Those who have taken an active part in the struggle to site and design a new Amtrak station for Tacoma knew all along that the fourth-generation station would never be the monumental building that the city’s historic Union Station was when it opened in 1911, but they wanted something more than the humble brick structure on Puyallup Avenue that succeeded the crumbling station in 1984.
Now, after nine months of sometimes fractious hearings, meetings and conversations among the Washington State Department of Transportation, citizens’ groups, Amtrak, Sound Transit and Dome District leaders, they seem to have reached a consensus at least on the basic elements of the new station design and siting. The new station is necessary because the department is rehabilitating an old rail line that cuts through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont to bypass the longer waterfront line through Tacoma. All passenger trains beginning in 2017 will be routed on that updated line. The present Amtrak station is on the waterfront route.
The early design concepts for that new station are being made public by WSDOT on the Internet, at city advisory committee meetings and in public meetings set for next month.
Those preliminary design concepts little resemble the early design that the department rolled out last December to sour reviews from local citizens, architects and planners. Brian Borgelt, Freighthouse Square owner, Dome District vice president and a member of that committee, said he now thinks the department is mostly on target with its new ideas about the station.
“I’m happy to see what they’ve produced. I think it could be a good beginning for new life in the Dome District,” he said.
For the most part, those basic new proposals have been received without much negative comment by the city committee charged with reviewing the transportation department’s work. It was that same committee last year that complained that WSDOT wasn’t sensitive to the city’s concerns when it rolled out an early design of the station. But while the committee seems to have accepted the basic design concept for the station, it issued further recommendations for changes and upgrades to the basic WSDOT designs in a letter to David Smelser, the the Point Defiance Bypass program manager.
Here are the basic elements of the most recent designs:
The Tacoma Amtrak Station Citizens Advisory Committee proposed last spring putting the new station in the far eastern end of Freighthouse where an assembly hall now is sited. But a transportation department study found that location would raise operating costs as much as $800,000 a year over other locations in the building. Much of that expense was because the station at that end of the building would rise some three stories above East 25th Street to match the level of the tracks there. That meant a multi-story operation with elevators, stairwells or escalators to provide access from the street level to the ticketing lobby. The department, which is in charge of the $89 million project to relocate passenger trains from the present water-level route instead proposed the center location.
Not included in the state’s basic plan for the station is an overhead passenger bridge equipped with elevators on either side of the tracks to carry passengers between the station and the south platform. Without the bridge, passengers will have to trek to East D Street to walk around the train stopped on the south track. Such an overhead passage is part of plan for additional amenities proposed by Tacoma architect Jim Merritt, who was hired by the city to propose further station enhancements to make the station a more usable and to integrate it better into the existing urban fabric. The citizens’ committee recommended the construction of that overhead walkway. That overhead walkway also could connect with a pedestrian path to the Tacoma Dome. In addition to the pedestrian bridge, Merritt has proposed canopies on both sides of the buildings and a landmark clock tower to give the station visibility and identity from afar. That clock tower also was among the additions to the basic design endorsed by the citizens’ committee. The state hasn’t yet committed to funding any of these extra features.
Merritt said he believes the design should address not only the immediate basics for a new station but the look and feel of Freighthouse Square and the surrounding area.
“The goal should be to make all of Freighthouse part of the station fabric,” the Tacoma architect said. He believes that to be successful the building needs to be opened up to the outside like Seattle’s Pike Place and Vancouver, B.C.’s Granville Island Market. Merritt said the station and its surroundings should impress not only those arriving and departing from here with its welcoming atmosphere but also the hundreds of thousands of rail passengers who will pass through Tacoma on trains.
Denver’s recently updated Union Station, Merritt noted, uses fabric roofs over the tracks to create the impression of an even larger and lighter building than the historic station itself.
“And Denver has 10,000 fewer rail passengers than we have here in Tacoma,” he said.surveymonkey.com/s/Y6YWTD6
The city’s advisory committee told Smelser late last week it favors the design that includes the line of square windows above the larger glass opening to tie the new structure to the design feel of the existing building.
Once the committee and the state compile the results of the surveys, the state plans to incorporate those winning ideas into a more refined design it will present the the Federal Railway Administration, which is providing funding for the station and the waterfront bypass project. The state expects federal approval by February, Walsh said. Then WSDOT will begin final engineering and design on the project. That final design will be submitted to the federal group next fall.
If the process goes without a hitch, construction will commence in December 2015 with the station completion set for March 2017. Amtrak trains will begin running on the track that fall.