Puyallup City Council, citizens group both support Sounder parking garage in city, but disagree on details

Sound Transit has a lot of feedback to work with – some of it conflicting – as the board of the regional transit agency closes in on plans for more Sounder commuter parking and other changes at the Puyallup station.

The Puyallup City Council voted 6-1 last week to send Sound Transit a letter outlining the city’s preferred pedestrian, bike and vehicle access improvements at and around the train station on West Main Avenue. The letter includes support for a midsize parking garage adding around 420 spaces near Puyallup High School.

Separately, a community group has drafted a similar proposal, but some members suggested a different size and location for the parking garage than what the council proposed.

The placement and size of a parking structure have been contentious since Sound Transit started its outreach and planning last year. Sounder commuters park their cars in surface lots on the station property, near the Puyallup Fraternal Order of Eagles, and on the Washington State Fair’s Red Lot – a total of 640 stalls.

Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said the board will review Puyallup’s feedback and vote on improvements next month.

Mayor John Knutsen opposed the council’s letter. He has consistently maintained that the only viable option to improve Sounder access is to build another train station in the city. He has said any parking garage will primarily serve commuters who don’t live in Puyallup, increase congestion and burden Puyallup businesses.

“The only letter I support is to put a stop at Shaw Road,” he said. “The damage this (parking garage) could do, it could be catastrophic.”

Others on the council also showed interest in adding another station. Tom Swanson noted that officials in Orting and Bonney Lake have drafted letters expressing their desire for it.

Swanson said more people will use mass transit in the future, and a new Sounder station is inevitable to meet demand. More than 1,200 commuters on average catch the Sounder from the Puyallup station each day, and Reason said that the daily average is expected to increase to about 1,600 by 2035.

But project manager Nytasha Sowers has said the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure, approved by voters in 2008, was intended only to improve existing stations, not build new ones.

However, Sound Transit officials said Tuesday night that a separate long-term planning process is underway that will include additional stations. The agency will accept feedback until July 28 from cities interested in long-range improvements.

Meantime, the council’s recommendations for changes at or near the downtown Puyallup station include:

• A pedestrian bridge over the tracks at the station, pedestrian and bikeway upgrades, and traffic signal improvements.

• A medium-size garage on the property owned by the Puyallup Eagles. The proposal includes an “overcrossing” above the adjacent Fifth Street Northwest right of way. A new garage would be contingent on the Eagles’ willingness to negotiate a sale with Sound Transit.

• Surface parking lots dispersed throughout the city, composed of a combination of nearby and some elsewhere in the city, such as the Red Lot.

• Improvements to the state Route 410 interchange to accommodate increased traffic stemming from improved Sounder access.

In addition to the recommended list of projects, the City Council called for collaboration with Sound Transit.

“The city requests substantive input into the design and planning of the proposed facilities,” the letter states. “The city and our local merchant groups would appreciate ongoing coordination with Sound Transit to identify further means to encourage Sounder commuters to patronize nearby downtown businesses.”

Separate from the city’s recommendation, a “stakeholder roundtable” also drafted a proposal for station improvements. The group, coordinated by Sound Transit, is made up of business owners, residents and others.

The group called for some of the same improvements requested by the City Council, with some variations:

• Improved lighting, sidewalks and bike infrastructure in areas around the station.

• A parking garage on the station property, with some group members favoring a large structure (about 600 stalls) and others favoring one similar to the council’s proposed midsize structure with supplemental off-site parking at the Red Lot.

• Garage parking available to the public on evenings and weekends when not in use by commuters.

Prior to the vote Tuesday night, council members Steve Vermillion and Julie Door both expressed concern that the city was recommending use of the Eagles property, which isn’t for sale.

While the majority of the council acknowledged those concerns, some noted that the transit agency intends to work closely with the Eagles.

“I don’t get the impression that (Sound Transit) is trying to run the Eagles out of town,” council member Heather Shadko said, adding that the agency has offered to help relocate the club. “The ball is in the Eagles’ court.”