Nearly two years after state officials unveiled a preliminary design for Tacoma’s new Amtrak station to critical comments from Tacoma citizens and the architectural community, a final rendering is being rolled out this week by the Washington Department of Transportation.
The final image bears little resemblance to the warehouse-like initial concept. The planned station has been relocated from the west end of historic Freighthouse Square to the 100-year-old former Milwaukee Road freighthouse’s middle section. The corrugated metal walls envisioned in the original plan have been replaced with extensive glass walls, some of which will move upward in pleasant weather to make the station area open-air. A second track and an additional loading platform have been added to the station’s south side to allow for two trains to be handled simultaneously. A public corridor also has been added on the station’s street side to connect the two sections of Freighthouse Square separated by the station.
“We didn’t meet everybody’s every expectation,” said David Smelser, WSDOT project manager for the $89 million Point Defiance Amtrak rerouting project, “but I think everyone’s satisfied with the final result.”
The state in conjunction with the City of Tacoma held meetings and public hearings over the course of nearly two years to reach a consensus compromise on the design.
The new station is necessary because the passenger trains’ present route along Ruston Way, through a tunnel under Point Defiance and beneath the Narrows bridges, is becoming congested with freight traffic. The new route, which leaves the BNSF’s Railway’s mainline near the Emerald Queen Casino and continues through South Tacoma to Nisqually, could cut as much as eight minutes off the trip between Tacoma and Portland. The new route follows tracks once owned by Tacoma Rail through the Nalley Valley and Lakewood. The new track reconnects with the BNSF mainline at Nisqually.
The process drew significant input from the city’s Amtrak Station design review committee and from citizens. The community nearly unanimously rejected the idea of placing the station at the building’s west end. There it would replace the historic wooden structure’s most public facade along D Street near the Tacoma Dome.
During the review, Tacoma hired architect Jim Merritt to create rough plans for putting the station elsewhere in the building. Freighthouse abuts the existing track. That track is now used by Sounder trains for service to Seattle and Lakewood. The committee seemed to favor putting the new station in the building’s east end, but that proved to be financially difficult.
Freighthouse’s eastern end is elevated some two stories above the adjacent streets. That would have required an elaborate system of elevators and escalators to carry passengers to and from the station. The east end location was also adjacent to a large trestle that carried trains over the street below. Amtrak trains would have stop on the trestle to load and unload. That fact meant the trestle would have to be widened on both sides to handle passengers, a significant added expense.
When the state rejected the east end, it proposed the middle of the warehouse for the station. The location is adjacent to the existing Sounder stations and west of the Freighthouse’s food court. One key to winning approval of the mid-warehouse location was designing the station to include a pedestrian concourse on the street side that would allow customers to reach both ends of Freighthouse with its shops and restaurants both during station hours and afterwards.
The state’s architect proposed several window treatments for the station ranging from traditional that mimicked the existing Freighthouse design to an ultra-modern nearly all-glass treatment. The final design blends both concepts. The station will have windows that let light penetrate but which will also be framed in a way that echoes some of the Freighthouse’s design.
One proposed element missing is a clock tower suggested by the city’s design review committee. Ian Munce, the city’s station project liaison, said the city wants to complete plans for making East 25th Street one-way adjacent to the station before deciding whether to use money potentially available for the clock tower for more streetside amenities, a shorter tower or the original tall tower.
After Tuesday’s public open house at the University of Washington Tacoma’s Jane Russell Commons from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the state plans to complete the Federal Railway Administration’s review of the design and seek bids in early spring. The station construction is due to be finished in May of 2017. Service on the new route is scheduled to start in the fall of 2017.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663
A public open house on the station design is set for 5-7 p.m Tuesday at UWT’s Jane Russell Commons, 1918 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.