Sound Transit is collecting public feedback so it can craft improvement plans for two East Pierce train stations that have nearly run out of parking.
Lots at Sounder stations in Puyallup and Sumner — transit hubs that also serve regional commuters in unincorporated Pierce County, Bonney Lake, South Hill and more — are reaching their limits as ridership continues to increase.
The regional transit agency hopes to add parking near the commuter rail stations while also improving cyclist and pedestrian access to ease the increase in vehicles.
“We want to find a way that works without dissuading people from taking the train,” said project manager Nytasha Sowers.
Meanwhile, the long-debated possibility of building central parking garages continues to draw criticism from some. Puyallup’s mayor fears Sound Transit would have to demolish city buildings, an action he said would be the “beginning of cannibalism of the downtown area.”
The planning process is part of Sound Transit 2, a transit-expansion ballot measure approved by voters in 2008.
Sowers said projects will be finished by 2023, but that is a conservative timeline.
“If we can move faster than that, that would be great,” she said.
The budget for the projects at all eight Sounder stations is $178 million, with about $52 million allocated for Puyallup and $38 million for Sumner.
A total of 19 million people ride the Sounder annually. Of those commuters, about 320,000 access trains or buses from the Puyallup station and Park & Ride lots; more than 330,000 do the same in Sumner.
In each city, more than 63 percent of commuters — many who live outside Sumner and Puyallup — access the stations by car. As a result, almost all designated parking is occupied daily, causing cars to spill into residential neighborhoods.
Sound Transit says ridership is growing; officials expect a 70 percent spike before 2035.
To accommodate increased demand, the agency is working to make it easier for commuters to access both stations.
Sowers said officials will review comment cards and online surveys from residents. It will use those to formulate proposals that could include combinations of new parking structures, surface lots, shuttles, bike lanes and pedestrian pathways.
At an open house in Puyallup last week, residents scribbled notes on maps suggesting ideas for their downtown station, such as pedestrian bridges and electronic reader boards showing available spaces at parking lots.
Although Sound Transit is several months from nailing down plans for improvements, Sowers said final proposals will capture the major ideas from resident feedback.
Some Puyallup City Council members disagree on what improvements would be manageable.
Mayor John Knutsen has been vocal in opposing a multi-story garage downtown, one sticking point since talks with Sound Transit started last spring.
“Sound Transit does a good thing by taking cars off the road,” Knutsen said at a council meeting last month. “But you can’t take them off the road and dump them all in Puyallup and Sumner.”
He said county officials should be more involved in the process since so many commuters come from outside the city.
“Pierce County has got to step up to the plate,” Knutsen said.
Fellow council member John Hopkins said he isn’t opposed to a transit garage. But he recommended spreading out several parking structures rather than having hundreds of new spots in one garage downtown, an area that is already busy during peak hours.
Scott Merritt of Puyallup has used the Sounder frequently. He supports building a parking garage and says it would be the safest option for pedestrians walking to and from cars.
Gary Harris has mixed impressions of the early plans for the Puyallup station.
The longtime Puyallup resident supports building a parking garage, specifically on city-owned property downtown. He said he was perplexed by some City Council members’ staunch opposition to the idea. Harris argued that sprawling surface lots wouldn’t blend in any better than garages that some council members say don’t conform with existing buildings.
“They want to keep downtown Puyallup the way it is,” Harris said. “But if they have 1,500 to 2,000 cars parked on one layer somewhere, what’s that going to look like?”
He also expressed caution about spreading out parking lots.
“They need something central,” he said.
Sumner residents have similar concerns about their station improvements, Mayor Dave Enslow said.
Locals have to fight for parking in front of their homes from 6 a.m.-5 p.m., and they fear that if improvements aren’t done right, more problems could occur.
“This is really about how to accommodate people that are mostly not from Sumner,” Enslow said.
Enslow, who is also a Sound Transit board member, said the Sounder benefits commuters by shaving off at least an hour of commute time during rush hour.
But he acknowledges the success of the agency comes with added challenges around the stations.
“You can get a lot more people on those trains if you can figure out how to get them to the train,” Enslow said. “(Sound Transit has) delivered so well that there’s nowhere to park.”
HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK
Sound Transit project manager Nytasha Sowers said residents are encouraged to submit comments on Puyallup and Sumner train station improvements by Friday, but the online survey will remain open.
Once officials analyze feedback and identify potential improvements, Sound Transit will hold additional open houses this spring to refine the proposals.
The agency hopes to solidify plans by the end of summer.
For more information or to submit a comment, go online to soundtransit.org and click on the “Projects & Plans” bar and then the “Find a Project” bar. Under the “South Sound” heading, you can click on “Puyallup Station Improvements” or “Sumner Station Improvements.”