Tacoma City Council OKs rail on Stadium Way, First to MLK

Staff writerFebruary 5, 2014 

The Tacoma City Council is asking the Sound Transit board to proceed with extending the city’s light rail line up Stadium Way and down Martin Luther King Jr. Way into Hilltop.

The recommendation, issued Tuesday, is among the first steps toward expansion of the 1.6-mile route that connects the city’s Dome District to north downtown on Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street. The council’s preferred expansion route – southwest along North First Street from Stadium Way, then to Division Avenue and south along Martin Luther King Jr. Way – would extend Link by 2.3 miles.

City Council members said they want Sound Transit to build a station on Stadium Way to give residents of the St. Helens neighborhood access to light rail.

The steep hill from St. Helens Avenue to Stadium Way along South Fourth Street could be a barrier to those with mobility problems. Sue Comis, a project engineer with Sound Transit, told the council she is confident a solution can be found.

The council also is asking Sound Transit to no longer consider a route suggested by the agency last year that would disrupt Theater Square plaza, which is used by the Pantages Theater and a farmers market.

Another no-go: Sending return trains down J Street parallel to Martin Luther King Jr. Way on the Hilltop. City officials would rather have Sound Transit install double tracks on MLK.

Tacoma Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver said the city is examining how light rail could affect southbound Stadium Way traffic’s left turns onto Interstate 705. He said traffic signals would favor street cars.

“It’s going to be a culture change in the city,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said. “Some people are used to driving too fast through Tacoma. … Try to drive through Capitol Hill through Seattle. It’s faster to walk or take transit.”

Of the roughly $150 million cost for the project, $50 million will come from Sound Transit, $50 million could come from federal grants and another $50 million will come from an undesignated “funding partner,” according to transit officials.

Councilman David Boe asked how the project would acquire its remaining funding.

Kingsolver said it’s only a matter of time, especially if Sound Transit can win a Small Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

“It will start triggering other grants to fall into place,” he said.

The Sound Transit board could vote this month on an alignment, for which it will complete further environmental studies.

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