Feds add another $2 million to Tacoma’s Link light rail extension

Tacoma’s long-planned Link light rail expansion to the Hilltop and Stadium District neighborhoods eked closer to being fully funded Monday with the announcement of a $2 million federal grant through a program to boost transit-oriented development.

The federal Department of Transportation grant brought the city just past the halfway point of the $40 million local government is expected to assemble for the $165 million project.

Other funding sources include $50 million from Sound Transit’s tax revenues and $75 million in the now-pending federal budget.

The remaining $20 million has been applied for under a federal transportation grant program that will announce recipients this fall.

Construction is expected to start on the Link expansion in 2017 or 2018, and the project will require three to four years of construction.

When done, the streetcar line that now serves six stations across 1.6 miles of downtown Tacoma will cover 2.4 more miles and add six stations.

The new stations will run north from the Tacoma Dome to the Stadium District before going west for a trip south into the Hilltop area.

Federal Transit Administration acting administrator Therese McMillan joined Mayor Marilyn Strickland and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) to announce the grant from beneath a mural of a green streetcar in People’s Park on the Hilltop.

The Tacoma Link grant is the largest piece of $19.5 million in federal grants to 17 localities to help plan how to best integrate transit into communities.

In Tacoma, the money will go toward street design — including beautification, pedestrian crossings and access for disabled riders — and economic development along the extended railway.

“The goal is to help each of these communities do exactly what Tacoma is doing: planning for housing, jobs and services centered around transit lines,” McMillan said.

Strickland said the project is about “75 or 85 percent” funded, with city officials awaiting federal decisions on the combined $95 million in the budget bill and the grant application.

McMillan and Kilmer expressed objections to recent congressional behavior of funding transportation with interim spending measures instead of passing long-term spending plans.

Over the summer, Congress passed its 34th extension of existing transportation spending programs since 2009.

“Doing things on a short-term basis, kicking the can down the road 34 times, fails to provide any opportunity for cities like Tacoma, and cities and communities all over this country, to plan and to be able to make important investments,” Kilmer said.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693