Downtown Tacoma’s skyline, seen from Tacoma Dome Station

For the next four weeks, Sound Transit will be taking public comments on the Tacoma Dome Link Extension, which will bring actual high-capacity light rail service to Tacoma via Federal Way in 2030. Comments will be accepted via an online survey or at one of three public open houses in Tacoma, Fife and Federal Way.

Like the West Seattle/Ballard online open house earlier this year, the public is able to add comments directly onto a map of the representative alignment and vote them up/down. This time around, however, the project is a bit simpler in design: a largely elevated alignment along the southbound lanes of I-5 between Federal Way Transit Center and Tacoma Dome Station. The extension would have intermediate stops in South Federal Way, Fife, and East Tacoma, all with park-and-ride facilities. The only real hurdles facing the project is the crossing of the Puyallup River and integrating with the already cramped quarters of Tacoma Dome Station, as well as cooperating with whatever WSDOT is planning for the Puget Sound Gateway interchange in eastern Fife.

Some of the early comments have expressed a desire to move the alignment from I-5 to SR 99, in a case of déjà vu for transit watchers. Unlike the previous debate over Federal Way Link, this stretch of I-5 follows SR 99 quite closely and would be able to weave its way to and from SR 99 without much added length. Other comments highlight the difficulty in crossing the Puyallup River, which has one bridge with a mediocre sidewalk and several freeway and rail bridges with no such facility. They cite Portland’s transit-and-pedestrian/bike Tillikum Crossing bridge as an inspiration, and unlike calls to integrate the Ballard crossing, it would be fairly feasible at a low clearance of around 40 feet (similar to the I-5 bridges built in 1962 and 2017). Another good idea comes in the form of an extension past Tacoma Dome Station to the Brewery District, which is being targeted for redevelopment and is not served by Tacoma Link.

Sound Transit expects to present Level 1 concepts in June of this year, followed by Level 2 alternatives in November and the selection of a preferred alternative in mid-2019. During the alternatives screening process, various meetings will be held by the Sound Transit Board, an elected leadership group, a stakeholder advisory group, interagency groups, and representatives from local Salish tribes and city councils. Further environmental review is expected to last until 2022 and construction is scheduled to begin 2025, a whopping nine years after ST3 was passed (and a year after Federal Way Link should open).

Public comment is open online until May 3. The three open houses are listed below:

Tacoma: Tuesday, April 17, 6-8 p.m. at Best Western Plus Tacoma Dome Hotel, 2611 E. E Street (just uphill from Tacoma Dome Station)

Federal Way: Wednesday, April 18, 6-8 p.m. at Todd Beamer High School, 35999 16th Ave. S. (use Pierce Transit Route 402)

Fife: Tuesday, April 24, 6-8 p.m. at Fife Community Center, 2111 54th Ave. East (use Pierce Transit Route 501)

27 Replies to “Tacoma Dome Link Enters Early Scoping”

  1. I think it’s important to mention two issues right now:

    1. After building 11 miles of track, shouldn’t ST build either level cross platforms or stacked platforms to and from Tacoma Link to this to make transfers easier? That’s not proposed now.

    2. Shouldn’t the connection to Pacific Avenue buses, UWTacoma and maybe Downtown be considered rather than make everyone walk on transfer to go a mere distance of less than a mile to walkable, TOD-like destinations since ST is building 11 miles of light rail service anyway? That’s not what’s proposed now. I would love to see one more station to connect Tacoma Link, Pacific Avenue and UW Tacoma at the south end of Downtown.

    To me, it appears to be a line designed for people to take political credit for its construction and not actual riders. Why else would an agency build so much track but not connect better?

    1. #1 is critical and worth emphasizing in feedback, just as we did for SODO, U-District, Intl Dist, and Westlake.

      #2 was Tacoma’s tradeoff for getting rail decades earlier than it would have: downtown is Tacoma Link rather than Central Link. Tacoma and the Pierce boardmembers had plenty of time to ask for Central Link downtown in 2014 and 2015 but did not raise it as the least important. Tacoma’s plan is for a multi-line Tacoma Link fanning out from downtown, and Central Link turning southwest to Tacoma Mall. The Brewery District is apparently on the way to that. (I’m not sure if it’s rather far west; there are no alignment alternatives to Tacoma Mall yet so nothing to compare it to.)

      I wouldn’t accuse people of taking political credit for getting “a line” that has no realistic chance of ridership. They simply view Tacoma Link as Tacoma’s long-term circulation solution and getting people from the neighborhoods to downtown. They view Central Link as a way to get to King County, which doesn’t have to be downtown and can be at a giant P&R next to Sounder. They also have TOD plans for the Dome district.

      One gap in their thinking — and this is your biggest opportunity to push for a downtown extension — is that they want people to come the other way from King County to downtown Tacoma jobs, and they want the connection to the airport to attract companies to locate in Tacoma. But all these potential workers, shoppers, and business travelers will want to get to downtown Tacoma and they’ll have to traverse the gap. So there may be a contradiction in Pierce’s thinking: that they really want Central Link to boost Tacoma’s job base, but all those people coming would be inconvenienced by the gap, and if the former is critical for Pierce’s economic future, shouldn’t the latter be critical too? ‘

      But the ST3 budget is already set, and it didn’t include money for an elevated extension to downtown Tacoma or the mitigation that might be required (depending on whether it came up Pacific Street or 705). I’m assuming that Pacific is too narrow for surface-running downtown: Tacoma Link currently has an exclusive lane in south downtown but mixed traffic central downtown, and the northern extension will also be mixed-traffic. Plus whether Tacoma’s blocks could fit 4-car trains.

      1. In this world of terrible cost-estimating and periodic shifts in funding opportunities, to summarily dismiss an option to extend this just a short distance and adding one station (especially since planning money for an extension to Tacoma Mall is already included in ST3 anyway) this early in the process based on today’s funding pots seems very short-sighted.

        Would Pierce exchange the TCC extension to pay for a UWT Link station?

        Consider that if UW Tacoma was grown to a 25k student size or if a major corporation announced a large building complex in southern Downtown Tacoma, one more station would be a no-brainer. Getting reverse peak travelers would be so strategic on many levels, as you highlight!

      2. “Traverse the gap” – isn’t that the point of Tacoma Link? In addition to moving people within downtown Tacoma, it moves people between downtown Tacoma and the Tacoma Dome transit hub (currently bus, Sounder, and Amtrak).

      3. Hmmm… a relatively infrequent streetcar boarding a block away from light rail…. where have I see this before? Maybe South Lake Union Streetcar/Westlake connections? Maybe Capitol Hill/First Hill Streetcar connections? Maybe ID-C Station/First Hill Streetcar connections?

        There are probably thousands of comments over the past several years on this very blog hat explains the structural problems of either bad connections between streetcars and light rail, and the ineffectiveness of streetcars that aren’t frequent enough — and that can’t be frequent enough because the ridership is too low so it isn’t cost effective.

        It just seems really silly that, despite our pretty large amount of poor-performance field evidence in Seattle that we would begin designing things the exact same way for Tacoma Dome/Tacoma Link. Don’t we all already know that this basic design concept of relying on streetcars with lousy connections doesn’t work well?

      4. “to summarily dismiss an option to extend this just a short distance and adding one station (especially since planning money for an extension to Tacoma Mall is already included in ST3 anyway) this early in the process based on today’s funding pots seems very short-sighted.”

        The limit is the amount voters approved in ST3. ST can make a case for going a little above if costs are higher, but it’s a harder case to add a non-voter-approved extension. Approving planning is not the same as approving construction, otherwise ST could just continue to Tacoma Mall now.

    2. To me, it appears to be a line designed for people to take political credit for its construction and not actual riders. Why else would an agency build so much track but not connect better?

      Maybe they simply don’t know any better.

      It just seems really silly that, despite our pretty large amount of poor-performance field evidence in Seattle …

      and other cities. Sorry to interrupt, because yes, you are right. The folks in charge could have looked at Seattle and realized that they aren’t designing this very well. But they could also look at lots and lots of other cities to see what works and what doesn’t. This seems to be a major problem with Sound Transit, and it extends way beyond the flaws in the Tacoma Dome station. The board is simply ignorant of what works and what doesn’t work in most cities.

      This really isn’t that surprising. Seattle and the other Puget Sound cities are very provincial. Maybe it is because we sit so far away from other major (American) cities, and feel like Vancouver is just too different.

      So it really isn’t surprising that a board made up of Puget Sound leaders, all of whom have much bigger responsibilities, aren’t really digging into the details when it comes to transit. Rail is good, no matter where it goes, right? Now, on to addressing homelessness, or crime, the opioid epidemic or dozens of other major problems that city leaders have to deal with every day.

      As Mike suggests, it is up to ordinary people (not experts nor civic leaders) to keep pushing the board to do things that most transit users in most cities would consider basic. Put your stations where the people are. Make sure the other forms of transit (buses, other trains, even streetcars) can connect easily.

  2. We have 50 million over budget for SeaTac airport upgrades, Lynnwood’s Link is 100’s of millions over budget and now we are pushing ahead with Tacoma Link which will have a lower ridership than SCC and yet SCC is being held up because of a minuscule $23 mil. What gives.

    1. The Seattle Center Connector will cost 10-15 million just to stop and restart construction. What a waste!

  3. “…and construction is scheduled to begin 2025, a whopping nine years after ST3 was passed (and a year after Federal Way Link should open).”

    Welcome to the club. Lynnwood Link is part of the ST2 system expansion passed in 2008 and has yet to have its budget baselined. Construction is supposed to commence later this year as you know, a whopping ten years after the ballot measure’s passage.

  4. Thanks for mentioning both of my suggestions on the early scoping map. I encourage others to support those ideas moving forward. The Brewery District could use a station to encourage higher density development in the regional growth center and allow a connection to the Prarie Line Trail. Inclusion of multimodal infrastructure across the Puyallup River will strengthen access to the stations without needing more vehicle parking spaces.

    Tacoma has made its bed with using Tacoma Link to access UW Tacoma and the Theater District. Tacoma Link’s frequency will be at 10 minutes in 2022, and when service gets to TCC, we’ll probably be running single-car streetcars every 6 minutes to handle the load, so I don’t think that transfer penalty will be very high, assuming the stations are proximate to each other. If we ever get around to a 6th Avenue mainline to TCC (doubtful), or a spur, it’ll depend on completing the Puyallup Avenue couplet, which is slated for 2039, but that’d increase frequency in Downtown even more. So again, transfers with sub 6 minute frequency will incur virtually no wait time.

    Pierce County can’t easily exchange funding for projects within the subarea without affecting timelines because, like in ST2, we pay for everything in cash. Most if not all of Pierce County’s bonding authority is consumed by other subareas in ST3, mostly South King County to complete the connection to Federal Way.

    1. How would an alignment from Tacoma Dome to the Brewery District to Tacoma Mall go? I assume the default alternative will be to follow the highways. Would you recommend a different street? Is there a corridor with good walkability and density potential?

      1. Is there a corridor with good walkability and density potential along the way to Tacoma Mall from Tacoma Dome? Yes, let’s say a stop at C St is selected for the Brewery District. Turn left and use a Delin Street approach could be used to get to the Lincoln District Mixed Use Center. It was a streetcar corridor back in the 30’s. This would open up Central Link to an entirely new part of Tacoma and enable a 38th Street approach to the Tacoma Mall Regional Growth Center.

        The Nalley Valley approach discussed during the long range planning process via Pine Street is somewhat uninspired, following the Sounder rail alignment and then climbing a pretty steep grade between Center Street and S 35th.

    2. “Pierce County can’t easily exchange funding for projects within the subarea without affecting timelines because, like in ST2, we pay for everything in cash.”

      Sorry, but this just isn’t the case.

      Per ST’s annual subarea equity reports for 2009 thru 2016, Pierce County was credited with about $158 million in bond proceeds during this seven year period. Likewise, the Pierce County subarea was charged with $110 million in debt servicing expenses during this same timeframe.

      1. Pierce County relies on $308m in bonds over the 25 year ST3 program, out of $8,953m, so 3.4%. For comparison, North King will use $4,965m in bonds, Snohomish $2,894m, and South King $2,657m. Pierce also carries over the largest amount surplus (cash) from Sound Move and ST2 than all of the other subareas $2,533m.

        Source: https://st32.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/Document%20Library%20Featured/8-22-16/ST3_Appendix-A_2016_web.pdf

        So yeah, I’ll correct myself. Pierce County only uses cash for 96.5598124% of their part of the ST3 program.

  5. what was the initial estimate of Lynnwood Link? What was the initial estimate of Bertha’s tunnel?
    What is the initial estimate of any project that gets caught-up in government processing?

  6. Good luck to those of you down there in The South. You got it easy. I’m a little torqued we in the North by Northwest will see you guys get the best of staff and more while we have to wait for Lynnwood Link.

    That said, really hope the transfers between Tacoma Link grade-separated streetcar and the light rail are easy. Being I now know better than to suggest station names I will stop my comments there.

    1. The north end will have a lot easier access than the south end. Both because it’s a shorter distance, the location of Everett and Lynnwood, the fact that there will be two-line frequency south of 128th, and the fact that Link goes through the middle of the populated area rather than off in a corner (from east and south Pierce’s perspective).

      1. Thanks Mike, you made my afternoon ;-).

        Also should note we in the North by Northwest also have better bus transit…. Community Transit, Everett Transit and Skagit Transit. Pierce Transit nor Intercity Transit rock as much.

        [ot]

  7. Lots of high-minded ideas about a cool crossing of the Puyallup river. Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT, underestimate or overlook the importance of the tribal perspective in all this. The Puyallup people are stewards of the river, and will have plenty to say about what happens there. Any decisions affecting tribal treaty rights will belong to them and the federal government, not the ST board. This blog is great at engaging transit and land use advocates; you should consider exploring the importance of engaging the tribal voice in this process to help improve the potential for a socially & culturally equitable outcomes.

    1. From what I’ve heard in speaking with people at ST, the Puyallup tribe will be part of the process every step of the way in relation to ST crossing through or over tribal lands of the Puyallup tribe.
      ST also said iirc that the Puyallup river crossing is going to be most challanging aspect of this extension for various reasons.

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