If silence is an indication of affirmation, the once-controversial design process for a new Tacoma Amtrak station passed public muster Thursday and moved forward to a second phase — finding how to fund the near-station amenities on the community’s want list.
There was no public complaint or outcry at the final public hearing on the station’s preliminary design from the four dozen people who attended the Washington State Department of Transportation meeting Thursday at the University of Washington Tacoma.
Many of those at that hearing were members of the city’s Tacoma Amtrak Station Relocation Committee. They had spent 10 months and 12 meetings with WSDOT before Thursday’s final public hearing on the station, and had already reached substantial agreement on its location and key features.
Don Erickson, chairman of that committee, said he plans for the group, perhaps reduced in size, to continue working with WSDOT and the city to help carry through with the vision the committee created for the station’s Dome District neighborhood.
The station plan presented by WSDOT would site the new station near the middle of the historic Freighthouse Square mixed use development near the Tacoma Dome at East 25th and D streets. Under WSDOT’s plan, the agency will buy and raze a 180-foot section of the 1,000-foot-long former Milwaukee Road railroad freight warehouse and build a new station within the old building’s footprints. The station will be between the western-most two-story section of the warehouse and the existing Sound Transit station just west of the building’s food court.
The new station is necessary because Amtrak passenger trains will be rerouted from the present waterfront route along Ruston Way to a rehabilitated rail route that passes near the Tacoma Dome, through South Tacoma and Lakewood before rejoining the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline near Nisqually. The new route is designed to cut transit time on the route between Portland and Seattle, and open up capacity for two additional trains daily on the route.
The new design features a two-story glass wall framed by wooden siding on the East 25th Street side of the building. Part of that glass wall will be constructed with movable glass garage-door-like sections that can be raised to open up the station to the street in fair weather. A public arcade will connect the existing western part of the building with the transit station. The design is radically changed from a preliminary design that WSDOT presented last December that pictured a utilitarian station building replacing the western end of Freighthouse.
David Smelser, WSDOT’s manager for the $89-million Point Defiance Bypass project, told the assembled group the state and its architects and engineers will spend the next month completing the preliminary design before submitting it to the Federal Railway Administration for its approval. If the FRA approves, final details will be completed next year on the design with construction beginning in 2016 for a 2017 opening.
The city’s station committee’s wish list for the station and the Freighthouse area has key elements that may not be addressed or funded by the station project: