Tacoma Dome Station will have Sounder, Amtrak, and two flavors of Link by 2030 (Photo by author)

Last week, the Sound Transit Board signed off on a $125.7 million budget for preliminary engineering on the Tacoma Dome Link Extension and a $10.3 million consultant contract for the same project. When the extension opens in 2030, trains will run all the way to the Tacoma Dome multimodal complex on 10 miles of mostly elevated track, passing through three intermediate stations before reaching Federal Way. Trains will take about 20 minutes to make the trip from Tacoma to Federal Way, and about 35 minutes from Tacoma to Sea-Tac Airport.

Like the “accelerated” schedule for the West Seattle and Ballard extensions, Tacoma Dome Link will take until 2019 to decide a preferred alternative and a final environmental impact statement may not be published until 2021. Construction won’t begin until 2025, a year after light rail trains start serving Federal Way.

The representative alignment for Tacoma Dome Link shows four stations, in South Federal Way, Fife, East Tacoma, and at Tacoma Dome Station, with two 500-stall parking garages at South Federal Way and Fife. A new operations and maintenance facility will need to be built along the extension to support the entire “Green Line” (which will use the new downtown tunnel and continue on to Ballard), with plenty of appropriate industrial land near the Port of Tacoma to choose from. Another complication for the project will come in the form of WSDOT’s Puget Sound Gateway Program, which will build a new freeway interchange east of Fife to connect State Route 509 to a new extension of State Route 167 by 2030. WSDOT’s plans (seen below) will involve a connection between the interchange and the future Fife station at 54th Avenue East and assumes that Link will use an alignment that follows Interstate 5.

The planned interchange between Interstate 5 and State Route 167 east of Fife (courtesy of WSDOT)

42 Replies to “Tacoma Dome Link Moves Slowly Into Preliminary Engineering”

  1. I just don’t understand the long timeline. 2 years to determine an alignment. Okay. 2 additional years to prepare an EIS? Shouldn’t they have all of the environmental data when they select the alignment? Whatever. 4 years to prepare designs and bid??? The alignment has already been selected, so there shouldn’t be any time spent in alternative analysis, just go to town and design it. That shouldn’t take 4 years. A total of 8 years just in alternatives analysis and design – this is why America’s infrastructure is failing, and why urban sprawl continues to occur. We spend way too much time talking ourselves in circles when we could just get it done. In the meantime, private developers are moving full steam ahead on single family residential plats, destroying acres upon acres of wilderness in the process, wasting no time on alternative analysis and minimal time on environmental analysis. Development like the light rail in our already severely damaged urban areas needs to happen at a faster pace than the sprawl.

    1. It’s not about how long it takes to get it done per se, but also about how fast the money trickles in. ST is limited by policies that cap its debt coverage ratio, limiting the amount it can borrow/bond and forcing them to schedule projects around the steady trickly of ST3 revenues, roughly $1-2b per year. Each subarea has to bank a bit first. If we had an infrastructure bank that could loan ST whatever money needed pledged against future revenues, the agency could probably build much more quickly.

      From 2017-2024 ST will be simultaneously building Lynnwood Link, East Link, Federal Way, and Downtown Redmond, soaking up financial capacity. Starting construction on West Seattle and Tacoma a year later in 2025 (and Ballard in 2026) keeps capital spending more evenly distributed. Once West Seattle and Tacoma finish, then Everett gets started the same year in 2030. If you look at the plan it’s all sequential to keep 2-3 extensions going at once.

      One other wrinkle is that the agency is struggling to attract competitive construction bids for Lynnwood given the white-hot construction market, and doing all projects at once may not even be possible even if they had all the money in hand.

      1. Arthur, your points are well taken. It is still quite frustrating. That being said, you make a good argument in favor of a State Bank, which has been spearheaded by Senator Bob Hasegawa for a number of years, so far unsuccessfully. At a minimum, a state bank would allow money to be borrowed at a lower interest rate for public projects, reducing the financing costs.

    2. Meanwhile, some in Olympia will continue working to reduce the funding stream for this project (including many Democrats)… and then accuse ST of broken promises when the completion date gets pushed back.

      1. Engineer, the other thing that is happening once the EIS is done is Final Design. This can be a 3-4 year process of advancing the design level from 30%, which is appropriate for making a final project decision at the end of the EIS, to 100%, which is necessary to secure all right of way acquisitions and permits. Sometimes this can be sped up thru a design-build approach, but the work of completing design is there regardless of delivery method. It’s not possible to jump straight from the preliminary design done for decision-making after the EIS into construction.

  2. It probably will fall on deaf ears, but it would seem strategic to add one station more at Pacific Avenue and end the line there. After building 9+ miles of track, going the extra 0.4 miles (already identified as worthy of considering as an extension towards Tacoma Mall) to connect with an ST3-funded BRT project and closer to a UW campus would seem to be a no-brainer.

    But in the world of ST logic, it probably has zero chance.

      1. Amen. Downtown Tacoma should be the terminus, and not require transfering to a dinky shuttle. All because Tacoma Mall is deemed more important to serve with direct regional Central Link. Tacoma Mall screws over Downtown Tacoma again, and now with transit.

      2. I can’t help but compare Downtown Tacoma to Downtown Redmond. We’re building the last station for Downtown Redmond which would be a similar length. Redmond has free parking, lower density, no major regional attractions, no BRT and no university. Meanwhile, we’re stopping short a a downtown that has many more favorable components to it.

        The only reason to not go just one more station would be to add riders to Tacoma Link, which has almost little utility. Meanwhile, the riders are indeed presented with a last mile hassle in Tacoma that Redmond will not have. Then, to add insult to injury, there is no shared platform for Link and Tacoma Link proposed at Tacoma Dome Station. Some level changes and walking are required as it’s currently envisioned.

      3. I would upgrade the existing Tacoma Link to Central Link (hopefully that wouldn’t cost 100s of millions). Add an additional track where/if needed and maybe some stop consolidation with upgrades. The about to start construction portion of Tacoma Link would stay as is too. The transfer between Tacoma Link and Central Link would occur around Theater District station.

      4. ST is doing what the Pierce delegation has consistently asked for. The logic seems to be that downtown Tacoma is in an awkward location, and so it’s better for Central Link to focus on general north-south trips rather than bending back to downtown Tacoma. Lynnwood and Everett don’t have this problem but Tacoma does. There are hundreds of thousands of people south of the Central Link alignment that want to go north sometimes, which is comparable to the number of people who might take to downtown Tacoma.

      5. While I’d love to see Link end or stop in Downtown Tacoma, what I’m talking about here is a lower-cost additional station inline with the eventual Tacoma Mall segment. I’m not sure where the tail track is going as part of Tacoma Dome Link, but this station would be between Pacific Ave (with BRT) and Center Ave between S 25th St and S 27th St.

        I think the Pierce delegation has been so eager to get light rail to SeaTac and Seattle that they haven’t thought through the integrated system yet. Besides, elected leaders and interests change as time moves forward. These current leaders are likely more focused on one project at a time.

      6. So Tacoma Link has an idiotic “switchback” or “U” problem. If Central Link is coming into Tacoma elevated, it makes absolute sense to extend it straight over Pacific Avenue and up the hill, ideally to MLK but to Jefferson would be fine.

  3. With so much money going into making Tacoma Dome one of the biggest intermodal hubs in the state, I hope they actually get around to zoning it for TOD nearby….

    Its a pathetic waste to have no destinations near your city’s largest transit station.

  4. $126m just for the engineering? Lets say an engineer makes $200k including benefits and everything. That’s 315 engineers working on this non stop for 2 years. I highly doubt that is what is going to happen. Also waiting 7 years to start construction is insane, and 5 years for that construction? Seriously?

    Let’s not forget that London is in the midst of adding 74 miles or rail, much of it subway, and it will have taken them about 16 years from idea to completion, for $20b. ST3 is 64 miles over 25 years for more than double the money.

    Seeing projects like this make me question why I voted for ST3.

    1. You are optimistic about the pay level of an engineer. A manager, sure. That being said, that number of engineers, (and surveyors, drafters, technicians, word processors, accountants, etc), doesn’t surprise me. They’ll have construction administration included in their fee, as well, which is several more years beyond the two-year design timeframe. Do you know what the various software licenses (AutoCAD & Microstation come to mind) cost, per user, per year? It’s a monopoly. Or the drilling equipment needed for geo testing? There’s geotech, civil, survey, electrical, mechanical, traffic, and structural, as well as nominal amounts of architecture, fire suppression, and landscape architecture involved. Our piecemeal system of agencies will pass the project through two counties, four cities, and countless special use districts (fire, water, sewer, etc) all of which have input on the project. A vocal public and all of the outreach and hand-holding that people require certainly increases the man-hours spent, not to mention all of the documentation in the form of graphics and reports that are required in this day and age of 110% disclosure and environmental compliance, applied to public projects but never to private projects.

      It is time to simplify the bureaucracy. Utilities need to be all handed over to city hall and/or the county council, to do away with the variations in regulation (not to mention ignored and uncontested elections), and regulations need to be further standardized on a county-wide or state-wide level. At a point, the eminent domain process needs to be made stronger to prevent NIMBYs from unnecessarily stalling projects intended for the public good. I am pessimistic that any of these reforms will ever occur, under either or any political party. America loves having neighborhood and hometown identity. I don’t really get it though.

      1. I would say that putting utilities under city or county governments would get pretty widespread support. Having a single agency and bill to deal with is one of the pluses of living in the older cities, like Seattle or Tacoma.

        Whatcom County has historically done this. They’ve closed down water districts as cities expanded and shrunk service boundaries of other districts.

      2. My company bills out an engineer at $1000/day fully burdened. Stated another way, that is $260,000 per year spread out over 260 working days.

        And, no, I’m not talking IT.

    2. Don’t forget all of the internal expenses from ST’s own design and project management staffing and all of its attendant ancillary costs. I for one would love to observe for a week to see exactly what these folks actually do during the course of a day.

      “Seeing projects like this make me question why I voted for ST3.”

      The agency’s track record on Sound Move and ST2 was enough for me to question the third phase and cast a no vote. As we are now seeing, all ST 2 Link projects will miss their promised service dates.

      1. Voting “no” because some projects are late is nonsensical. If enough people voted using that logic we would receive no transportation improvements at all. Ever.

        And keep in mind, ST has been out performing every other transportation agency in the state. Who is better equipped to deliver these projects on time and on budget? Metro? Don’t make me laugh.

      2. Lazarus. Your reply makes me laugh. I suggest you re-read what I posted, track record being the key phrase. On-time delivery of projects is simply one element of that record. Thus the remainder of your reply isn’t relevant in that context.

        With regard to Link, it’s not just been “some projects”. All of them have been and will be delivered late.

    3. The schedule doesn’t bother me that much. Laying tracks and having trains on top of them every few minutes is a 100-year investment. To mess it up for any reason — bad soils, curves, bridge failures, flooding, earthquake damage, station access, rider interface, rail signals, train operations, tail tracks, power distribution — could easily be a problem for riders until 2100. This route segment also crosses a river and will have several miles on top of volcanic soil that is almost marsh land. It does have engineering challenges.

      LA is building the Downtown Connector to correct a 1980’s system mistake. Chicago is only now resolving the 100-year-old junction problem north of the Belmont Station. Almost any rail system around has made mistakes so an eye to avoid them should be important.

      I am concerned that too much pressure to finish quickly can lead to major mistakes. ST has not hired lots of internal staff who have lived with rail mistakes; instead ST hires local or national engineering firms who can be afraid to speak out about mistakes for fear of losing future contracts. The peer review process also didn’t prevent issues we have with escalator shortages and car shortages today. I would like to see more interest in quality than in shaving a few years at most.

      1. Except when decades are spent planning and designing a route that isnt the best route, like the Federal Way route, Lynnwood route via I-5, Issaquah route avoiding the slough, only one Capitol Hill station, the terrible UW station location, etc.

        What is the mistake that the LA downtown connector is fixing? The downtown connector was always planned to happen in the future and always as a connecting tunnel. It got delayed due to shortsighted anti-subway legistlation which was repealed several years ago.

      2. The original East LA line was supposed to be heavy rail (Red Line) back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. When they switched East LA to light rail, the only line that linked was the Gold Line, which was to Pasadena. That plus the addition of the Expo Line (which congested the station at 7th/Figueroa) created the consensus need for the downtown connector.

        The link below shows the original red line plan from 1985.


    4. @ Derek, your math is super flawed. The $54B for ST3 includes EVERYTHING. All capital expenditures for all four modes of service (Link, Sounder, BRT, T-Link), plus all real estate, all admin costs, all debt services and — most importantly — ALL operating costs over the 25 years. You just compared an apple to a warm, ready-to-serve, apple pie.

  5. Excuse me! They’re going to put a pair of stoplights on a brand new freeway on which they’re spending one and three quarters billion dollars? WTF? Diverging diamonds are a nice enhancement for large arterials accessing freeways, but SR 167 is not “a large arterial”.

    Unless they intend to grade separate the two scissors crossings (it’s not clear from the diagram though it’s entirely possible) this is stupidity beyond belief.

    1. +1 to WTF

      My response: if we’re going to put stoplights on it, then, can we just keep River Road as 167? No need to spend almost $2 BILLION. We can use that for transit instead.

      1. As I understand the diverging diamond is temporary, and can be converting into a full freeway-freeway interchange in the future without tearing stuff down.

      2. Donde,

        Really? Only with true flyovers would that be possible. There is no room in any quadrant except the southwest for cloverleaves.

      3. Yes, flyovers. I’ve seen mockups from WSDOT that show flyovers. This is something that WSDOT is planning on for a future improvements, but they probably don’t have the money, so it could be a very long time.

    2. If you look at the phase 2 for SR167 on WSDOT’s website it doesn’t appear to show any intersection.

      One of the drawings for phase 1 of the SR509 interchange by SeaTac also looks like it’s showing an intersection with a stoplight. I’m wondering if some of the drawings are more schematic style instead of actually showing exactly how the lanes will run.

      1. Considering the decades it has taken to get to Phase 1 (still not completely funded) despite the obvious economic value to the ports and the state, I would estimate that Phase 2 may not get done until 2080 if at all.

  6. No, I know its high, it was hyperbole to simplify the math. I am in the industry and well aware that you could buy thousands of licenses for years and years for that kind of money, and they are licences already held (not saying money from this shouldn’t be used for those licenses, just that lets not pretend they wouldn’t have AutoCAD to begin with).

    But you are right, the piecemeal approach to this costs us billions. It would be very nice if Sound Transit had the ability to just go “this is what we are doing, have a nice day.” But yeah, here we are, looking at $126m and 2 years in preliminary engineering for a 10 mile surface light rail because of all the reasons you pointed out. It’s pathetic, but I suppose understandable. Not acceptable, but understandable.

    1. I agree as to, “The piecemeal approach to this costs us billions. It would be very nice if Sound Transit had the ability to just go “this is what we are doing, have a nice day.” ” Problem is, you’re taking peoples’ land and changing how communities will operate for at least a century with this sexy light rail so SOME study is sadly, sigh required.

      I have 100% public and private confidence the South Corridor will not run into serious problems. I trust the Sound Transit staff and the Pierce County Executive to keep things on track.

  7. Stoked for what will be an exciting winter and spring 2018. We’re going to see some Russelin’ in the Ruth Fisher Boardroom to get this party started.

    As Mayor Strickland recently said at a public event, her goal is to turn Tacoma from a Destination City to a City of Destinations. Stoked for Tacoma, they’ve got the right activists (I’d name ’em but if I forgot one, I’d never forgive me) and the right County Executive and the right staff to get this done.

    I, like many of my fellow STB commentators, wish Sound Transit could go faster. Who doesn’t? But between bonding and the fact that if you don’t study & consult sufficiently you trade that time & money in study for time & money in court & mitigation, oh well. Again I trust Tacoma and Sound Transit to get this done a lot more than I trust the Sound Transit folks staffing Lynnwood Link to even get our Everett Link party started.

  8. What America needs to know: What is that dark blue green blob with the caption pointing to it that we can’t read? Because maybe the slow pace of this project is because Tacoma itself is waiting to see what it turns into. Pretty much like Tacoma.

    I-5 through there has been under construction for the forty years I’ve lived around here. So talking about completion dates…are we talking about when Electron Mud Flow Part II extends the date ’til the sun turns into a Christmas tree ornament?

    Seriously, though, I think real problem is that Tacoma, like the rest of Pierce County, has yet to figure out what it’s going to do, and be, since logging and paper went down just before I arrived in 1974. It honestly seems to have no industry whatever capable of organizing the county around. And no clue how to get one.

    Seem to recall that many people were certain that Tacoma would be the major railroad terminal for the region. So maybe LINK can help with that. However, not good that Port Townsend had same hope. Hence all the large-for-the-time Victorian buildings.

    Including the Bishop Victorian Hotel which is very nice, and the Better Living Through Coffee cafe, whose espresso is worth the whole trip. Hard to make a case for LINK, but people have discussed cross-sound bridges before.

    No, I’m not going to link (lower case) that red and white Estonian hydrofoil again, but we can paint it white turquoise and blue when the time comes. So maybe with ocean level rise, Tacoma Dome Station will be part of the Port, so ST will finally result in both town’s rescue from their respective time warps.

    When that blob eats every freeway in the area like spaghetti.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Estuarine enhancements”. They’re going to improve the streamflows and wetlands that have been disrupted by I-5.

      1. Richard, I trust you for judgment and perspective. For a year or two, I-5 blockage has made my former bus trip between Olympia and my transfer to ST Express or Sounder impossible.

        So I generally drive to Tacoma via Steilacoom, leave the car at Tacoma Dome Station, and ride either Sounder or ST 574 to LINK. But will sometimes drive to Angle Lake via SR509/ Marine View Drive, and Desmoines. Following shoreline past Dash Point not only pretty, but also fastest.


        Talk about ST completion dates! Has Trump Administration forbidden Tacoma to use those two words in same paragraph? Because I think I’ve got an explanation.

        Is my surmise anywhere near close that in twelve years of so, same revitalization I see in Hilltop is planned first step in the reactivation of plan that Tacoma abandoned when the middle class abandoned Downtown Tacoma decades ago? Buildings and freeways have been in an eerily well-kept state of preservation.

        And three impressive museums have been added last couple decades. Because this would completely fit the facts. Only question is what industry, or institution like UW, or both want to bring in and plug in. Also- especially since LINK will be there in 12 years- any chance Amazon’s extra headquarters will be literally just down the regional hall?


  9. And on subject of long, cautious time-frames- hope nobody’s sanguine about possibility that three people and the credibility of every agency involved, to paraphrase old and accurate railroad songs, just gave up their lives so that a project could start on time.

    All these assessments of Sound Transit’s performance need answer to compound question: “Compared to What, Where, With what Terrain, How Much Inherited Right of Way, What Population Density, and What Size of a Tax Base? Also, Prevalence of Civic Indictability?



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