An overhead pedestrian passage bridging the tracks at Tacoma’s proposed new Amtrak station got a strong endorsement from the state this week, but no state money to build it.
The grade-separated bridge is at the top of the list of wants enumerated by the city of Tacoma’s Amtrak Relocation Citizens Advisory Committee in a letter to the Washington Department of Transportation. WSDOT is spending an $89 million federal grant to relocate Amtrak’s passenger train route through Tacoma from the waterfront to a shorter route through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. As part of that project, the state plans to build a new passenger station in a former Milwaukee Road Railroad warehouse, now the Freighthouse Square retail development.
The committee wants an overhead pedestrian passageway built linking the Sound Transit garage, the new station, a new passenger platform and lot near the Tacoma Dome as part of the station project. If the overhead bridge isn’t built, passengers boarding a train stopped at the station’s south track will have to walk from the station to East D Street to cross the two tracks.
David Smelser, the state’s program director for the Point Defiance Bypass project, told committee members at a Tuesday meeting that the state believes the overhead bridge is a laudable idea, but the station budget isn’t large enough to finance its construction. Smelser also noted that the Federal Railway Administration, which is overseeing the federal grant, likely wouldn’t allow expenditure of federal dollars to build the bridge.
Smelser said the new station design will accommodate future construction of the bridge.
Ian Munce, the city of Tacoma’s committee staff member, said he believes that funds may be available from other sources to build the bridge. They could include Sound Transit, whose Sounder commuter trains will share the station platforms with Amtrak, Pierce Transit, whose buses connect at the station, and other funders.
While the bridge is off the state’s list to build, Smelser said several other committee suggestions will likely be part of the final design. Those include a higher roofline for the station to match other parts of Freighthouse, large doors along the station’s north side to bring light and air into the station and larger ramps for handicapped access to the station.
The state plans to build the new structure in the center of the 1,000-foot-long historic warehouse. WSDOT will buy part of the long, narrow building, demolish that section and build a new station in the gap between the building’s west end and the existing Sounder station. The 100-plus-year-old building would be too expensive to reinforce and update to new seismic and energy codes, thus the need for a new structure.
The Transportation Department said it supports the committee’s request to convert East 25th Street to one-way traffic. Making that change, said Smelser, would make room for areas to drop off passengers and for bus and cab zones on the station’s north side. Changing the roadway would require a traffic circulation study and city concurrence.
Smelser said he supports the committee’s request to include a clock tower structure in the new station, but he’s unsure whether the Federal Railway Administration would fund its construction. The committee wants the clock tower built to provide a visual landmark of the station’s location on East 25th Street near the Tacoma Dome.