Tukwila Seeks Another Route -- Officials Say Alternative Wouldn't Cut Through City
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
When Tukwila Mayor John Rants points to an aerial map of his South King County city, he sees a community cleaved by concrete.
There's interstates 5 and 405, and state Highway 518. And of course, state Highway 99, long known for its fast-food joints, pay-by-the-hour motels and streetwalkers.
Now, Rants and other city officials have dug in their heels against the latest intruder: Sound Transit.
The agency proposes a light-rail route from the University District to SeaTac that runs through the middle of Tukwila, along Highway 99 from Boeing Access Road to the south end of SeaTac.
That would further divide a community already sliced and diced by major roadways, say city officials. They have hinted that Sound Transit may have a hard time getting permits and environmental studies to build its proposed light rail in Tukwila, costing the agency precious time and money.
But transit planners say an 11th-hour compromise could serve both light rail and wary residents.
Consultants working for the city of Tukwila have identified an alternative that would put the rail route along major roads: Highway 599, Interstate 5 and Highway 518, skipping the heart of the city.
The cost of the alternative would be about as much as the current proposal: about $174 million.
Most observers say Sound Transit will not have the necessary environmental studies completed on the compromise route by the time the 18-member board votes on a final rail alignment Nov. 18.
But the agency could indicate it is willing to study the idea and decide the specifics later.
For Tukwila, nothing less than the future of the city is at stake.
The city has struggled to combat prostitution, drugs and violent crimes along Highway 99 for decades. In recent years, several strip joints have closed and prostitution has declined.
But traffic is still heavy as thousands of motorists drive along Highway 99 to get to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
That makes life hard for local residents. For example, the city's high school is on the east side of Highway 99; Tukwila's only grocery story is on the west.
To make Tukwila more of a destination than a place that whizzes by the car window, city planners have been working on an$8 million retail, housing and office development on South 144th Street and Highway 99.
Sound Transit has plans for that same piece of property, meaning the city wouldn't be able to finish its entire project.
That's not the only negative impact, say neighborhood activists, who fear the prospect of 6-foot sound walls and 360-foot-long trains rattling through the middle of town.
"This is a community that has been invaded by larger entities, and people are saying we don't want to roll over this time," said Sean Mears, president of the Foster Community Club, a Tukwila neighborhood group. "We see this as something that could literally destroy our community."
Tensions between Tukwila and Sound Transit go back several years, ever since the city began to lobby for a rail line to Longacres and Southcenter.
Under the city's comprehensive plan, thousands of housing units would be developed at both neighborhoods. It's logical that both would be served by light rail, Rants said.
"The reason the city is stuck on this is growth management. This is about the ability to meet the number of housing units we need to build. This is about fighting congestion," he said.
It would cost Sound Transit an additional $125 million to build a line through Longacres and Southcenter. That's money the $2.1 billion system doesn't have.
To raise more transit dollars, Tukwila city officials supported a bill in Olympia last year that would have repealed the state sales tax on Sound Transit construction. The measure failed.
Tukwila also hired lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to seek funds from the Federal Transit Administration and congressional leaders.
The goal was not to derail Sound Transit but to make sure the agency was properly funded, said Rants. Nonetheless, he conceded that the city hasn't been shy about criticizing the agency.
"We were the fly in the ointment," he said.
Rants said he had not received a single phone call or comment in support of the light-rail route down Highway 99. Even though Sound Transit has planned two stations in the city, that's not enough to counterbalance the negative impact, he said.
The city has not determined what it might do if Sound Transit goes ahead with the Highway 99 plan. But the city will not pipe down, Rants said.
"You have the ability to sue or order environmental reviews. There's a multitude of delaying tactics you can use. So far, we have not explored them."
While Rants is cautiously upbeat that a compromise with Sound Transit can be found, other residents aren't so optimistic.
"Sound Transit will do what they want to do anyway," said Mears, of the community group. "They're going to walk right over us."
Alex Fryer's phone-message number is 206-464-8124. His e-mail address is: email@example.com ------------------------------- Meeting on Thursday
Sound Transit will host a meeting to discuss the light-rail plan from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Tukwila Community Center.
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