Sounder trains no longer an option for U.S. Open at Chambers Bay

Sounder commuter rail service will not be used to transport spectators to the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay next summer.

The United States Golf Association announced its decision not to use the trains Tuesday after spending nearly two years exploring how they might bring people from Seattle’s King Street Station to the University Place waterfront.

It appeared this summer that an agreement between the USGA, Sound Transit and BNSF Railway was close to being completed. Brian Ziegler, director of public works and utilities for Pierce County, told The News Tribune in July he thought the group was “really close” to reaching a deal.

But despite the willingness of Sound Transit to provide the trains and BNSF to provide the track, the final decision rested with USGA officials, said Danny Sink, USGA on-site championship director.

“There were too many variables to the plan that we couldn’t control,” he said

Even without commuter rail, the golf association’s parking and transportation plan will meet the needs of the 235,000 people expected to visit the course for the June 15-21 event, he said.

“The train was always going to be, if we were going to use it, a supplemental transportation option,” Sink said. “If it were a situation where we were in New York and we could bring 20,000 people in a day and (trains) could leave every eight minutes, then it would be a different story.”

The departure times for trains to and from Seattle would likely have been every hour to hour and a half.

USGA officials estimated trains would have carried 6,000 people a day between Seattle and University Place. Some trains would have left from Seattle and gone directly to University Place; others would have made stops in Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup and Tacoma. From Tacoma, the trains would have traveled the BNSF main line around Point Defiance to reach the waterfront golf course.

But to move that many people efficiently, each rider would have been given a ticket with a specific departure time. That could have forced some people to leave Chambers Bay before they were ready, especially if there were weather-related golf delays, Sink said.

“We don’t want to do it just to do it,” he said of offering train service. “We want to make sure we can control it and make sure it is a great experience.”

The USGA believes its parking and transportation plan can easily handle the 30,000 spectators expected at the course each day.

The plan is roughly 95 percent complete, Sink said, and will be made public before the end of March.

USGA officials are working on setting shuttle routes to and from a number of parking lots around the region. Officials say they are committed to limiting the impact to neighborhoods around Chambers Bay, especially streets leading to the course.

“We’re trying to be careful about not clogging a particular corridor,” Sink said. “We want to provide a way for local (residents) to get home.”

Some details of the transportation plan already have been made public because of agreements negotiated with local jurisdictions. That includes parking 4,000 cars at Lakewood’s 340-acre Fort Steilacoom Park and 7,000 cars at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup. The University Place School District confirmed this fall it was talking with the USGA about using some of its school parking lots.

The transportation plan will include suggested alternate routes for people who live near the course and satellite parking lots to use during the event.

“If it typically takes you 10 minutes to get to work, it might take you 15 to 20 minutes that week of the championship,” Sink said. “I think folks will be pleasantly surprised as to how effective the transportation plan we put in place will work.”

Kimberly Reason, Sound Transit spokeswoman, said the agency understands why USGA officials opted not to use Sounder trains.

“They are committed to the experience and need to have spectators come and go as they please,” she said.

She added that USGA officials were mindful of Sound Transit’s priority not to disrupt weekday commuter trains and that all parties involved “worked very hard together and looked at as many options as we could.”