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Wednesday, May 20, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rail Moves Seatac, Tukwila To Action -- They Fear Proposal To Park Train Route On Hwy. 99

Seattle Times South Bureau

Sound Transit officials have begun the process to decide the routes for Link, an electric light-rail system that could dramatically change the landscape of SeaTac and Tukwila.

Board members of Sound Transit, formerly known as the Regional Transit Authority, unanimously voted last week to study 18 possible routes for Link, the 24-mile light-rail line between Seattle's University District and SeaTac.

Sound Transit also must decide whether Link should be elevated or run at grade in South King County, and where to site the stations. This adds up to a total of 324 options, said King County Councilman Greg Nickels, a board member.

Tukwila and SeaTac officials view the six possible routes through their cities with both hope and fear.

SeaTac officials adamantly oppose routing Link through the middle of International Boulevard (Highway 99). "There's no capitulation on that at all," said Mayor Terry Anderson.

But they are pleased Sound Transit will consider two alternatives that would keep Link west of International Boulevard on Seattle-Tacoma International Airport property.

Tukwila officials are also disappointed that Sound Transit is continuing to study the Highway 99 course, but they're relieved transit-board members voted to consider two other routes to serve the large Southcenter business district.

Because there are two alternative proposals along Interurban Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, Tukwila city officials say the Highway 99 route should not be considered. To place light rail there, they argue, would hinder Tukwila's $10 million plan to revamp the arterial.

The Highway 99 route would bypass Southcenter, said Tukwila City Adminstrator John McFarland. Sound Transit's main reason for placing Highway 99 on its list is that the route is "a little cheaper and quicker," he added.

Denny Fleenor, a Sound Transit spokesman, said the Highway 99 route is only a consideration. An environmental-impact statement will help to determine which routes, including Highway 99, will be the most economical to build and serve the most people, he said.

SeaTac officials believe the analysis will prove the International Boulevard option would be costly and logistically difficult.

SeaTac City Manager Cal Hoggard said Link cannot be shoehorned into the boulevard. The city has spent $13 million adding sidewalks, turn lanes and a car-pool lane, and those amenities must remain, he said. The city plans to make another $13 million worth of improvements elsewhere along the boulevard to handle an expected 56 percent increase in traffic in the next few years.

To maintain the integrity of the improvements, Sound Transit would have to buy rights of way, which would displace numerous businesses on the east side of the boulevard, Hoggard said. It's too early to know how many businesses might be affected.

City officials note that Link is being routed through SeaTac to serve the airport. "If it's supposed to be for the airport, put it on the airport," Anderson said.

Sound Transit officials must also contend with the desires of the Port of Seattle, which operates Sea-Tac.

Diane Summerhays, Port manager of aviation planning, said airport officials are taking a wait-and-see approach. Still, they're concerned about the constraints Link would have on future airport growth.

Planners are, for instance, trying to decide where to build the new north terminal, which is part of the airport's $1.7 billion expansion.

"We don't have the answers yet," said airport spokesman Dan Leach. "We're looking for the answers just like (Sound Transit) is looking for the answer."

Sound Transit began studying Link route options after King, Pierce and Snohomish county voters approved the $3.9 billion plan in 1996. Besides Link, the money will pay for Sounder, a commuter train on existing tracks between Tacoma and Everett; and Regional Express, a new 20-route, limited-stop bus service connecting metro areas and suburbs.

Sound Transit's draft environmental-impact report is to be published in November, with the Link route chosen in February. Construction is expected to begin in 2000, with the southern portion of the system to open three to four years later.

The entire line is scheduled to operate fully in 2006.

Allan Ekberg, chairman of Tukwila's Transit Advisory Committee, urged Sound Transit members to consider Link's impact on communities as well as basic issues, such as financing.

"It's bigger than dollars and cents," he said.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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