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Friday, July 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sound Transit yields on Tukwila parking

Seattle Times staff reporter

Despite misgivings from some of its board members, Sound Transit has decided not to fight a Tukwila city requirement that it provide extra parking at its South 154th Street light-rail station.

"We're better off right now putting our energy into finalizing this ... to keep the project moving forward on schedule," Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl said yesterday.

The station, about a mile north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is the southern terminus of the 14-mile rail line Sound Transit is building from downtown Seattle. For months the transit agency and Tukwila have been debating how much parking should be built there.

Sound Transit proposed about 460 stalls. City officials worried that wasn't enough, and that commuters who couldn't find a space would spill over into neighborhood streets.

Earlier this month Tukwila's community-development department ordered Sound Transit to provide 600 spaces when the station opens in 2009.

Providing 600 stalls instead of 460 will cost an additional $5 million, Earl said, but there's enough cushion in the light-rail project's $2.44 billion budget to accommodate it.

"It's a judgment call on my part," Earl said.

Even more parking may be needed — up to 1,330 stalls altogether — if the new lots become 95 percent full. To supply that much parking, Sound Transit probably would have to build expensive garages at the station, near the Highway 99-Highway 518 interchange.

Yesterday was the deadline for Sound Transit to appeal Tukwila's requirement. But Sound Transit must obtain several other permits from Tukwila, and Earl said that influenced her decision not to fight the parking order.

She said Sound Transit has looked at draft conditions the city is proposing for the other permits, and that the city and the transit agency are negotiating in good faith.

Tacoma City Councilman Kevin Phelps, who chairs Sound Transit's finance committee, wanted to appeal. He said he's concerned that Tukwila's order sets a precedent that Sound Transit will be required to build more parking whenever lots fill up at any of its rail stations.

That's not in Sound Transit's finance plan, he said.

The agency hopes to extend the light-rail line south to SeaTac by 2011. Phelps said he's concerned that, if and when that happens, airport workers could park at the South 154th station for free and ride the train to work, artificially inflating demand and forcing Sound Transit to build more parking.

He also accused Tukwila of holding Sound Transit hostage. "I just see Tukwila as continually being difficult to work with," Phelps said.

The city and the regional transit agency have battled before. Two years ago the City Council rejected a pact outlining how the city would handle light-rail permit applications.

For a time, the rejection appeared to threaten the light-rail line's future; the Federal Transit Agency had ordered Sound Transit to get the agreement signed before applying for needed federal grants. But the federal agency later dropped that requirement, and Sound Transit got the money.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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