Freighthouse selected for new Amtrak station Point Defiance Bypass: State study recommends move, but hurdles remain BY CHRISTIAN HILL Staff writer State officials propose to relocate Tacomas Amtrak Station to Freighthouse Square as they prepare to reroute passenger trains through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont, according to a long-awaited study released Monday.
The study is available for public review and comment before federal officials weigh giving it final approval later this year.
In our opinion, there are no fatal flaws. By design, weve minimized impacts from the project, said Jason Biggs, project manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The Point Defiance Bypass project would redirect passenger trains from a route along the south Puget Sound shoreline to an inland one that runs west of Interstate 5. State officials say it would decrease travel times through the Nisqually-Tacoma corridor by up to 10 minutes, improve safety and permit more trains to run between Portland and Seattle.
Leaders in cities along the route have raised safety concerns about trains traveling up to 79 miles per hour through their communities.
Lakewood Community Development Director David Bugher characterized the study as thorough but said it minimized concerns about passing trains dividing communities and adversely affecting minority and low-income residents.
Bugher said the city is looking for more substantial improvements, including overpasses at crossings, to address safety and other concerns. His staff will respond with written comments, and they will be pretty candid, he said.
He declined further comment, because he hadnt had a chance to fully review the study.
Officials in DuPont and Tacoma either didnt return phone messages or declined comment because they hadnt had a chance to fully review the study.
Residents have until Nov. 9 to comment on the study. There will be two public meetings later this month at which they can learn more and give their opinions.
The Federal Railroad Administration required the study before the federal government would release the bulk of the $89 million to buy right-of-way and pay for construction. The federal agency will review the comments and determine whether more conditions are needed to lessen impacts. Its scheduled to issue its final decision by years end.
If state officials win approval, they expect the first trains would use the proposed route in 2017. The project would add 14 daily trips on the route: 12 from Amtrak Cascades passenger trains and two from the longer-distance Coast Starlight service.
Officials propose moving the Amtrak station from Puyallup Avenue to Freighthouse Square, the location of the Sounder commuter rail station, but that relocation is not without issues.
The relocated station would require a waiting area, a ticket counter and a baggage storage area to serve longer distance trains. The Sounder station now is just a vestibule with ticketing machines inside and a boarding platform.
In addition, the entries on Amtraks Cascades regional trains and the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles are different heights than on the Sounder trains. The Federal Railroad Administration requires that the platform and the train floor be level to allow easy handicapped access. The study calls for extension of the existing commuter rail platform and construction of an additional platform for the Coast Starlight.
WSDOT rail spokeswoman Melanie Coon said the location makes sense because it has existing amenities, parking and ready connections to bus service and light rail.
Its really creating a hub right here in Freighthouse Square. Thats what makes it so attractive, she said.
The project would construct 3.5 miles of new track parallel to existing rail line between Tacoma and Lakewood and reconstruct the remaining single track south of Lakewood to the southern project border. The parallel track would ensure theres enough capacity for passenger, commuter and freight trains that use it.
The project also would make safety improvements to several at-grade crossings in Lakewood and DuPont and on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They include stationery horns and other warning devices, gates, traffic signals and sidewalks.
WSDOT said grade-separated crossings are too costly and carry more significant impacts compared with the studied project. The project would not preclude their construction in the future, officials said.
The study characterized as minor the disruptions to emergency vehicles and public access and safety from more passing trains. By 2030, drivers using the affected intersections would wait, on average, an additional minute during both the morning and evening rush hours for the passenger trains rerouted by the project, according to the study.
While four intersections would see noticeable increases in delays due to additional trains crossing intersections, the same number of intersections would see decreases in wait times, including at North Thorne Lane and Berkeley Avenue in Lakewoods Tillicum neighborhood, the study said. Biggs explained that better signal timing would shave more wait time at the light than added while sitting for a passing train.
Residents living near the at-grade crossings at 108th Street Southwest and Bridgeport Way in Lakewood would hear the loudest noise in the project area due to new warning horns installed at the crossings. But the study said the noise would not be significant because it wouldnt travel as far as horns on trains, doesnt exceed federal standards and wouldnt interrupt sleep. The added passenger trains would not run between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Increased vibration would be felt at several locations in Lakewood, but it would be reduced by installing dampening equipment, the study said.
The study concluded that low-income and minority residents would experience noise and vibration from the additional passing trains, however the effects would not be appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than in areas with fewer minority or low-income residents.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390
Staff writer John Gillie contributed to this report.
Open houses, public hearing
WHAT: Two open houses on Point Defiance Bypass study.
WHEN: 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m., Oct. 24 and 25.
WHERE: The Oct. 24 event is in the Rotunda Building at Clover Park Technical College, 4500 Steilacoom Blvd., Lakewood. The second meeting – which will serve as a public hearing, beginning at 5 p.m. – is at DuPont City Hall, 1700 Civic Drive.
MORE INFO: Read the study at www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/rail/pnwrc_ptdefiance or at local libraries.