The vision for Tacoma’s Prairie Line Trail is coming sharply into focus. It will have five segments, each with its own unique features, yet collectively linked through a track of precast concrete pavers.
The trail is what its designer calls a “linear park,” melding the city’s railroad history with new, functional open spaces and art installations along a public path through downtown.
“We believe it is important to recognize that you have a sense that you’re on the same trail from beginning to end,” consulting landscape architect Mauricio Villarreal told city officials Tuesday. “But at the same time, as you go along the way, there are different neighborhoods or different characters.”
With this week’s Tacoma City Council endorsement of the trail’s final conceptual designs, city planners can now pursue $6 million in grant funding needed to fulfill the city’s dream for the mile-long bicycle and pedestrian path.
The project seeks to create the trail from a portion of the defunct Prairie Line, the original railway corridor dating to 1873. The first Northern Pacific train to reach Puget Sound traveled this line.
Running between South 26th and Dock streets – from the Brewery District to the Thea Foss Waterway – the proposed trail aims to create functional green space now lacking downtown. Planners also hope to spark business and community growth.
“It is a biking and pedestrian trail project, but we’re approaching it as much more than that,” city planner Elliott Barnett said. “It’s an important economic development catalyst.”
During his presentation, Villarreal, principal of Portland-based Place Studio, figuratively walked the council through his concept for the trail’s city-owned segments.
“Frankly, the greatest legacy about the railroad is that it preserved this open space through the city,” he said.
“Now, we believe there is a great opportunity for something to happen.”
The city’s portions of the trail – a one-third-mile stretch from South 26th to South 21st streets, and another one-third-mile stretch from South 17th to the Foss – bracket a four-block cross-campus section to be developed and maintained by University of Washington Tacoma.
The UWT’s piece is projected to cost $4 million and will be covered by a state Ecology Department grant and university funding. It’s expected to be completed by March, UWT spokesman Mike Wark said Thursday.
Meantime, the city has secured funding — through a $465,000 federal grant and $260,000 in tax revenues — to cover only the initial design, engineering and permits for its parts of the trail.
Place Studio, which also designed the UWT’s trail segment, took suggestions from adjacent property owners, businesses and other stakeholders and incorporated them into its designs for the city’s portions.
Draft renderings were then tweaked to create the final designs, which include changes to “protect parking and vehicular access” near the trail’s southern terminus, Barnett said.
Villarreal’s team identified and designed five segments for the city-owned parts of the trail, naming each after a prevailing feature.
The project’s first construction phase will seek to install basic design elements to create a functional trail. Later phases — to be tied to additional property acquisitions and redevelopment — would enhance the trail with more artwork, historic interpretations and other features.
The city’s five design segments, starting from the southern end, are:
Overlook Street: Running between South 26th and 25th streets, this segment challenged designers due to its narrow 20-foot right of way at a dead end.
The initial phase calls for a 5-foot-wide pathway. Cars still would be allowed to drive and park next to the trail. Later phases would expand the trail’s influence throughout the full 80-foot right of way to create a plaza for a vehicle turn-around and lookout point with a public seating area within a grove of trees, Villarreal said.
Water Street: In this segment, from South 25th to 23rd streets, the trail would run east of the railway. The vision is for a banked landscape with a rain garden feature where a stormwater swale now flows, Villarreal said. At the segment’s southern end, “there is an opportunity to create an open park,” he added.
Urban Flexible: Between South 23rd and 21st streets, this segment provides more design space for broader plazas. “It allows us opportunities for art installations, for culture, for people gathering,” Villarreal said. When fully developed, the area would contain various work, view and study spaces, and possibly room for games such as chess or bocce, he said.
Art Park: This segment, from South 17th to 15th, is situated across from the Tacoma Art Museum and leads the trail under Interstate 705. With a fairly wide right of way, it eventually could be developed into a tree-lined art park. “Eventually, there’s so much activity here,” Villarreal said. “You have the museum, you have people coming downtown, you have families coming to live here.”
Foss Connector: From South 15th Street to the Foss Waterway, the final segment seeks to narrow the driving lanes on an existing overpass “to create more open space for the bike lanes and for sitting along the way,” Villarreal said. Eventually, an art installation to create a “light bridge” would complement the nearby Bridge of Glass, visible to the south. “What we wanted to do was make this bridge something a little bit more iconic,” he said.Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542 lewis.kamb@ thenewstribune.com