It was clear during the Mountlake Terrace City Council’s Thursday, June 29 work/study session that councilmembers still aren’t ready to approve an agreement with Sound Transit that allows light rail construction in city-owned right of way — an agreement the agency needs to have before it can apply for $1.1 billion in project funding from the Federal Transportation Administration.
Some councilmembers have been vocal in criticizing what they view as Sound Transit’s lack of responsiveness on a range of issues related to construction of the Mountlake Terrace light rail station, which is part of the Lynnwood Link project. At the council’s June 15 work/study session, Councilmember Bryan Wahl had suggested that councilmembers “drag our feet a little bit” on approving the agency’s request for a right-of-way agreement in hopes of prompting a quicker transit agency response to the city’s concerns.
As a result, City Manager Scott Hugill pulled the right-of-way agreement off the June 19 agenda, and instead Sound Transit officials came to that meeting to provide an update on light rail station planning at 236th Street Southwest.
The right-of-way agreement discussion reappeared on the June 29 agenda, and the majority of councilmembers made it known that several issues still needed to be addressed before they were ready to vote.
One of those concerns is the replacement of trees that will be removed for light rail construction. Councilmember Doug McCardle said that he attended Sound Transit’s June 26 open house on the Montlake Terrace station design, and learned that the agency plans to remove 255 trees. Those will be replaced with 462 plantings — a mix of both trees and lower-growing vegetation — he said.
Questions were raised by both Councilmembers Rick Ryan and Laura Sonmore about the specific trees that would be planted to replace those being removed. Sound Transit Government Relations Manager Patrice Hardy, who was present at the June 29 meeting, said that the agency is still working to determine those specifics.
“The reason you haven’t seen more detail is because we want to plan this very carefully,” Hardy said, “and we’re looking at things like, do you put in full, mature trees when you replant or do you have a mixture of those? Those are the things that we still haven’t worked out but we are going to be working on and we’ll bring back to you.”
Sonmore said she wasn’t convinced that the Sound Transit had the city’s best interests at heart. “I’m just really worried that they are just going to walk right over the city as they are other cities,” she said, adding that she planned to vote no on the right-of-way agreement.
Councilmember Bryan Wahl again reiterated Thursday night that “there are some issues we need to work through.”
In addition to the tree replantings, Wahl mentioned amenities for the light rail station, including the color scheme, what type of sound barrier, and the status of station access such as sidewalks and bike lanes.
The main color proposed for the light rail station, which is at 60 percent design, is an earthy reddish tone with blue and green accents to reflect the city’s desire to include colors in the City of Mountlake Terrace logo, Hardy said. The city’s own Mountlake Terrace light rail station advisory committee had preferred the reddish tones, she added, although no final decision has been made on the final color scheme.
Regarding providing sidewalk and bike lane access to the station, Hardy said there was good news: The Sound Transit Board June 22 adopted a policy that includes access funds for each of the cities along the Lynnwood Link light rail alignment. “Originally it required you to have a match for the dollars,” she said, but the board decided cities “can use projects that were built or designed for light rail for your match. So that gives Mountlake Terrace an extra $2 million for access projects.”
One example of how those matching funds could be used: City Manager Scott Hugill said the city may use some of that $2 million in matching funds for the city’s Main Street project, to supplement sidewalk construction along 236th Street Southwest.
As for the type of sound barrier that will be built for the station — for example, concrete vs. some type of clear material — Hardy said she isn’t sure where that issue stands, but added that she would find out.
Finally, Wahl once again raised the issue of providing parking for the new light rail station. “I understand that Sound Transit doesn’t have any money available to build additional parking but…if we want to make Sound Transit work we’ve got to find parking for the vehicles that will be using transit. So we’ve got to work together to find solutions,” including exploring public/private partnerships, Wahl said.
Harding said that the agency is looking at options for those types of partnerships. She also mentioned that Sound Transit is considering the idea of charging commuters for parking and then sharing the revenues with the city. Sound Transit has been piloting that idea at 10 other parking lots, where they have charged a nominal fee — Harding later said it was $10 for a monthly permit — and even with that charge there is still more parking demand than supply at those lots. “It’s something our board is considering for the future, for future lots,” Hardy said, although she admitted it’s a concept that may not work for all areas.
“The message I would send back is, I think that’s an awful idea,” Sonmore responded, “because we’re already charging our citizens so much.”
“I kind of agree with Laura,” added Councilmember Seaun Richards. “We’re already having to pay for all these taxes for this project and then to have to pay for the parking on top of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
McCardle said that after attending the June 27 open house, “I feel like my concerns have been addressed and I’m ready to vote on this.” Sound Transit is delivering the package that was approved by voters, he added, and the council needs to figure out how to work with the agency “so that when it comes through Mountlake Terrace, it’s the best that we can get it for our citizens.”
Wahl, however, pointed to “a number of remaining questions that haven’t been resolved yet.”
“As soon as they are resolved, I’m ready to vote,” he added.
Hugill replied that he would provide the council with an update on next steps after his monthly meeting with Sound Transit officials, which occurs on July 12.
— By Teresa Wippel