Mayor proposes moving transit center to Rainier and Grady

Mayor Denis Law displays an aerial photo of where he would like to see the downtown transit center moved.

Mayor Denis Law is exploring with regional officials the idea of relocating the Metro Transit Center from downtown Renton in a move he says would enhance the city’s – and region’s – transportation system.

His destination is 8.3 acres at a gateway to Renton, the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and Grady Way on the former site of the Sound Ford dealership. The land is currently empty and has been on the market for many years.

But to get from the transit center on Burnett Avenue to the one on Rainier Avenue could take years.

Law first must build consensus for the idea – initially the reaction is favorable, he said – and then work with Sound Transit and other government agencies on how to finance buying the land and designing and building a transit center, mostly a 1,500- to 2,000-stall parking garage.

There’s already a Metro park-and-ride lot next door that could be expanded.

Law has been promoting his idea since October, when the idea came to him one night while he was lying awake.

Law said he is motivated by providing better access to public transportation for his residents and those living on West Hill and in Fairwood and North Kent and for the city’s business community.

“We want better access to buses and the transportation system for our citizens and to serve our businesses,” Law said.

The new location is on a major transportation corridor at the intersection of two freeways and is close to major employment centers and the Tukwila Sounder Station. It could be served by Metro Transit’s popular F Line and bus rapid transit.

Renton has already spent millions of dollars to improve Southwest 27th Street, a key access point to the Sounder Station.

“It made sense to make this our hub for the city,” said Law of the Valley floor in south Renton.

And the city is moving forward with several initiatives to create more jobs and places to live in a pedestrian-oriented downtown, Law said. While the city will continue with those initiatives if the transit center remains, heavy bus traffic isn’t compatible with them, Law said.

Through regulations and ordinances, the city is addressing issues of bad behavior and crime in or near the current transit center. The city is studying returning to two-way traffic on South Third and South Second streets, making them neighborhood streets and not commuter routes.

King County originally wanted to build the transit center in Renton on Grady Way, because it opposed maneuvering buses through the downtown core, Law said. But the city pushed forward with a plan for a transit center that linked transportation with multi-family housing and other development, he said.

The transit center opened in 2000.

“But the vision has never worked out very well. So it’s been more of a problem than an asset,” Law said of that location. “It’s time to move on.”

Locating a new transit center at Grady Way and Rainier would provide opportunities for what’s known as transit-oriented development, he said. It also would take advantage of the 10s of millions of public transportation dollars spent to improve the Rainier Avenue corridor, he said.

Local buses would continue to serve downtown residents and businesses, but no longer would Metro buses use downtown Renton as a transfer point to the Eastside, Southcenter or elsewhere, Law envisions.

Where Law suggests getting some of the money speaks to how Renton’s transportation needs and its employment centers have changed over the years.

Right now, there’s about $68 million in the Sound Transit budget for a ramp from Interstate 405 at North Eighth Street, proposed 20 years ago to serve Paccar and Boeing with bus rapid transit

But in the intervening two decades, industrial employment has dropped in North Renton, while thousands of new jobs are being added in South Renton, including hundreds of Group Health employees near the Tukwila Sounder Station.

Travel to The Landing is more likely by car than bus, Law said, and a “very adequate system” of buses is in place for those who don’t want to drive their vehicles to the Boeing or PACCAR plants.

Plus, if Sound Transit 3 is approved by voters in November, bus rapid transit will provide another way to get to a workplace, he said.

“At the end of the day the location doesn’t meet our transportation needs as a city and as a community,” Law said. To build the ramp also would cost millions more than allocated today, he said.

Law said he has received positive support to explore his proposal from King County Executive Dow Constantine, members of the Sound Transit Board and Washington State Department of Transportation. Those discussions are continuing, with the support of the Renton City Council.

Law doesn’t know now exactly how much it would cost to develop the new transit center, but he figures that if the North Eighth Street ramp project is taken off the drawing board, its $68 million could buy the land for the transit center and build the parking garage.

Law is hoping to get some money from Sound Transit 3, a major measure that will go to voters this year to raise billions of dollars for transit and transportation investment, including bus rapid transit.

Renton and other cities on the I-405 corridor have indicated that support for ST3 hinges on the measure providing bus rapid transit on the corridor, he said.

Law’s proposal is being introduced to the ST3 list of projects, which hasn’t been finalized, he said.

“So timing is of the essence,” he said.

Reach Dean A. Radford at 425-255-3484 ext, 5150.