East Side Tacoma gets the construction mess but not the light rail

A new street car line isn’t coming to Tacoma’s East Side, but the headaches of its construction will be.

At least that’s what residents in the vicinity of South 38th Street and Pacific Avenue fear.

A lot at that corner has been turned into a staging area by Sound Transit contractor Walsh Construction as the company builds the 2.4-mile extension of Tacoma Link.

The lot is being used to store supplies and equipment while the company builds the street car line through the Stadium District and Hilltop, said South Transit spokesman Scott Thompson. Construction began in mid-November.

The lot is two miles from the nearest point on the extension. Some East Side residents say the lot should be in the vicinity of the construction corridor, not in their neighborhood.

Some East Siders still have hard feelings over their neighborhood’s exclusion when the Tacoma City Council chose the Stadium/Hilltop route in 2013.

Neither Sound Transit nor Walsh notified neighbors about the lot, and residents are not happy about it.

“Surprised, disappointed and concerned,” is how incoming Pierce County Councilman Marty Campbell described East Side residents.

Campbell previously served on the Tacoma City Council and represented the area.

“They’ve wanted to see something great come to that corner for a long time,” he said. Chief on that list is a grocery store, Campbell added.

Now, the lot will be tied up for two years with trucks coming and going out of an entrance on Pacific Avenue, just south of 38th Street.

Walsh needs the lot because nearly all of the Link construction is taking place on city streets. Unlike a typical housing or business project, this one doesn’t come with its own lot for storing equipment and supplies, Thompson said.

“There’s not a lot of room to store (materials) along the corridor,” Thompson said. Crews can’t block access to driveways and businesses with excess equipment and supplies.

The lot at 38th and Pacific is owned by the Rite Aid company, according to Pierce County tax records. Walsh has a two-year lease on the lot, Thompson said. It’s approximately 220 by 280 feet in size.

A Walsh representative would not comment Thursday on why the lot was chosen or how much traffic would be entering and exiting during the years of construction.

Walsh looked at six lots closer to the construction site but could not find one that met its needs and/or budget, Thompson said.

“None of them worked for a variety of reasons: Lot wasn’t big enough, too expensive or the lot was already paved,” he said.

That includes the vacant Rite Aid building and parking lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which runs across the Hilltop and is where the extension is being built.

“They were told that there is a developer looking into that (lot),” Thompson said. “The owner isn’t interested in having it tied up for two years.”

Some East Side residents expressed concern on Facebook that trucks would be driving on South 38th Street through the newly renovated Lincoln District. Thompson assuaged those concerns.

“Our proposed haul route would be leaving the site and driving east to (state Route) 7/Interstate-705 to Stadium Way and back,” he said. “We would look to stay off Pacific Avenue and not go west on 38th.”

The city needs to approve the routes, Thompson added.

On Thursday, the lot was surrounded by a chain-link fence and filled with concrete barriers and storage trailers. Workers were unloading large spools of plastic tubing from trucks. Others were unloading rebar.

Trucks will be washed so they don’t track mud onto city streets, Thompson said. A layer of gravel has been put down on the lot.

“That’s part of the requirement: for them to be a good neighbor down there,” he said.

Campbell and others argue that one of the city’s busiest intersections is inappropriate for a construction site.

“How are you going to get in and out of that lot?” Campbell said.

Possibly complicating matters is the construction of Pierce Transit’s bus rapid transit line on Pacific Avenue. The $150 million project is aiming for a tentative construction start date of mid-2020, according to Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet.

A station has been earmarked for the South 38th and Pacific Avenue intersection. However, the 14.4 mile-long corridor allows the flexibility to avoid overlapping construction sites, Japhet said.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.