This is the first in a series of summaries of Sound Transit 3 jurisdictional feedback letters. Future installments will be South King, East King, North King (minus Seattle which we’ve already covered), Snohomish, and Stakeholder Organizations.
City of Lakewood
Lakewood’s letter is much as you’d expect, with a strong focus on intra-Pierce County projects. Given the strong asymmetry of its commute patterns relative to the broader region – Lakewood being a South Sound bedroom community whose residents primarily commute even further south toward Joint Base Lewis-McChord – Lakewood focuses on connecting its residents to JBLM and then only secondarily to the regional system.
To this end, the letter asks for a completed spine to Tacoma, planning for a light rail extension beyond Tacoma Mall to Lakewood, Sounder to Dupont via a new transit center in Tillicum, longer Sounder cars, more Sounder frequency, more bi-directional Sounder trains, BRT from the Link terminus to JBLM, and the transfer of all maintenance and security costs at Lakewood Station from the city to Sound Transit.
Commentary: Given the location of the Sounder maintenance yard just north of Lakewood Station and lacking a plan for DuPont storage tracks, Sounder service to DuPont would likely involve deadheading trains, providing an opportunity for reverse commute service from Lakewood to DuPont for little marginal cost beyond the extension itself. Of course, without strong last-mile connectivity to sprawling JBLM (a military base that at 87,000 acres is 61% larger than the City of Seattle), any fixed-route transit plans will inevitably underperform. Lakewood’s requests for either I-5 or Pacific Highway BRT are most welcome, and would require little beyond frequency boosts and HOV/Transit lanes from the Pierce County line to Thorne Lane (and eventually to Olympia).
City of Tacoma
Tacoma’s letter uses strong growth projections to argue for completing the spine, including 127,000 new residents by 2041, or roughly 40% population growth. (For reference, in the previous 25 years Tacoma grew by 16%).
Over the past two decades, Tacoma has seen a significant renaissance, with substantial reinvestment in the downtown and increased growth and vitality in the city’s eclectic neighborhoods. Recognizing Tacoma’s role in the region, the Puget Sound Regional Council designated Tacoma as a Metropolitan City, serving as Pierce County’s civic, cultural and economic hub and a focal point for future population and employment growth. Through our Comprehensive Plan update and subarea planning, Tacoma is ready to accommodate 127,000 new residents and 97,000 new jobs over the next 25 years. This is a role that we Tacomans have embraced.
From these growth projections, Tacoma (via Mayor and ST Board Vice Chair Marilyn Strickland) asks “first and foremost” for completion of the spine from Federal Way to Tacoma Dome, and to do so via Interstate 5. Tacoma also support “expanding the frequency and quality of Sounder service” and a Tacoma Link extension to Tacoma Community College (TCC). The letter is skeptical of Sound Transit’s TOD analysis for Tacoma Link, saying “there is significant potential beyond what is outlined in the Sound Transit scoring”, and Tacoma asks for a reevaluation of both Tacoma’s growth potential and the high cost estimates for its projects.
Commentary: Though the City of Destiny seems, well, destined for the completed spine given the regional consensus and Boardmember Strickland and McCarthy’s positions of prominence, the most interesting portion of the letter to me is Tacoma’s bullishness on its own population growth. Since 1990, Tacoma grew by 16% (from 174k to 202k), whereas Seattle grew by 28% (from 516k to 662k). While there have been rumblings of a residential exodus to Tacoma in reaction to Seattle’s high prices, there has been little evidence to date of large scale defections and Tacoma’s economy is still widely held to be weak relative to its peers. Yet of all the suburban cities, Tacoma does stand on its own as having the bones of a real city despite decades of sprawl-driven neglect. So what should Tacoma get in terms of transit?
In different times, we might be able to argue for Tacoma light rail as intra-Tacoma projects for its own benefit as a city, rather than as the weak tail of a regional spine. But that’s not where we are. Tacoma’s leadership is adamant that a ~70 minute trip to Seattle will be worth it, alongside the benefits of all-day Sounder and competitive connections to SeaTac to lure convention traffic. Since, like East King, Tacoma and Pierce have money to spend relative to their needs, I have a hard time begrudging their desire for a reliable (if slow) all-day connection to the relatively more prosperous region. But as I’ve argued before, the success of these investments lies in the intermediate trips they enable, and to that end an I-5 alignment from Des Moines to Tacoma is disappointing at best.
Fife, Puyallup, Sumner, and the Puyallup Tribe after the jump…
City of Fife
The little city that could, Fife has long stood out at the only Pierce County city favoring an SR-99 alignment for Link, going so far as to speculatively rezone its currently bleak industrial landscape for high density residential development. Fife’s letter supports Link from Federal Way to Tacoma along SR 99, and asks for early agency integration to ensure that a potential SR 167 extension doesn’t negatively impact Link.
City of Puyallup
Unsurprisingly, Puyallup’s letter primarily asks for more Sounder trips and longer Sounder cars. The letter also asks for BRT style investments connecting to South Hill via SR 161, which like most of unincorporated Pierce County currently exemplifies a particularly thoughtless kind of regional sprawl. Finally, Puyallup throws a bone to Orting, indirectly supporting that city’s request for high capacity transit to Puyallup, by far the worst performing among Sound Transit’s candidate projects.
Commentary: Puyallup is a Sounder success story, the place where Sounder ridership is 2nd highest (next to Kent) and where its time advantage relative to bus transit is greatest (20-30 minutes faster than Route 578). I am surprised that Puyallup has not asked for service pattern variations, namely express or skip-stop trains that could improve its time advantage even further. (Such express trains already run during Seahawks games.)
Though a completed regional spine only indirectly benefits Puyallup, it would potentially enable better airport trips via a connection in Federal Way. Otherwise, using ST3 funds to improve Pierce Transit Route 495 seems like a poor investment given the transit-hostile sprawl of South Hill. But again, with Pierce having money to burn there are worse things to spend money on than improving bread and butter arterial transit, especially with an electorate that is hostile to the local agency.
City of Sumner
Sumner’s letter is a relatively unserious contribution, asking for commuter rail to Orting while opposing any new bus connections to the current Sounder station on the grounds that buses would impede vehicular travel. The letter does state, however, a defensible preference for hourly all-day Sounder instead of lengthened cars during peak periods.
Pierce Transit’s letter goes all in with support for Link to Tacoma Mall, expanded Sounder hours and capacity, Auburn Station Access improvements, and Tacoma Link’s extension to TCC. However, the letter states the agency’s “top priority” is a capital contribution toward’s Pierce Transit’s flagship local bus service, Route 1 on Pacific Avenue:
However, the top priority for Pierce Transit in 2016 is still Project No. S-12 – Bus Capital Enhancements for Speed, Reliability, and Convenience along Pacific Avenue/SR 7 (Tacoma)… the inclusion of this project in ST3 would be a capital contribution which is envisioned as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route along the corridor. We feel strongly that a Pierce Transit and Sound Transit partnership would meet the region’s desire for transit agencies throughout the Puget Sound Region to integrate and coordinate service delivery [and] project development…the inaugural Pierce Transit BRT route would provide service along a 14-mile portion of the corridor currently served by Route 1, which accounts for two million annual boardings, 19% of all Pierce Transit fixed route boardings. [emphasis mine]
Puyallup Tribe of Indians
The Puyallup Tribe’s letter supports an I-5 alignment for the Link spine in order to enable stops nearer to Portland Avenue and the Emerald Queen Casino.