Tukwila is South King County’s key transportation hub

The region's transportation system includes the successful King County Metro RapidRide F Line, which connects Renton, the Tukwila Sounder Station, Southcenter, SeaTac and Burien.

The Tukwila Sounder Station on Longacres Way in Tukwila is a key hub in the region’s transportation system.

With the new Tukwila Sounder Station, Tukwila has more direct access to public transportation than any other suburban city in King County.

The City of Tukwila is carefully cultivating that access to create a vibrant urban district in Southcenter, where people live, work and are entertained. It’s why Washington Place, a 19-story hotel and residential community, is so important to the city’s vision.

Here’s Tukwila’s roster of ways to get around:

• Sounder commuter rail

• Link light rail

• RapidRide F Line

• Amtrak

• Metro buses

And, say, if you want to go from here to Timbuktu (it’s in Africa, will require transfers), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has you covered. Get to Sea-Tac Airport by bus or light rail – or old-school car.

But more practically you’ll want to use public transportation to get to work, to do some shopping, to get someplace entertaining or to see family or friends. Your trip can begin in Tukwila, thanks to millions of dollars of taxpayer investment in bus, trains and light rail.

“It’s all about location,” says Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.

Tukwila has always been known as a crossroads. The word is prominent in the title of Tukwila’s history book, “Tukwila: Community at the Crossroads.” Today, Tukwila joins Seattle and Tacoma as the region’s major transportation hubs.

This week marks the dedication of a key piece of that crossroads, the Tukwila Sounder Station, which is already one of the busiest stations in the Sound Transit system and a major destination for commuters.

Amtrak has a stop there, too, and city research shows it’s becoming a popular alternative to driving to Seattle or Tacoma to catch a train going north or south.

Ground was broken on the $46 million Sounder station in June 2013, by local, state and federal officials. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who played a key role in obtaining federal funding for the project, will attend the dedication on Wednesday (Feb. 18).

Tukwila didn’t supply any direct funding for the project construction, although the city and the City of Renton jointly planned the project, along with other agencies.

“One thing we did do is display patience,” said Haggerton.

The modern station replaces two wooden platforms, which provided little protection from the elements and were difficult to walk to up a long rising sidewalk. “The platforms were frankly quite dangerous,” he said. One was even hit by a train.

For more than a decade, the city continued to renew Sound Transit’s agreement to use the wooden platforms, while the regional agency put together the funding for the project, he said.

Tukwila Station is one of the last projects to be completed under Sound Move, which voters approved in November 1996. The temporary station began service in February 2001.

“This project was delayed to better coordinate with road projects in Tukwila and Renton that service the station,” said Chris Arkills, transportation policy adviser to county Executive Dow Constantine.

Now the station is done, there’s parking for 600 vehicles and it’s “beautifully landscaped,” said Haggerton.

“We are really proud that it’s there,” said Haggerton of the Sounder station. “It is the nucleus of a lot of our transportation system.”

That transportation system includes what Haggerton describes as the successful King County Metro RapidRide F Line, which connects Renton, the Tukwila Sounder Station, Southcenter, SeaTac and Burien.

The F Line stops at the new Metro Transit Center that straddles Andover Park West in Southcenter, virtually on the front steps of Westfield shopping center. Metro Transit’s venerable Route 150 stops there, one of the major routes for bus passengers in South King County to Seattle.

Metro Transit is the workhorse of the region’s transportation system, with about 8,000 boardings in Tukwila on an average weekday alone.

The transit center will affect the “overall transportation ecosystem” of the Southcenter urban center, according to Haggerton, and will be heavily used. Portions of the center are already in use, but the formal ribbon-cutting is expected this spring or early summer.

Like other projects, Haggerton said the $7.5 million transit center is an example of “a great partnership,” this one including the Washington State Department of Transportation, King County, Westfield Southcenter and the City of Tukwila. For example, Westfield provided a $300,000 easement and $500,000 toward construction, according to Haggerton.

Because of major funding from partners, the city’s contribution to the transit center was about $128,000, making the project “pretty economically feasible” for the city, Haggerton said. The city was the lead agency for permitting and planning.

While the city’s transportation system is fueled mostly by gasoline or diesel, Haggerton and other city officials want “foot power” to move the system, too.

The city is working on a plan to build a pedestrian bridge over the Green River to the east of Baker Boulevard. That $10 million project would allow people to walk or ride their bikes between the Tukwila Sounder Station and the Southcenter urban center. About $8.3 million would come from park impact fees and the general fund.

Baker Boulevard east of Westfield would become a pedestrian-friendly residential neighborhood with condos and apartments and nightlife and other entertainment in what’s known as Transit Oriented Development. What’s been missing in that area are places to live; Washington Place will help fill that gap.

The city is talking with the Washington State Department of Transportation about how it would get pedestrians across West Valley Highway (a state highway) and to the Sounder station at or near Longacres Way. A pedestrian bridge is a possibility.

For seven years Craig Warnock of Gig Harbor has made the bike ride from the Sounder station to Red Dot Corp. on Andover Park East and back again. He catches the Sounder train at the Tacoma Dome.

“I just don’t like the I-5 traffic. And I save gas and wear and tear on the car,” said Warnock. “It’s just down time when I am on the train.”

Up the west hill on Southcenter Boulevard/South 154th Street is the Tukwila International Boulevard Link light-rail station. It’s the combination of a Sounder station and the Sound Transit light-rail station that sets Tukwila apart from other suburban cities.

Light rail, which began service in 2009, offers travelers an option to Sounder trains to get to downtown Seattle, including direct service to the Westlake Center near many of Seattle’s cultural attractions. Travelers can also transfer to the Monorail for a short trip to the Seattle Center.

The Tukwila light-rail station has seen an increasing number of police calls for service, enough that the city is considering assigning commissioned officers to the station. The station is patrolled by transit police, a service provided by the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Haggerton has been mayor during much of the explosive development of the city’s transportation infrastructure. He’s now lobbying for the extension of the busy RapidRide A Line, which stops its northward drive at Tukwila light-rail station, all the way down Tukwila International Boulevard and East Marginal Way to the Boeing Access Road.

The Boulevard is expected to develop new housing and commercial areas – the Tukwila Village is already under way – with the removal of crime-ridden motels from the highway. As importantly, Haggerton wants the Sound Transit to “undefer” its plans for a light-rail station in Tukwila at the Boeing Access Road. He argues the station is needed to serve the Museum of Flight, Boeing Field and Boeing facilities, Aviation High School and potential new job-generating developments in north Tukwila.

Funding for building a light-rail station at the Boeing Access Road could become part of a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure that could go to voters in November 2016.

These transportation projects, along with others, such as the major reconstruction of Southcenter Parkway and its extension southward, and major improvements to Interurban Avenue, will help ensure the city meets its need for road capacity and level of service for the next 20 years, according to city officials. The city is upgrading its underground infrastructure, such as sewer and water lines, to accommodate the expected growth.

“All of these pieces you see around the city that are under construction now fit together in a plan,” said Haggerton.

THE BIG NUMBERS

Tukwila is served by two major public transportation providers in the region, Sound Transit – Sounder and Link light rail – and Metro Transit.

• 8,010: number of Metro Transit bus boardings in Tukwila on an average weekday

• 1,800: number of Sound Transit Sounder riders who come and go at the Tukwila Station on an average weekday

• 4,600: number of Link light rail riders who come and go at the Tukwila International Boulevard station.

Amtrak also provides service at the Tukwila Sounder tation.

A USER’S GUIDE

• Here’s where to learn about fares and how to purchase tickets: http://www.soundtransit.org/Fares-and-Passes/Sounder-fares

• All about the Tukwila Station: http://www.soundtransit.org/Rider-Guide/Tukwila-Station.

 

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