Sound Transit Link Light Rail trainThe Sound Transit Board has identified the light rail alignment and station alternatives to be studied in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the extension of light rail to Federal Way. The Board advanced two alternatives for the alignment, one following I-5 and one on SR99. A final alignment choice could also be a hybrid of the two. The most significant decision, however, was to add two possible stations at South 216th and South 260th Streets, each of which would offer significant opportunities for Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

The Federal Way Transit Extension has already gone through a series of steps to develop alternatives, screen and evaluate them, and prepare options for the Draft EIS. In Sound Transit’s long range plan, this route is intended to be the next phase of the southern extension of the spine, which will eventually connect to Tacoma.  The Sound Transit 2 vote authorized construction as far as South 272nd Street, but the drop in revenues caused by the recession required Sound Transit to scale back these plans.

Right now, the extension from SeaTac Airport to Angle Lake is under construction, and there is funding to continue as far as Kent/Des Moines Road. Sound Transit made a determination to undertake planning for the entire corridor as far as the Federal Way Transit Center, in order to be ready to proceed with construction if revenues became available. When there is a Sound Transit 3 vote, which could be as early as 2016, this segment would almost certainly be slated for completion.

The Board’s action moves the planning into the EIS process. Following completion of the Draft EIS and receiving public comment on it, the Board will identify a Preferred Alternative to move into the Final EIS. After that is completed, the Board will make a final decision on the route and stations, and authorize moving into engineering and design.

This Board decision endorsed the two basic routes, as well as some of the possible additional stations. The long range plan only included stations at Kent/Des Moines Road, South 272nd Street, and the Federal Way Transit Center. This was in keeping with the core philosophy that shaped Sound Transit’s initial perspective on the light rail spine, that its basic purpose was to serve travellers moving between existing major population centers.

However, the region and Sound Transit are increasingly recognizing that this goal should be augmented by considering opportunities to build new communities around transit stops. This is a critical task for our work to implement the Growth Management Act and accommodate the many new people we expect to see in our region in the future.

In recognition of that, Sound Transit studied seven possible additional stations in the scoping process. The analysis of Transit Oriented Development potential and opportunities for access concluded that two of the stations on SR 99 are very promising. Two other SR 99 stations had much more modest opportunities, while the three possible stations on the I-5 route were not very useful.

Under the conditions of voter approval, the Board can add stations if it finds that they can be funded without impairing the ability to construct the voter-approved system. The Board must therefore either identify additional funding or construction savings in order to decide to include these stations, which will cost about $40 million each. The Board must also consider whether having these stations is worth the tradeoff of about 40 seconds in additional travel time per station. We cannot make this decision, however, unless the stations are included in the environmental process.

At the Capital Committee, Board member Julia Patterson moved to add the two stations to the Draft EIS, and I seconded. After discussion, the Committee unanimously agreed to include them, and the Board affirmed this decision.

Moving from idea to construction is a long process for a project like a light rail line. While we cannot make a final decision to include these stations in the construction package until we have completed the environmental process, I am very pleased that the Board continues to move towards a fuller embrace of Transit Oriented Development. We can only meet our growth management goals and our commitment to reduce the region’s carbon emissions and their impact on climate change by directly linking transit and housing.