Long planned, now locked in. Pierce Transit finalizes $150 million rapid bus line

Pierce Transit has approved a bus rapid-transit line to run from downtown Tacoma to Spanaway. The $150 million project could be ready for use by 2022.
Pierce Transit has approved a bus rapid-transit line to run from downtown Tacoma to Spanaway. The $150 million project could be ready for use by 2022. News Tribune file photo

For 18 months, Pierce Transit sought new ways to improve public transportation along a 14.4-mile stretch from downtown Tacoma to Spanaway.

The agency now has an answer.

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners on Monday selected Bus Rapid Transit as the preferred mode of High Capacity Transit for the corridor after it received the most support from the public and 40-member Technical Advisory Committee.

Pierce Transit spokeswoman Alexandra Mather said the agency has seen multiple examples from across the country of economic development following transit investments, and that local transit leaders hope the same will happen here.

"It is really a huge opportunity for Tacoma and the county to really liven up the corridor, and we are really excited about it," Mather said.

The system will be designed to hold more riders on one of the busiest routes in the county with faster speeds and higher reliability than the standard bus. It provides added amenities, such as Wi-Fi, and will be level to platforms for easier access for passengers with strollers or wheel chairs. Stations will offer real-time arrival information and raised platforms, and buses will have multiple doors for faster boarding.

Mather said the BRT was selected due to its cost-effectiveness, popularity with public and its flexibility.

The $150-million project is set to be completed in 2022 if all goes according to plan.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said she believes it is also possible to get the BRT up and running faster than other options presented, including light rail, street car and commuter rail. Woodards said she hopes to see more rapid-transit lines throughout the city in the future.

"I absolutely hope this is the start. The more investments that we can make in transit, the better off our city is going to be," the mayor said.

The new system will replace the current Route 1. The new route will start in downtown Tacoma at the Commerce Transfer Station at South 9th Street. Unlike the current Route 1, the BRT will serve the Tacoma Dome Station. The new path will continue through the Dome district and finish at the Spanaway Walmart.

Route 1 is the busiest route in the system, with 5,950 passengers on average in a week. Nearly 11 percent of the population living along that corridor depends on public transportation, according to Pierce Transit.

Of the $150 million total cost, half is secured, with $60 million coming from the Sound Transit 3 ballot initiative. Another $15 million comes from the 2015 Connecting Washington State Transportation package. The Connecting Washington program went into effect July 2016 with a 11.9-cent gas tax increase to total $16 billion investment in state transportation.

The remaining $75 million would come from federal funding. Pierce Transit will apply for the funding in the fall and hope to know if it is secured by early 2019 with a goal of completing the rapid-transit line in 2022, Mather said. If the project does not receive the remaining funding, Mather said the project will still be implemented, but on a smaller scale than originally planned.

With pieces of the plan in motion, Woodwards said there are still plenty of details that need finalizing, details she said the board wants public input on.

"We've only made one part of the decision — we've only made the part of the decision on route we are going to take and where it is going to start and where it is going to stop," said Woodards. "I really want to encourage people to make sure that as we continue this community outreach, to engage because it doesn't make sense for us to create a transit system that people won't use."

Meredith Spelbring: mspelbring@thenewstribune.com, 253-597-8509