Matt Driscoll

Fall in love with the idea of an underground transit station at the T-Dome? Let’s be real

The ABCs of the Tacoma Dome Link light rail extension

This video examines the particulars of a planned 9.7-mile Link light rail extension from Federal Way to the Tacoma Dome.
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This video examines the particulars of a planned 9.7-mile Link light rail extension from Federal Way to the Tacoma Dome.

Sound Transit cut bait on cut and cover.

An underground station near the Tacoma Dome for the coming light rail extension won’t be happening. In fact, the possibility won’t even be studied, based on advice from the Federal Transit Administration.

Instead, as The News Tribune’s Allison Needles reported this week, Sound Transit will turn its attention to studying an elevated station on 25th Street near the Dome.

In the City of Destiny — a place historically accustomed to getting the short end of the transit stick — the decision left a few notables wanting.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said she was “disappointed.”

Janice McNeal, president of the Dome Business District, called nixing the underground station a “very critical omission,” going as far as to portend a “giant dark dreary cement structure running through the district.”

Yikes! That sounds really bad. The last thing we need in the Dome District is an eyesore.

Here’s the above-ground truth, though: The decision — while not sexy — was the right one, for Tacoma, Pierce County and the region.

For starters — and most importantly — constructing a fancy underground station would require potentially taking excavators to Puyallup tribal remains and disturbing cultural resources. That makes it an instant non-starter.

There’s a long, inglorious — and, in the case of Puget Sound Energy’s proposed liquid natural gas facility, ongoing — history of running roughshod over tribal interests. Desiring a Cadillac transit station is far from reason enough to do it again.

Practically speaking, in a Sound Transit report, the Puyallup Tribe also noted that pursuing an underground station “could be immitigable and prevent completion of the project.”

Full stop. End of story.

Why? Because completing this important regional project, on time and on budget is what really matters.

This was a pragmatic decision, and it goes beyond the need to work with the Puyallup Tribe.

Sure, an underground station would be nice — likely nicer than the elevated alternative (even if I doubt it will be anywhere near as monstrous as some would have you believe). But there’s a lot to be said for showing restraint, even if it means missing out on a few shiny bells and whistles.

As Sound Transit pointed out, the underground option would have required additional funding from third parties. Simply put, the last thing any project included in the already expensive Sound Transit 3 needs is another financial ask.

The fact is, while Tacoma voted in favor of ST3, as a county, Pierce did not. Right or wrong, skepticism of the agency is already high in these parts, and throwing in a risky element like an underground station — which would balloon the cost and likely jeopardize the promised time line for completion — and you’ve got a recipe for discord, if not disaster.

That’s not to say we should be cowed by anti-transit interests, of course. Far from it. But it would be foolish to proceed like concerns don’t exist in Pierce County, or get cocky, like money and time are non-factors.

Because here’s what’s certain: Getting light rail to Tacoma is not the last mass-transit project the South Sound will need. If anything, it’s just a start.

Yes, this is about 2030, when the new light rail station will hopefully open, but it’s also about everything that comes next.

Fiscal responsibility — and prudent, practical decisions — are what voters deserve and what Tacoma and the rest of the region should demand.

That’s how Sound Transit wins, and how Tacoma wins, even if it means occasionally settling for a station that’s not straight out of our wildest dreams.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.
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