Troubles are dogging Sound Transit’s plans to build a new parking garage and other improvements at its Sounder commuter train station in downtown Puyallup.
Agency officials announced this week that troublesome soils discovered at its preferred location for the garage will require extensive foundation work that would eat into the overall budget for the project.
What’s more, acquiring the property where the agency prefers to build a five-story, 500-stall garage is proving problematic.
Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie No. 2308 told The News Tribune and the Puyallup City Council on Tuesday that they are disinclined to sell their hall and land to the transit agency.
“We don’t want it,” said Jerry Miller, the aerie’s secretary, told the newspaper.
Sound Transit officials said the garage proposal is in its early stages and that they are confident a resolution can be reached with the Eagles.
“In most cases, we’re able to negotiate a settlement,” said Don Billen, a Sound Transit project manager.
We cannot guarantee that there will be no cost to the Eagles fraternal lodge.
Don Billen, Sound Transit project manager
The soil problems are a different story.
With the added foundation work, the cost of the improvements proposed for the Puyallup station have ballooned to more than $68 million.
With only $55 million earmarked for the project, something has to give, Billen said. That could include trimming hoped-for improvements, increasing the project’s budget or a combination of the two, he said.
“The Sound Transit board will have to make some decisions,” Billen said Tuesday at an open house in Puyallup where the agency began seeking public feedback.
At a meeting later that evening, Puyallup City Council members said some of the proposed improvements are “non-negotiable.”
Money approved in 2008
Money to expand and improve the Puyallup station was approved by voters in 2008 as part of a ballot measure aimed at raising funds for the regional transit agency.
Proposed improvements include:
▪ A new parking garage, now envisioned at about 500 stalls.
▪ An additional 98-stall surface lot near the garage.
▪ Pedestrian bridges over Fifth Street Northwest from the garage and a pedestrian bridge over the current railroad tracks connecting the two loading platforms.
▪ A new right-turn lane from eastbound West Stewart Avenue onto southbound Meridian and a new traffic signal at West Stewart and Seventh Street.
▪ Other pedestrian and bicycle access improvements.
Nearly 1,100 commuters board the Sounder train in Puyallup each weekday, and 500 more are projected to begin riding it in the future.
Nearly 1,100 commuters board the Sounder train or an express bus in Puyallup each weekday, and the agency expects a 70 percent increase in ridership by 2035.
The agency currently has a 364-stall surface lot near the station and leases two other lots with a total of 287 stalls nearby. One of those leased lots, which has 219 stalls near the Washington State Fairgrounds, would continue to be leased, said Kimberly Reason, a Sound Transit spokeswoman. The other leased lot is on the Eagles site and would be absorbed by the new garage and surface lot there, Reason said.
Most available spots in those lots fill up by 6 a.m.
“This parking garage is important,” City Council member Heather Shadko said Tuesday night, adding that the Eagles must be treated fairly for the garage to enjoy city support.
Billen agreed that fairness is required but added that a fair price for the existing property might not be enough money to cover the total costs of a new home for the Eagles.
“We cannot guarantee that there will be no cost to the Eagles fraternal lodge,” he said.
Eagles property preferred site
In August 2014, the Sound Transit board gave the go-ahead to begin preliminary design work and environmental review, according to agency records.
The Eagles property at 202 Fifth Street Northwest, where the aerie’s offices and hall are located, was identified as the preferred site for the garage, and Sound Transit officials began making informal overtures to the group.
Eagles representatives were at first receptive to talking to the agency about the acquisition of the property, Miller said, but their interest has cooled as time has gone by.
Long delays in correspondence from Sound Transit have not helped matters, he said, and his group really has no real incentives to move.
“We have no mortgage where we are,” Miller told The News Tribune.
Ellen Blakely, secretary of the Aerie No. 2038 auxiliary, told the Puyallup City Council on Tuesday that moving would hurt the group’s ability to perform charity work.
The Eagles have donated nearly $300,000 to local charities over the past five years, Blakely said.
“If we have to move, we will have to put all our money into building a new home and won’t be able to donate,” she said.
$68 million Estimated cost to build the 500-stall garage and other proposed improvements.
Billen told the council that Sound Transit’s system for buying properties might be playing into the Eagles’ uncertainty.
Even though the Sound Transit staff has recommended the Eagles site as the preferred place for the garage, the agency’s board must vote to acquire the property before the agency’s real estate staff can begin formal negotiations with the Eagles, he said. That vote could come in March or April.
Sound Transit would perform its own appraisal, reimburse the Eagles for an independent appraisal and offer a relocation package once board approval is given, Billen said.
All that might take until this fall to accomplish, he added.
City Council members, including Shadko, told Billen the Eagles must be treated fairly if the city is to support the use of their property.
“I think that trust has to be there for them,” she said.
Mayor John Hopkins agreed.
“We want, our citizens want, a garage,” Hopkins said. “However, we don’t want it at the expense of the Eagles.”
Council member Tom Swanson asked how long it would set the project back if the Eagles site could not be acquired.
Billen said 18 months or so. Sound Transit currently hopes to open the garage by 2021.
Soils are problematic
Soils surrounding the station also are an issue, according to Ken Lee, who is managing the garage project for Sound Transit.
Preliminary samples show the soils aren’t stable enough to build upon without substantial foundation work, Lee said at the open house.
Those findings, and other engineering challenges, have increased the price of building the garage from the 2008 estimates, Lee said. Also increasing the price is the addition of the fifth floor. The original project called for four, with fewer parking stalls.
Billen told the City Council that Sound Transit is looking to council members and the public to prioritize the improvements they’d like to see made if the $55 million budget does not increase.
Council member Julie Door said the pedestrian bridge over Fifth Street is “non-negotiable.”
Other council members and City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said the traffic improvement for Fifth Street and on Stewart Avenue also are must-haves.
“Those are absolutely critical,” Yamamoto told The News Tribune on Wednesday. “You’ve got Puyallup High School right there. You’ve got a residential neighborhood right there.”
Jeannie Venzone lives across the street from the current station.
Venzone said she and her neighbors are concerned about increased traffic, litter and crime a parking garage might bring.
“Everyone down here is concerned,” she said. “We’ve been concerned since the station went in.”
People interested in learning more about the project or taking a survey regarding the improvements can click here.