Dozens of pieces of email and many comments later, I’d like to follow up on what I’ve learned since yesterday’s post, and what I missed that makes me even more sure that this “post and beam” structure is not a good idea.
First, an apology to those of you from Tacoma. I was unnecessarily dismissive of the Dome District as a place for future development, and I didn’t mean for that to overshadow my argument – but that it did. Let’s say for the sake of argument that in thirty years, this area will be like the Pearl District, or at least in the process of changing, like South Lake Union. Maybe that will happen!
Next, my reasoning. As I mentioned yesterday, this is a project I’ve been well acquainted with for years. It’s not just extending Sounder to Lakewood that’s important here – as part of the state’s Point Defiance Bypass project, Amtrak Cascades will also move to this track to cut six minutes from trips in the corridor. For now, that means a total of 18 trains daily – ten Sounder, eight Amtrak – but not only might some of the Sound Transit 2 Sounder improvements add to this service, but more Amtrak Cascades service is very likely in the next few years.
And this gets us into the reason I think the berm should stay.
When post and beam proponents talk about the cost difference between the berm and their posts, they’re talking about the difference for a single track – some $1 million. They bring up the narrower profile – but that profile comes at the cost of space for a second track. In the Amtrak Cascades long range plan, a second phase exists for Point Defiance Bypass, adding a second track and increasing train speed along Interstate 5 in South Tacoma. That part of the plan would qualify for high speed rail funds, and it’s been on the books for a decade – but it’s been ignored by post and beam supporters, even though their own web site shows a graphic of two tracks on the berm. Building a second post and beam structure next to the first would be necessary in the long term, and cost nearly as much as today’s project, rather than simply being some earthwork and two new bridges.
The TOD impacts claimed by post and beam proponents also don’t hold up under scrutiny. Their web site shows images of shops and space underneath a railway, which I believe is the High Line in New York. This did happen a hundred years ago – but in the US, it’s very difficult for a public agency to incorporate (or even allow) private use or modification of their facilities. Tacoma isn’t really Manhattan, either, the demand for this kind of development wouldn’t really exist for a very, very long time even if it were possible.
What really, really rubs me the wrong way here is that this opposition group seems to be only a couple of months old, but they’re acting like they’ve been wronged. I knew about this berm in 2005. Where were they then?