Amtrak advisory committee opts for Freighthouse Square's east end for new station

Staff writerMarch 19, 2014 

If a citizens advisory committee gets its wishes, Tacoma's new Amtrak rail passenger station will be built at the east end of Freighthouse Square.

That committee, made up of Dome District business people, city officials, planning commission members, architects and others made formal Wednesday what it had been hinting for weeks, that Freighthouse Square's east end is the best place to build Tacoma's rail passenger depot.

In a resolution sent to Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax, the committee said the east end site would be the most compatible with the long-term redevelopment of the Tacoma Dome business district, would minimize the disruption to the existing businesses in Freighthouse Square, would be the closest to bus and light rail transit facilities and would be the least disturbing to parking and access to the Freighthouse Square structure.

If Broadnax approves -- and there is little indication that he won't -- the city manager will forward the committee's renewed recommendation to the Washington Department of Transportation. WSDOT is managing the $89 million Point Defiance Bypass project which will necessitate moving Tacoma's passenger station in 2017.

That bypass project will route long-distance and regional passenger trains from the existing BNSF Railway route along Ruston Way and under the Narrows bridges to a route through the Dome District, South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont before rejoining the BNSF mainline near Nisqually.

The new route is designed to shave five or six minutes off the Seattle-Portand train trip and reduce congestion on the BNSF's waterfront line.

The Department of Transportation in December surprised the committee by rolling out a preliminary design for the new station in Freighthouse Square's west end near East 25th and East D Streets.  The initial design drew a volley of critical reviews both for its location and its utilitarian appearance.

Since then, WSDOT has held several community meetings to reboot its station relocation efforts.  Earlier this month, the state agency presented conceptual designs for stations located in the east, central and west ends of Freighthouse. 

Freighthouse Square is a former Milwaukee Road warehouse, parts of which date back more than 100 years.  The long -- over 1,000-feet -- and narrow building is already the Tacoma station for Sound Transit commuter trains. It also contains a popular food court, retail shops and an events facility.

The advisory committee's Wednesday's resolution said building the station at the Freighthouse's east end would concentrate construction activity in that end of the building. Sound Transit is already planning to rebuild and expand an old wooden railroad trestle at that end of the building.

Building at the east end would allow passenger drop-offs and handicapped parking beneath the elevated station and in the future might allow a passageway to be built under the twin tracks to a platform on the south side of those tracks, the committe said.

An east end station would rise three or four stories above East G Street to the elevated track level.

David Smelser, WSDOT's project manager, said the committee's recommendation would be given considerable weight in deciding where to build the new structure.  Engineering and design studies are not yet far enough along to say whether the east end site would be technically and financially feasible.

Any new station would likely be a new building connected to Freighthouse and built in the footprint of the part of the old building.  That building's foundations and its swampy site make reusing the existing structure unlikely, Smelser has said.


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