State rolls out new designs for Amtrak station

Tacoma’s new Amtrak station design Tuesday night passed near-final muster from an advisory committee that 10 months ago had loudly rejected a prior preliminary design.

The design the Washington Department of Transportation unveiled Tuesday for the Tacoma Amtrak Station Relocation Advisory Committee bore little resemblance to the bare bones metal building the state had first shown the committee last December.

The new drawings showed a glass-walled, 180-foot-long station equipped with transparent garage-door-like walls that can be raised in fair weather to create a station open to the outside on both its street and track sides. The proposed station would be built in the middle of the 1,000-foot-long Freighthouse Square building at East 25th and D streets near the Tacoma Dome.

The design will include a clock tower structure that will be a visual landmark for the station and ultimately could serve as a support and an elevator shaft for a pedestrian bridge between the existing Sound Transit garage, the new station and the new south platform at the station.

The state’s plan doesn’t include funding for the pedestrian bridge, and the tower may not be included in the project if the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) objects. David Smelser, WSDOT’s project manager for the station, however, pledged to lobby for inclusion of the tower in the design that the FRA approves.

That design, said architect Alan Hart, acknowledges Freighthouse’s 100-plus-year history with a narrow band of wood siding that frames the large glass wall and by the design of the windows which echo the divided panes of windows in the existing building.

The semi-final design — final details still have to be worked out — is an evolution of one of three proposals the state had proposed to the committee this summer. One design had mimicked the existing building with a series of individual second-story windows. Another design, also rejected, had proposed an all-glass facade for the station. The winning design was a compromise between the two.

The station proposal includes a public corridor parallel to East 25th Street connecting the two sections of the Freighthouse that will remain on either side of the new station. That corridor will remain accessible even if the Amtrak station is closed. The station will be located just west of both the existing Sounder commuter rail station and the Freighthouse food court.

The new station is needed as part of an $89-million federally funded Point Defiance Bypass project that will reroute Amtrak passenger trains from their present path along Ruston Way and the Sound under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to a route that passes near the Tacoma Dome through South Tacoma and Lakewood to reconnect to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline near Nisqually.

The new route will cut the journey from Seattle to Portland by as much as eight minutes and relieve congestion on the Point Defiance route that now threads all train traffic through the single-track Nelson Bennett Tunnel under Point Defiance Park and Ruston. The existing Puyallup Avenue station serves the waterfront route.

While individual members of the city-appointed committee of architects, community and neighborhood leaders, gave the state suggestions for further design refinements, they also spoke favorably of the design.

Jim Merritt, a Tacoma architect hired by the city to suggest alternative approaches to the structure design, said he found the design met most of the design objectives the committee had outlined to the state.

Some committee members said the final design should include money for the pedestrian bridge.

Jori Adkins, a Dome District businesswoman and civic leader, said she continues to “feel very strongly that the bridge should be part of the final design.”

Ian Munce, the city staff liaison to the committee, said the city administration likewise believes the pedestrian overpass should be funded and built as part of the project. Smelser said the FRA had told him the pedestrian bridge doesn’t meet its criteria for funding.

Another part of the committee’s station wish list will be moving ahead soon, said Munce. The city will soon begin a traffic study to determine whether East 25th Street can be made one-way eastbound bordering the station. Making the street one way would allow the sidewalks surrounding the station to be widened and will allow easier access to the station for cabs and passenger dropoffs.

The state will hold a final public meeting on the station design Oct. 30 from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. at the University of Washington Tacoma’s Philip Hall, 1918 Pacific Avenue.

The state plans to submit the basic design to the FRA at the end of November. If the federal agency approves that and a subsequent final design, construction of the station is expected to begin in late 2015 or early 2016 with the station opening in 2017 when trains begin using the new route.