City Council formally requests amendments to ST3 package

The Renton City Council has been relatively vocal this year about a lack of Renton and Southeast King County projects in this year’s Sound Transit package.

This graphic shows the two Bus Rapid Transit options. The city favors the 'intensive capital' option with more Renton stops.

When members of the Sound Transit Board meet late this week, representatives from the city of Renton plan to be there to voice their displeasure with the package and request some amendments to make the final $50 billion proposal more palatable to Renton voters.

In preparation for the meeting, the City Council on Monday heard a presentation about the city’s requests from administration officials and then took the somewhat unusual step of unanimously approving a quickly prepared committee report to make sure that anyone who spoke before the Sound Transit board would carry the official weight of the council in an attempt to have their concerns heard.

The council and administration focused on three items they would like to see added: a return to the “intensive capital option” for bus rapid transit that would mean more stations in Renton, enhanced parking at the proposed new South Renton Transit Center from 700 to 2,000 spaces and a study of the feasibility of getting light rail to Renton.

Public Works Director Gregg Zimmerman said staff members had taken their issues to a meeting with Sound Transit Board member Claudia Balducci but had not yet heard back. Staff members were also planning on attending the Sound Transit Board of Directors meeting on Thursday.

“We’re waiting for a response to all of these requests,” Zimmerman told the council.

The Renton City Council has been relatively vocal this year about a lack of Renton and Southeast King County projects in this year’s Sound Transit package. So far, the city of Renton estimates its residents pay about $20 million per year in sales tax – a total of about $237 million in the past 20 years – and yet the city has almost nothing to show for it.

The only item planned for our area in this round is a new transit center, slated for the corner of Rainier Avenue South and Grady Way, and a bus rapid transit route on Interstate 405.

But councilmembers complain that not only does much of the money for the transit center come from a previous uncompleted project, but the bus rapid transit proposed does not even live up to the promises the city received in the last round of Sound Transit projects.

One of the sticking points for Renton officials is the lack of stations on the bus rapid transit route. According to Zimmerman, a December 2015 version of the plan showed two possible BRT designs for I-405. One of the plans had multiple Renton stops, the other did not. When the final draft was released in Macrh, Zimmerman said the city was “surprised and disappointed” to see they had selected the lower capital option, which did not include the additional stops, such as one at Northeast 44th Street, for example.

Zimmerman said the station at Northeast 44th was estimated to cost $170 million, but a station at 112th in Bellevue would only cost about $100 million, though it does not necessarily meet the needs of Renton residents.

“We made it clear to them a station at 112th does not benefit Renton,” Zimmerman said.

Bus rapid transit, which runs on a regular schedule and features in-line stations that the busses pull into to load passengers, is designed to be “just like a light rail system on rubber tires,” City Administrator Jay Covington said, calling the most recent plan a “Significant departure” from what was previously promised.

Councilmembers agreed.

“I don’t understand why there should be an amendment to something they had promised,” said Councilman Don Persson, referring to the original Bus Rapid Transit plan. “It’s not like we haven’t been at the table asking.”

Perrson, who said the city was promised a “Cadillac” bus rapid transit system, called the new proposal “watered down” and said the city still has not gotten any value for the money it has put into the system, receiving a total of about 1 1/2 bus routes from Sound Transit.

“And we will continue to pay now to get light rail to Redmond and Issaquah and we won’t get anything,“ he said, adding that there are not only 100,000 residents in Renton, but 10s of thousands more who would come to the city from unincorporated areas to catch the bus, many of whom rely on transit to get to work. “They’re just totally ignoring people who need public transportation.”

Along with the increased bus rapid transit option, the city is requesting an increase in parking stalls at the proposed South Renton Transit Center, as administration does not believe 700 spaces is enough to meet the needs of the region, especially when growth is factored in.

The city is also requesting the Sound Transit board study the feasibility of light rail in Renton. Administration and councilmembers said they realized it was not likely that Renton would see light rail, but would like it studied because Sound Transit is focused on that type of transit over BRT.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors was scheduled to meet Thursday. A final ST3 proposal is due in June with the public vote set for November.

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