For those of you tired of talking about the snow, Dan Voelpel of the Tacoma News-Tribune wrote a thoughtful column lamenting the way in which local leadership is allowing the Streetcar expansion to spend several years in planning stages:

Meanwhile, here in Tacoma, the movement to install an expanded streetcar network inexplicably hasn’t generated the sense of urgency nor the momentum among our leaders to put it on a fast track to reality.

Even though it already won the seed money: $79.55 million for building the track and $3.7 million more to buy the streetcars…

Not only that. Sound Transit front-loaded the proposition in Tacoma’s favor. The 15-year transit expansion package gives early dibs on the available money pool beginning next year to Tacoma. That concession came because Sound Transit already has done some preliminary planning to extend the 1.7-mile downtown Link in both directions – past Freighthouse Square to the Puyallup Tribe’s Emerald Queen Casino and north through the Stadium District to Tacoma General Hospital

Realistically then, on that snail’s pace, Tacoma probably wouldn’t see construction start on a streetcar network until late 2012.

“I don’t understand it,” said Morgan Alexander, founder and executive director of Tacoma Streetcar, a grass-roots organization devoted to building public support for connecting Tacoma’s business districts with streetcars.

“I think (the planning) could be done affordably and quickly, so we could get a shovel in the ground by the end of 2009,” he said.

Voelpel goes on to list the decisions that have to be made before they start moving earth, and proposes a set of choices that would get things moving.

He’s right, of course, that an extended planning phase is asking for trouble.  These things always take longer than planned because someone, somewhere, will file a lawsuit.

Furthermore, it’s nice to see a columnist in a local daily newspaper whose transportation opinions aren’t transparently motivated by their status as an SOV driver on Mercer Island.

Tacoma readers: what do you think of Voelpel’s solution?

(H/T: Gordon Werner)

Image by Oran in the STB Flickr Pool.

9 Replies to “Tacoma Streetcar on the Slow Path”

  1. I consider myself a fairly well-informed Tacoman with a huge interest in Tacoma’s Link and Streetcar. And yet Voelpel’s article was the first I heard that we had seed money for a streetcar system. Hmm.

    I think all of his arguments are sound and most transit-oriented types here would agree with him. I’m a little concerned with the utility situation, but I’d rather get as much bang for the buck as we can at this point.

    Thanks for linking to some Tacoma transit issues!

  2. I think that the “seed money” Voelpel is referring to is from ST2. There was something in there related to matching funds for streetcar expansion in Tacoma (or Pierce County). This is all from memory, so the details may be a bit off, but local gov’t would need to come up with significant additional money. And of course maybe I’m talking about the wrong money completely.

    The thing I’m must perturbed about is the frack-up of routing the original Tacoma Link on Commerce instead of Broadway, meaning an extension up towards Stadium/TG essentially now has to go on Stadium Way instead of a more logical route (both for pedestrian and grade reasons) up St. Helens.

    Anyway, let’s start building.

  3. The sooner the Link is expanded, the sooner I can visit my Dad in Pierce County. Enough talk, let’s build!

  4. A huge part of the slowness comes from the federal grant application process. This would go a whole lot faster if they didn’t have to bother filing for a federal grant.

  5. Tacoma really needs some rail transit along the 6th Ave corridor. It doesn’t look like Link is going to be extended that far any soon, but streetcars would be a good shorter-term measure.

  6. I enjoy reading his articles. He is all for a bigger and better Tacoma. Extending the Link to the Stadium district and to the indian casino is okay, but its still not really going anywhere. Going along the 6th ave corridor to TCC will get people to a very popular desination following a very popular bus route. I don’t think a Central Link style would work in Tacoma, unless the Central line were to be extended into downtown. Something more like the Portland Streetcar would be best and also cheaper as Dan Voelpel said in his article. A big road block might be that if they were to build a streetcar down 6th ave, either the street will have to be expanded from 2 to 4 lanes meaning all the local businesses will loose the majority of their street parking, or car/bus traffic will be slowed. Anyway, I just hope they start planning and do something to expand Tacoma’s little trolly. Great post about the south sound.

    1. I would love to see the Link run from downtown up 6th. I am not too picky about it getting all the way to TCC though. It would seem to be more useful if it made a loop past the Tacoma Mall, up 38th and back downtown again, or some variation there of. Sure people like to enjoy an evening on 6th, but way more people need to go to the 38th mall area for shopping.

  7. The bulk of the Pierce County funds of ST2 are devoted to Sounder (e.g., platform extensions, parking or access, and Lakewood extension) and Link LRT extension (e.g., planning and right-of-way acquisition). The ST Board did not seem to seriously consider spending the Pierce County Link funds on an intra Tacoma streetcar system or an earlier extension of the existing Tacoma line. The long distance intercounty connections are well served via bus and Sounder. In addition to an extension to TCC via 6th Avenue, an extension to PLU via SR-7 could have been considered. All would have been dependent upon city willingness to provide priority through traffic.

    “regional mass transit” is not necessarily a cost-effective program. long distance regional trips do not require “high capacity” achieved through costly exclusivity and frequency. But the ST board made their choice.

  8. As a resident of downtown Tacoma I want to say that I love the Link. I can’t wait for it to be expanded and arrive to more locations. It would be great if those locations would include many of the defined neighborhood centers as well as busy shopping centers. I would not find it useful if it ended in a park and ride far from everything.

Comments are closed.