As the project reaches a critical juncture, more than 30 people weighed in Wednesday evening on a controversial plan to re-route Amtrak passenger trains through three Pierce County cities.
The open house at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood allowed residents to review findings from a recently completed environmental study of the Point Defiance Bypass. They also could submit comments and ask state employees questions.
There will be a second open house tonight, as well as a public hearing on the study at DuPont City Hall.
The $89 million project would redirect passenger trains from a scenic route along the south Puget Sound shoreline to an inland route that runs west of Interstate 5 through DuPont, Lakewood and South Tacoma. State officials say it would decrease travel times through the Nisqually-Tacoma corridor by up to 10 minutes, improve safety and allow more trains to run between Portland and Seattle.
Leaders and residents in cities along the proposed route have raised safety concerns about trains traveling up to 79 mph through their communities.
Those in attendance Wednesday offered differing opinions on the project.
Ellen Webb, whose home in Lakewood backs up against the railroad tracks, voiced concern about having more trains speeding past her residence. She also questioned the need for the project and the states ability to deliver on the promise of faster, more reliable Amtrak service.
Its federal dollars in this economy that is driving this, she said. If those dollars went away, this project would go away.
Tillicum residents, who already will see more car traffic on their streets when Camp Murrays new gate opens, now must also contend with the prospect of more trains running on the tracks fronting the Lakewood neighborhood, said Sharon Taylor, who has lived in the area for more than 50 years.
She worries about the safety of children and motorists crossing tracks accommodating a larger number of high-speed passenger trains.
This is a business decision, but its affecting lives, and that concerns me, she said.
The study concluded there would be impacts from noise, vibration and traffic delays. But it determined those impacts could be reduced, such as through safety improvements to several at-grade crossings in Lakewood and DuPont. Improvements include stationary horns and other warning devices, gates, traffic signals and sidewalks.
Lloyd Flem, executive director of All Aboard Washington, which lobbies for the improvement of passenger and freight rail transportation in the state, said quicker service from the bypass will persuade more people to hop out of their cars and onto Amtrak trains and free up the shoreline route for freight trains.
Flem said he understands the concerns about public safety but noted education, enforcement and engineering can ensure the proposed route doesnt claim lives. Children, he said, are taught from an early age not to play in the street.
Tracks are a mode of transportation, he said. You dont play there either.
Some were more interested in the proposal to move the Amtrak station from Puyallup Avenue to Freighthouse Square, the location of the Sounder commuter rail station.
Commercial broker Jim Guizzetti said the private investors he represents who are interested in buying the retail building see the addition of Amtrak as drawing more people. He declined to identify the investors. The building now is under the management of a court-appointed receiver.
We see that foot traffic impact as a benefit to the city as well as to Freighthouse Square, he said.
But local architect Jeff Ryan said the location is too confined and the building doesnt convey a sense that its a front door into Tacoma. He favors moving the station west to an area that is more open and inviting.
You could drive by and not know theres a train station there, he said of Freighthouse Square.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390