About 200 people attended an open house at Sumner City Hall on June 25 to hear updates about the proposed new downtown parking garage which would add nearly 500 new spots for commuters taking the Sounder train from the Sumner station.
The $52.4 million garage was originally slated for completion in 2021, but the project underwent delays, pushing back the expected completion date to 2022. Construction should begin in 2020.
The City Council has give approved for the garage to be four-and-a-half stories tall. That was a subject of debate among council members.
The News Tribune reported in 2016 that previous City Councilman Steve Allsop opposed the project, saying that the garage should only be three-and-a-half stories tall, the height Sound Transit initially agreed to.
“We are drowning in traffic,” Allsop told The News Tribune at the time. “We are derelict in our duty to preserve this town’s character if we don’t do absolutely everything in our power to limit traffic volumes.”
The project includes $2.5 million for improving areas around the garage, including adding sidewalks for pedestrians, pathways for bicycles and bus routes, as well as lighting, said Scott Thompson, Sound Transit spokesman.
Since Sumner’s Sounder station opened in 2000, ridership has continually increased. That has placed stress on surrounding roadways, commuters, residents and business owners.
“The existing parking lot was full three weeks after the train opened,” said Carmen Palmer, communications director for the City of Sumner.
Original planning did not take into account the numbers of commuters from surrounding areas who would use the train, Palmer explained.
When the station opened, three trains stopped there per day. Now 13 trains stop at the station daily. Today, about 16,000 people ride the south line from Tacoma to Seattle daily.
“The parking facilities fill up at 6 or 7 in the morning,” Thompson said. “Sometimes it’s challenging to get in and out of the station.”
While the new garage will help, 500 new parking spaces likely will not solve all Sumner’s parking problems, Palmer said.
“The day it opens it will probably be full,” she said.
The proposed garage has been in the works since 2014. The money for it comes from the 2008 Sound Transit 2 ballot measure, approved by voters. The measure allocates money to improve facilities for the commuter train and bus system.
Before accepting the proposed project, the City Council unanimously voted that a parking garage would be the best way to use these funds, Palmer said.
Sound Transit and members of city government then polled commuters and residents about where they believed the best location for the garage would be. Both groups agreed that the proposed location would be the most ideal, she said.
The location, on an existing surface parking lot near Cherry Avenue and Academy Street, was chosen because it is close to Sumner’s downtown but will not visually impact it, Palmer said.
“It’s a balancing act,” she said.
Construction will begin in 2020 and likely will cause further strain on the already congested area. The project will take parking spaces away and increase congestion.
“It’s going to be a crunch for parking in Sumner when the construction is underway,” Palmer said. “We’ll go backwards for a period of time.”
Sound Transit has been making an effort to plan the garage in a way that would not disrupt the aesthetic of Sumner’s historic downtown.
“Sumner has our own style, and character, and we want to make the garage match that,” Palmer said. “Finger’s crossed we’re up and running and no more surprises.”