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Amtrak, Sound Transit, WSDOT, city and citizen committee agree on new Tacoma Amtrak station facade

A half-dozen organizations with diverse desires for Tacoma’s new Amtrak station have reached an informal consensus on the new station’s East 25th Street public facade, the head of the station project said Monday.

The building face, toward the middle of the historic Freighthouse Square structure at East 25th and D streets near the Tacoma Dome, will feature a glass-walled arcade with transparent doors that can be tilted outward in pleasant weather to serve as a canopy over a street-side plaza.

That arcade will allow pedestrians to pass between sections of the long, thin building on either side of the station without having to pass through the station itself, said David Smelser, the Washington state Department of Transportation’s project manager for the station and its new passenger rail route through Tacoma.

The 100-plus-year-old Freighthouse was once a Milwaukee Road rail warehouse. In recent years, it was converted to a shopping venue, food court and office space.

The new station interior will be separated from the arcade by glass walls punctuated by two sliding transparent doors for access.

Smelser said that design was the result of local citizens’ desire for a light and airy station interior and a passage between the east and west sections of the building and Amtrak’s desire for a secure station where access could be easily controlled and where the station can to locked up during off hours.

THE GROUPS

The consensus design was the product of a meeting last month among the major players in the station construction project: WSDOT, Amtrak, Sound Transit, a Tacoma Citizens Advisory Committee, the city’s fire department, the station architect and the Federal Railway Administration, all of which had slightly different goals as a far as the station design was concerned, Smelser said.

The state DOT is building the new Tacoma Amtrak station as part of the $89 million Point Defiance Bypass project. That project, as the name suggests, will reroute Amtrak passenger trains from the present Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline route along Ruston Way, through the Nelson Bennett tunnel beneath Point Defiance and along the Tacoma Narrows and Puget Sound to Nisqually. Beginning in 2017, passenger trains will leave the BNSF mainline near the Puyallup Tribe’s Emerald Queen Casino on River Road and pass through Tacoma near the Tacoma Dome and then near South Tacoma Way and Pacific Highway South to Lakewood and DuPont, then rejoin the BNSF main route near Nisqually.

That bypass will avoid the bottleneck at the single-track Bennett tunnel and shorten the distance through Tacoma, saving about seven minutes. The new station is needed because the existing station is on the route being abandoned by passenger trains.

The Tacoma City Council is to be briefed on the new station and bypass design Tuesday (April 21). The initial design for the passenger depot drew critical reviews from citizens some 18 months ago when it was released. That design was scrapped, the station was relocated from the west end of Freighthouse to the middle, and a new design was developed in cooperation with a citizens committee.

STILL DESIGNING

Smelser said the design is now about 30 percent complete. The design will reach 60 percent in June with final designs due in November. Construction on the station is expected to start next spring with completion sometime in mid-2017.

Among the issues still to be settled are the design of passenger canopies over the two platforms on the station’s south side and the design of a clocktower for the structure to give the building more character and make it a landmark visible at some distance from the station.

So far, the Federal Railway Administration, which oversees the federal funding of the bypass project, hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for the clock tower, Smelser said.

But a spare but elegant design included with the final details of the building could pass the FRA’s review, he added.

“I’m an optimist when it comes to these things,” Smelser said.

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