Underground station option for T-dome light rail extension hits roadblock. What gives?

An underground light-rail station as part of Sound Transit’s Tacoma Dome Link Extension (TDLE) project is no longer an option.

The Federal Transit Administration told Sound Transit on July 11th that the underground station, also known as the “cut-and-cover” option, “should be removed” from consideration, according to Sound Transit documents.

Rather than an underground station, Sound Transit will study an elevated station on 25th Street near the Tacoma Dome.

The FTA cited Sound Transit’s analysis and tribal concerns as reasons for dismissing the option.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians said an “underground alignment and 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,” according to a Sound Transit report.

The 9.7-mile TDLE project would expand Link light rail from the Federal Way Transit Center to the Tacoma Dome Station. The project is part of the Sound Transit 3 Plan (ST3). Voters approved funding in 2016.

Tacoma officials and the Dome Business District supported further study of an underground station, citing concerns that an elevated or above-grade alignment could cause “visual, development and traffic impacts.”

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in a Sound Transit press release Thursday that she was “disappointed” that a cut-and-cover option was not being explored but is “dedicated to working alongside Sound Transit to ensure the Dome District and the city of Tacoma receive a station that is integrated into the community.”

Janice McNeal, president of the Dome Business District, told The News Tribune through email Monday that study of an underground station is a “very critical omission” from the EIS process.

“Building a downtown station with an existing multi-modal network is unique for this region, and we felt it required special consideration in planning the station,” McNeal said. “It is not a suburban station with the addition of light rail to existing bus service like the other stations being planned. It serves as a transit-oriented district and event center that requires better planning than building a giant dark dreary cement structure running through the district.”

The underground option also would have required finding additional funding from third parties, according to Sound Transit.

The tribe was not “prepared for any sort of funding conversations,” Andrew Strobel, director of planning and land use for the Puyallup Tribe, told The News Tribune on Monday.

The Puyallup Tribe was willing to work with the city if the underground option was approved for further study, but maintained there would need to be extensive mitigation of cultural and historical impacts.

“We understand (the city) wants to really turn this into a vibrant area, and we want to work with the city, but we had some concerns,” Strobel said. “I believe the city was very understanding and empathetic of those concerns.”

In a letter to Sound Transit board chair John Marchione dated May 1, Bill Sterud, then-chairman of the Puyallup Tribal Council, wrote the area used to be a large traditional village site with a “high probability of cultural and human remains.”

“In 2015, as part of the Tacoma Trestle Project, Sound Transit unearthed a cultural finding within this area,” Sterud wrote. “We continue to work with Sound Transit in mitigating the impacts of cultural and historic resources of the Tacoma Trestle project to this day.”

Also on Thursday, Sound Transit announced its preferred alignment for the TDLE project, starting in southern Federal Way along Enchanted Parkway near South 352nd Street to Fife, north of 15th Street. From there, the preferred route would reach East Tacoma between East 25th Street and East 26th Street and come to a stop near the Tacoma Dome on East 25th Street.

Other route alternatives will be studied in the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected to be completed in 2021, with a final alignment selection in 2022 and a groundbreaking in 2025.

Sound Transit aims to complete construction in 2030.