Mayor says Sound Transit likely to choose rail alignment east of I-5

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Lynnwood Link Light Rail alignment options and the razed Melody Hill location.
Lynnwood Link Light Rail alignment options and the Melody Hill site, where the building is being torn down.

The Board of Directors for Sound Transit isn’t expected to announce any decisions on rail line and station placements for the Lynnwood Link light rail extension until later this year. But according to Mountlake Terrace Mayor Jerry Smith, the transit agency is likely to select a line option that runs light rail on the east side of I-5 from the King-Snohomish County line to 236th Street SW, cross the line over the freeway, and continue it on the west side of I-5 and on into Lynnwood.

In addition, Smith believes Sound Transit will not only build a station at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center at 236th Street Southwest, but will also likely place a station near the grounds of the old Melody Hill Elementary School at 220th Street Southwest and I-5.

Smith made the comments at a Mountlake Terrace City Council work/study session on Oct. 3, then reiterated them on Oct. 7. Smith also stated that he hopes Sound Transit will consider building another parking garage at the transit center for the additional traffic expected from a light rail station most likely being placed there.

Construction of the 8.5-mile light rail line running from Northgate to Lynnwood is scheduled to begin in 2018, with service expected to start in 2023. Sound Transit directors are expected to select a “preferred alternative” this fall, with a final decision on line and station placements in 2014.

The light rail line alignment and station placements described by Smith are one of four alternatives Sound Transit directors are considering, as addressed in the agency’s recent Lynnwood Link Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) published in late July. While all four options for the light rail line include a station at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, only one choice, Alternative B2A offers a stop at 220th Street Southwest and I-5.

“Melody Hill, everyone said something is going to happen,” Smith stated on Oct. 3. “Something is going to happen; probably going to be a stop there.”
Two of the four alternatives on the table run the light rail line north from the transit center up the middle median of I-5, avoiding the Melody Hill neighborhood completely. The fourth option, Alternative B2, would run the line on the west side of the freeway but not include a station at 220th Street Southwest.

In addition to a station at Melody Hill, Smith suggested Sound Transit would include at the site a small parking lot or structure. “Maybe a 50-car place to park,” Smith explained. “That’s what I understood it. Some people thought it would be a big park-and-ride lot and it’s not.”

The DEIS states that if a light rail station is built at 220th Street Southwest, it should include a “200-space surface park-and-ride lot.”

Smith didn’t say how he came to these conclusions, but did admit he has talked to members of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, and that he has conversations with Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling about three-times-a-week.

When reached earlier this week, Earling didn’t discount Smith’s comments about Sound Transit’s plans, nor the thoughts about placing a light rail station on 220th Street Southwest. “Jerry didn’t mischaracterize the issue,” Earling said. “Based on the numbers in Snohomish County, it’s a station we would like to consider. There’s still some legal issues concerning the site.”

The Edmonds School District owns 5.9 acres of property that sits near the southwest corner of 220th Street Southwest and I-5. The district hasn’t used the property for students in almost 20 years, instead leasing out portions of the buildings, most recently to day care operations and a church. This past summer the district chose not to renew those leases and is currently having the buildings on the site torn down.

Edmonds School District Superintendent Nick Brossoit said on Wednesday that any potential Sound Transit light rail station at 220th Street Southwest will not be located on the district property. “We are not selling that site or leasing that site to Sound Transit,” he said. Brossoit believes that Sound Transit is considering a sliver of land between the district’s property and I-5 as a potential site for a light rail station.

The school district is having the buildings on their property razed due to their poor condition, Brossoit explained. “The buildings at Melody Hill were in serious need of repair. Since it is too expensive to repair, and not necessary for district purposes, it is safer and more cost effective to take the old structures down.” Brossoit added that many of the former tenants at the site are now renting space from the former Woodway Elementary School in Edmonds.

There are no specific future plans for the site other than “to lease or sell that property,” Brossoit concluded.

While Smith believes Sound Transit will build some type of small structure or lot for parking at a potential 220th Street light rail station, parking is more of a concern for the mayor at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center at 236th Street and I-5. There are 880 total parking spaces at the center within the five-level parking garage and the surface park-and-ride lot located there; Smith said that won’t be enough once a light rail station is also operating at the site.

“Our transit station is already full by 9 in the morning; where are they going to park? So, therefore, they need to build another parking lot just for light rail. And my recommendation was to put it right beside the one they already have,” Smith stated.

The parking garage at the transit center was opened in February, 2009. “It was projected when we built that it was going to take probably 10 years to get it to where it would fill up. Well, hell, we’re there. So now we’ve got a problem,” Smith said.

The Sound Transit Lynnwood Link DEIS mentions no plans for additional parking at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. Smith is hoping Sound Transit will include in their plans for a light rail station there an additional parking structure built just north of the current garage. Such a project might require using some park land from Veterans Memorial Park and/or private property in the 23300 block of 60th Avenue West.

“Maybe they might have to take out those three or four houses – you got to be realistic,” Smith confessed regarding homes that overlook the transit center and sit on land the Mayor is eyeing as a possible parking garage site.

Representatives from Sound Transit are expected to address the Mountlake Terrace City Council sometime in the next few weeks, but questions or comments about the Lynnwood Link light rail plans may not be discussed. Sound Transit officials are slated to present information about the agency’s plans for light rail extension north from Lynnwood to Everett and east from downtown Seattle to Bellevue, Kirkland and other east-side locations.

— Story and photo by Doug Petrowski

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