How will light rail reach Tacoma Dome from Federal Way? City Council recommends route

Picture this: A light rail line entering Tacoma at East 26th Street near the Puyallup River, traveling west.

From there, the tracks pass a station before crossing onto East 25th Street near East L Street, coming to a stop at a second station near the Tacoma Dome.

That’s one of the routes for a future light rail line from Federal Way that’s gathered the most community interest and support, according to a resolution passed by the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday.

The resolution outlines the city’s suggested route alignment and station locations for Sound Transit’s Tacoma Dome Link Extension (TDLE) project, which was passed by voters in 2016 as part of the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) proposition and is slated to open in 2030 if all goes according to plan.

The 9.7-mile project extends the link light rail from Federal Way to Tacoma with four stations — two in Tacoma — along the way.

“This is the beginning of the process,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said at the meeting. “We’ve just narrowed it down, but it doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a whole lot more study that goes on before we get to a final decision.”

Sound Transit proposed about a dozen route options in Tacoma as part of preparation for an environmental review and sought advice from the city, the Puyallup Tribe, Pierce Transit, the Port of Tacoma, the Dome Business District and various citizen advisory groups.

Feedback on the proposed routes was collected this spring. More than 200 people attended three open houses held by Sound Transit in April.

Link stations along East 26th Street near Portland Avenue and East D Street would be closer to the community on the south side of I-5 and existing bus services, according to feedback.

Among the most common concerns in Tacoma? Parking, pedestrian access to the stations, business displacement and connections to transit.

The city stressed the need for non-motorized connections in its resolution.

“Pedestrian connections, especially with the area south of I-5, are key to ensuring the best utilization of the station and must be accommodated in a safe, efficient, comfortable and attractive manner,” states the resolution.

The city also highlighted potential parking challenges.

“Parking in the existing Tacoma Dome Station area is already challenging, particularly during peak demands, and is likely to become more problematic with the introduction of the TDLE,” states the resolution.

The stations planned for Fife and Federal Way will have 500-stall parking garages. There are no parking garages proposed for the two Tacoma stations.

Current parking options are already at capacity, said Councilwoman Lillian Hunter.

“I’m concerned about that, because what that means is at the end of the day or 10 years down the road, people are going to say it’s impossible to get (to the stations),” Hunter said at the meeting.

Woodards said the city might conduct its own parking study.

Community feedback shows interest in a below-grade route and station, or placement over the existing Sounder route.

Sound Transit project manager Curvie Hawkins said the agency would explore the options but that it’s unlikely to move forward with building the light rail line on top of the Sounder alignment.

“There are significant (construction) and operational challenges with doing that ... However I think there’s an opportunity to look at alignment that is adjacent or very close to the Sounder alignment,” Hawkins said.

Adding some items might require finding more funding.

“A couple of items that we’re hearing about that could fall into this category include the underground stations or alignments, additional parking facilities either in East Tacoma or the Tacoma Dome area or examples of any sort of pedestrian bridges over I-5,” Hawkins said.

The Puyallup Tribe supports the East 26th Street route and further exploring options for a span over the Puyallup River, according to Sound Transit documents, but cited concerns that an underground station “would expose the project to potential catastrophic risks due to cultural resources and potential human remains that could be immitigable and prevent completion of the project.”

People discouraged a route along Puyallup Avenue and East 26th Street, crossing onto East 27th Street, from further study, citing negative impacts to businesses, distance from parking garages and required pedestrian access to stations.

Sound Transit will continue its environmental impact study through 2022.