Public, Tacoma council prefer cheapest Link addition

Staff writerJanuary 30, 2014 

The public has spoken, and the Tacoma City Council seems to agree: the best way to get from downtown to the Hilltop — if you’re a light rail train — is to travel north on Stadium Way.

Already the city has a 1.6-mile light rail linking the Dome District and north downtown Tacoma. Now Sound Transit is looking to pin down the route for the extension approved by voters in 2008.

The general idea is to extend the rail line from its northern terminus at just past South Ninth and Commerce Streets to Stadium High School, around the north side of Wright Park and into the heart of Hilltop. The question has been how to get there.

Sound Transit officials presented an analysis of citizen comments about possible alignments to the City Council this week.

More than one in three residents who responded to an online survey said they preferred to bring the light rail up Stadium Way instead of via Broadway or St. Helens, primarily because the Stadium Way route would cost the least and would not disrupt the Theater Square plaza. The plaza is used by the Pantages Theater to load and unload its traveling shows, and for the Broadway Farmers Market.

But the Stadium Way route is not perfect, and several council members mentioned its flaws. Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said she’s never supported that alignment and said, “This is a lifetime decision for the city.”

“I still have a hard time sending a train up a hill where there’s nothing on the right-hand side, and not great access on the left-hand side going up the hill,” Woodards said.

The steep hill from Stadium Way to points west concerned Councilman Ryan Mello, who said the city will have to find a way to make it easier for residents to access any stops along Stadium Way.

“I still have a little bit of concern of putting rail between us and our waterfront yet again,” Councilman Robert Thoms said.

Still, the Stadium Way route was the least expensive of the routes by $20 million.

“I want to make sure we can build something we can afford,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.

Once the rail line makes it up Stadium Way, it would travel south along North First Street, then to Division Avenue and south along Martin Luther King Jr. Way. There seemed to be little disagreement among council members on an alignment in the Hilltop. They voiced a preference for sending the rail line up and back on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, rather than using that street to travel south and nearby J Street to travel back north.

The City Council could vote on a resolution next week to recommend the alignment, which would extend Link by 2.3 miles, to the Sound Transit board. The council could decide to also forward an a second route as an alternative.

The transit board will vote sometime in February on an alignment, for which it will complete further environmental studies. Sound Transit will begin building the rail line once it secures the approximately $150 million the extension is expected to cost, said Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.

Sound Transit already has $50 million to put toward the project. Of the remaining $100 million, the city and Sound Transit hope $50 million will come from grants. The remaining $50 million will come from an undesignated “funding partner,” which could include the city of Tacoma, another public entity or a private organization, Reason said.

Once construction begins, Reason said the extension would take two to three years to finish.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542 kate.martin@ thenewstribune.com @KateReports

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