Amtrak station advisory committee recommends approval of mid-Freighthouse location for Tacoma station

A citizens advisory committee late Tuesday afternoon endorsed the state’s plan to build a new Tacoma Amtrak station in the middle of the historic Freighthouse Square building near the Tacoma Dome.

The committee in a letter to Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax, the panel dropped its recommendation that the new station be sited at the east end of the former Milwaukee Road Railway warehouse. Instead, the letter recommends the city go along with the state’s proposal to create the new station in the midsection of the 1,000-foot-long warehouse.

The committee’s recommendation for the midsection station includes several guidelines. In the original draft of the letter, committee leaders had called those items “conditions,” but the full committee settled on the less restrictive “guidelines” to give the state and its hired architects more flexibility in creating the station plan.

David Smelser, the state’s project manager, said he preferred the committee set performance standards for the design rather than the specific prescriptive conditions.

For instance, the original proposal would have required the new building be of “wood timber construction” like the 100-year-old Freighthouse Square next to it. But Smelser said steel framing would likely be more appropriate from a safety and structural standpoint. The committee then modified its recommendation to require that the final station design “respect” the wooden construction adjacent to it.

Among the other guidelines were:

• Creation of a handicap-accessible grade-separated walkway to reach the second set of passenger loading tracks on the south side of the station.

• Building canopies to shelter passengers on their path between the station, the platform and a nearby bus station.

• A design compatible with the look and feel of the historic warehouse. That translates to high ceilings, and siding and windows compatible with the warehouse architecture.

• An easement through the station area that will ensure passengers access to the Freighthouse food court and retail sales areas.

• A “quiet zone” near the station that will minimize the noise when trains pass through the area. The trains would not blow their own horns, but horns at street crossings would be triggered by a train’s approach.

• A provision that would allow crossing gates at East D Street to be raised while trains were waiting in the station. Those gates would close only when the train was preparing to cross the street.

The state last December proposed siting the new station at the west end of the warehouse near East 25th and D streets. That proposal brought strong negative reactions from the committee and from the Tacoma community because it would alter the historic face of the warehouse. The preliminary design the state presented also was criticized because it failed to blend well with the building’s 100-year-old design.

The committee of architects, engineers, business people and civic activists then recommended building the new station at the east end of the warehouse. The Washington State Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the station project, said operating costs would be too high at that site and recommended building the station in the middle of the Freighthouse building.

The state is building a new Amtrak station as part of an $89 million “Point Defiance Bypass” project. That project will reroute passenger trains from the present route along Puget Sound to a track that passes through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont on the way to rejoining the mainline near Nisqually.

That new route will relieve congestion along the waterfront route and cut the timetable between Seattle and Portland by up to eight minutes.

The existing Amtrak station on Puyallup Avenue sits adjacent to the waterfront line. The new line is expected to go into service in 2017.