Around the time in 2018 that Seattle drivers are supposed to start using their long-stalled downtown tunnel, Tacoma transit users might begin to see construction on another long-awaited project: the downtown light-rail extension proposed in 2008’s Sound Transit 2 campaign.
The best-case scenario for the $165 million Tacoma Link expansion would send the first streetcars wending past the Stadium District to Hilltop stops in 2021, although officials said the money has yet to be fully lined up.
After years of planning, the proposed route — 2.4 miles and six new stops, running from Wright Park to South 19th Street and more than doubling the current 1.6-mile trolley service — has come up for public feedback through July 27.
Along with the environmental study posted on the Sound Transit website, the agency presented findings about the proposed route last week to a City Council committee and to 78 people at a public open house at The Evergreen State College.
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Although a few of the stop locations could inspire debate, the out-loud reactions largely were enthusiastic to the study, which projects Tacoma Link will draw 10,800 riders per day by 2035, more than triple the current figure.
From an official perspective, the City Council offered few questions or criticisms.
“This is a really big deal for Tacoma,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said. She added that getting Tacoma Link to South 19th Street makes possible future extensions to city destinations to the south and west.
At the open house, several people expressed the same general reaction.
“Maybe I live too far off the track, but I think it’s wonderful,” mused Freddie Mae Barnett, 81, as she leaned on her cane. “We have very poor transit, and the improvement is much needed.”
Barnett’s friend, Syid Askia, said the project has the potential to transform the Hilltop neighborhood he moved into last year to escape rising rent.
“I saw it in Seattle, man,” Askia said. “Property values are going to go through the sky.”
Sound Transit Project Manager Sue K. Comis told the City Council that ground-breaking could happen in 2018 if the money comes through.
Sound Transit’s $50 million contribution is stable, but a $75 million federal grant remains part of President Barack Obama’s proposed budget.
The city, with various grant sources, is on the hook for the remaining $40 million, and grants have been secured or sought for just over $33 million of that.
Even with all that money lined up, don’t expect the extended version of Tacoma Link to be free, as the streetcars rolling through downtown currently are.
The downtown Business Improvement Area’s agreement to front the cost of fares expires in September 2016. After that, the adult fare for Tacoma Link is to be $1.50, with half off for children, senior citizens and disabled riders.
Next up in the long road to more transit is a possible City Council vote Aug. 4. After that, the Sound Transit board will take up the environmental study’s findings and public input to decide on a final route in late summer or fall.
Potentially up for debate by then are the precise locations of stops.
Although the environmental study projects a significant increase systemwide, with at least four stops drawing more than 1,000 daily riders each, the planned stop at Stadium Way and South Fourth Street is expected to draw just 100 riders per day.
Valerie Floyd, who lives on Stadium Way, last week pored over maps of the two stops closest to her home. She said she’d support the extension plan even if the Fourth Street stop wasn’t built and she had to walk uphill to the next-closest place to board.
“That wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me,” Floyd said. “It’s time to get some progress in general.”
The proposed route also moves the Theater District station two blocks north, near Old City Hall, which would create a more even spacing from other stops.
Michael E. Ritchie, whose office is next to the proposed new location, said he hopes that idea is scratched. At the open house for the environmental study, he criticized the potential noise and disruption of a transit stop right outside his building.
“I don’t understand why they need to spend money” to move the stop, Ritchie said. “It just seems almost on a whim, without any practical reason to do it.”
Want to comment?
Comments on the proposed
extension of Tacoma Link
can be made until July 27 at tacomalink.org.