5 in Federal Way
Aerial view of a potential OMF site at S 344th St in Federal Way. I-5 and the old Weyerhauser campus are in the background (Google)

The Sound Transit board will likely vote on Thursday not to include a controversial Federal Way Kent site on its short list for a South Sound maintenance base.  The system expansion committee voted unanimously on May 9 to remove the site, which hosts several auto-oriented retail businesses including a newly-opened Dick’s Drive-In.  It was controversial not only because of the popular fast food chain, but because it would have limited transit-oriented development (TOD) opportunities within the walk shed of a future Link station at Highline Community College.

We wrote about the site and the challenges of another controversial site, the nearby Midway landfill, back in January.  Since then, ST has been narrowing sites for consideration.  The Kent Reporter, which has had excellent coverage of the maintenance base issue, notes that we’re down to three sites:

  • Midway Landfill, west of Interstate 5, which has been closed since the 1980s and is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. Estimated cost: $1.3 billion
  • South 336th Street near I-5, which is the location of the Christian Faith Center church in Federal Way. Estimated cost: $750 million
  • South 344th Street near I-5, which is an industrial area in Federal Way, includes several businesses: Garage Town, which offers private custom storage facility; an RV storage facility; and Ellenos Yogurt Factory. Estimated cost: $800 million

At the time of the 2016 ballot, ST has assumed that the OMF would be located “in the Federal Way to Tacoma corridor.”  Last spring, however, the agency came to realize that the facility would be needed in service by 2026 in order to be ready for the West Seattle link extension, per Scott Thompson, a ST spokesperson.  That means placing it further north, either within the Federal Way extension (opening 2024) or very close by, in such a way as to “avoid pre-determining the location of the South Federal Way station.”

The decision to remove the Dick’s site was a good one. While it’s hard to imagine a more anti-TOD business than a drive in restaurant, politics makes strange bedfellows. If the presence of Dick’s today makes it easier to protect a future TOD development site down the road, so be it.

Of the sites remaining, Midway is estimated to cost half a billion more than the other two sites (for context, a West Seattle tunnel is pegged at $700m). While it may seem convenient to raid ST’s bank account to pay for toxic clean up (as Federal Way’s mayor has suggested), surely that money could be used more wisely for actual transit. I’m no expert on brownfield redevelopment, but reading the EPA’s Superfund page about the landfill makes me want to think twice about locating an employment center there.

Fortunately, there seems like an obvious solution. The site at 344th & I-5 scores the best on Sound Transit’s scorecard (see p. 53 of this technical analysis).  A collection of low slung auto-oriented buildings across the street from a Walmart, it’s far enough from a station not to interfere with future TOD opportunities.  And the price is right, too.