Puyallup council considers access options for Sound Transit station

Regional agency will have a final open house May 14 at the Liberty Theater

Staff writerApril 23, 2014 

For the past year, concerns about what to do regarding access improvements to the Sound Transit Station in downtown Puyallup have been contentious.

The Puyallup City Council learned from Sound Transit staff April 15 about the half-dozen parking-related improvement packages set before them.

Sound Transit will have its final open house May 14 at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup to get final feedback from transit commuters on the six packages prior to the City Council having its final say June 17. It could be as early as July that the Sound Transit board of directors identifies the preferred package.

The agency could enter Phase 2 as early as late summer, which is the conceptual engineering and environmental review stage. Construction of all improvements are scheduled to be completed by 2023.

“I’ve always seen this as a partnership,” council member John Palmer said. “Our recommendation is part of that process. I will support doing that in June.”

Set aside from the Sound Transit 2 funding that was approved by voters in 2008 is $55 million to invest in access improvements to the station, including pedestrian, bike, traffic, bus and parking enhancements. About $11 million accounts for pedestrian and bike improvements in each of the proposed packages.

Sound Transit staff members have found a potential for up to 600 additional parking spaces to accommodate access improvements at the station. Additional parking could include surface lots, a small or large parking garage or a combination of both.

Some council members expressed concern about the timetable.

“I’m not sure why Puyallup is so far out in 2023,” Palmer said. “I think part of our recommendation (in June) might be putting the project on the fast track.”

Nytasha Sowers, the manager for the Puyallup Station Access Improvement Project, said her staff would certainly consider where efficiencies could be found to speed up the process.

Much of the discussion last Tuesday night revolved around the feedback received from an online survey and from the open house in February at Puyallup High School.

Sowers said consensus from commuters included building a surface lot or garage close to the station; installing a pedestrian bridge overpass; and increasing local transit connections. Commuters attending the open house and filling out the online survey showed the strongest interest in building a garage at the station.

Mayor John Knutsen was the most vocal concerning building a garage in the downtown.

“We should not design a city around a parking lot,” Knutsen said. “I am here for the business owners in downtown Puyallup who tell me over and over that parking garages will harm them. My concern is please do it in a manner that doesn’t damage us. I would say the least effect would be the Red lot.”

Leasing up to an additional 250 spaces in the Red lot is identified in packages A, B and E. However, no additional bus service is identified for that need and is left unfunded. Sowers said commuters expressed little interest in more parking at the Red and Gold lots, which is also considered in Package B, but is left unfunded for additional bus service.

Much dialogue from council members focused on packages that included parking-related proposals for a garage on the Eagles lot west of the tracks or a parking garage on the Cornforth-Campbell lot.

Both a stakeholder group and the City Council have voiced the opinion that the Cornforth-Campbell lot would not provide maximum opportunity and space for redevelopment should a garage be built there with ground floor retail.

Last Tuesday night, Tom Utterback, director of development services for the city, said the Cornforth/Campbell lot is “really deficient” in providing for the needs of Sound Transit, business owners and downtown shopping patrons.

“We’re looking at a delicate balance here,” Utterback told the council. “If we do end up with a downtown (parking garage), we need to be strategic in doing this. We’re approaching this carefully.”

Utterback said under the city of Puyallup’s design standards for commercial development, parking garages in the downtown should have ground floor retail.

The other potential option for a parking garage is in the Eagles lot. In Package C, a garage on the Eagles lot would be three stories with parking on the roof for a total of 600 spaces. A pedestrian bridge would be built crossing 5th Street Southwest.

For some council members, the thought of moving ahead with a parking garage on the Eagles lot did not sit well.

“I’m very skeptical about the 600 space Eagles lot working,” Deputy Mayor John Hopkins said.

Hopkins’ concern stemmed from worries that traffic coming from the garage after the arrival of a train would jam up.

Sowers said conservative estimates show that about 65 percent of parked cars in the garage would be exiting at any one time.

Mayor Knutsen scoffed at that estimate.

“None of what you discuss seems to account for traffic north of the tracks, just traffic south of the tracks,” Knutsen said.

He said students at Puyallup High School and fairgoers could be affected.

“I think Sounder is a good thing,” Knutsen added. “I disagree with the way of dealing with it.”

Palmer countered and said, “Any option we pursue, I don’t think our town is going to be horribly destroyed. It will be an asset to our community.”

Today, 719 parking spaces serve the Puyallup station — 432 at the Sounder lot, and leased spaces of 219 and 68 at the Red lot and Eagles lot, respectively.

Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001 andrew.fickes @puyallupherald.com Twitter: @herald_andrew

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