Imagine Tacoma – Tacoma Trestle Arch

Given the ongoing concern over the current design of the Sounder Extension through the Dome District (i.e. Berm or Post/Beam), just imagine what the design at Pacific Avenue might have looked like if the City Council did not require Sound Transit to make a separated crossing:

Tacoma Trestle Arch:
With an ‘at grade’ crossing at Pacific Avenue, a large Trestle Arch could be constructed that incorporates all of the required safety features (crossing arms, signage, flashing lights, bells and whistles) and maybe some kinetic artwork that is propelled by the passing of the train within – think a very rail trestle take on the old Mousetrap Game. Watching a train cross Pacific Avenue may become one of the ‘things to do’ when showing around out-of-towners (like taking a photo in front of a Larry Anderson Sculpture).


With the Sounder Line having the right-of-way, well then the bLINK could follow the street lights and operate more like a street car trolley.

A Family of Arches:
Given that fact that the City Council IS NOT requiring any type of grade separation at East D Street (where the kiddies are), or East C Street, or Wilkinson, or Pine, or S. 56th, or S. 60th, or S. 74th (where Amtrak will be hitting some pretty good speeds), then maybe additional artistic arches could be developed at each of these crossings as well. With the loss of the amazing waterfront rail journey when Amtrak shifts over to this new line through Tacoma, maybe these artistic arches could provide some interested to the riders within the trains as well (“Yeah I remember Tacoma, that is where they have these art-infused crossing sculptures”).

Development Potential:
Wow. All of the surrounding properties become much more viable for development as the train is ‘at grade’ and not 8 feet in the air at Pacific Avenue. Much easier (therefore financially less prohibitive) to develop without having to be concerned about shoring a berm alongside an operating rail system as well as trying to mitigate the vibration and sound of a braking/accelerating train into your new structure).

Cost Savings:
Wow and Wow. With an at-grade crossing, well the TOTAL cost of the project has just been significantly reduced. No HUGE excavation and relocation of utilities to drop Pacific Avenue 16 feet to get under a separated crossing (and has anyone figured the costs to the surrounding businesses to try and survive through such a project?). And no need to worry about dropping the Twin 96’ers that drain Nalley Valley. Yes Sound Transit needs to work a bit further beyond M Street to make their grade elevations work – maybe to Cushman or Sawyer – but we are talking only minor grading along this project extension.

Now about Post and Beam –with an ‘at grade’ crossing, all of the corresponding elevations drop between Pacific Avenue and East C Street – so maybe smaller vertical retaining walls will work just fine (with some nice climbing plants of course) and thus will maximize development on both sides of the Sounder Line.

Previously on Imagine Tacoma: El-evate Sounder

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Princess Adora

It’s nicer than a depressed Pacific Ave, but still yuck.

Reminds me of the one at Manitou, and that is not a good thing.

Maybe if it was an open design of just the steel beams only, and maybe if the beams were painted blue or red?

August 24, 2009 at 6:48 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I like it. Granted, an at-grade crossing across Pacific certainly has its problems, but at least this design takes into account the current and future urban context of the area. Which is a heck of a lot more than I can say for Sound Transit. Overall I’d definitely go for this over that stupid berm idea.

August 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

A cheap kinetic art sculpture could be a pyramid of analog television sets the sounder would plow through at full speed. 

Eventually when we exhaust our supplies of analog television sets we could switch to a renewable resource, namely, jack-o-lanterns.

August 24, 2009 at 7:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

August 24, 2009 at 7:47 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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This is a good first attempt at getting dialog going. I like the see through quality of the thing. The neon doesn’t seem fitting. Berm is bad. Gateway to Downtown = good.

August 24, 2009 at 7:58 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Chris K.

No grade separation.  Hmm…  okay.  For the first time in a long time David, I’m happy with this concept.  This town was built on rails, let’s show that proudly – at grade.

If traffic is stalled on Pacific Avenue for thirty seconds, once or twice an hour for a train, that’s not such a big deal.  It’s better than having a permanent barrier in the community that becomes one of those eyesores that already exist (see: pictures)

I also lament the loss of the scenic view – but if it means 150mph trains, the Amtrak Cascades terminal at Freighthouse Square, and a 90 minute trip to Portland – well, you can always take the Coast Star light late.

But we’re not touching the signal priority on the light rail.

August 24, 2009 at 8:25 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Stan Shaw

Hey looks like fun to me. Anything with bells and whistles and trains has got to be fun!

August 24, 2009 at 8:43 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Just three problems off the top of my head.

1)  You would totally screw up the Link schedule.  I for one count on how puntual Link is.  Once I get on Link, I always make my connection on the other end.  If the surface option went forward, Link would never be on time again. 

2)  With over 15 crossings a day, you would block traffic not only at the crossing, but at all of the adjacent intersections for essentially all day long.  Causing lots of gridlock, thousands of cars waiting and idling unnecesarily.  That would mean a huge waste of gas, and lots more CO2 that would be emitted into the atmosphere that could be easily avoided without the surface option.

3)  The Tacoma City Council shot down the surface option back in 05.

August 24, 2009 at 11:22 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The thing I keep wondering is if at-grade crossings are really as bad as we make them out to be.

Assuming <span class=“caps”>BNSF</span> doesn’t use these crossings to shuffle trains between adjacent tracks, waiting for a train crossing would take less time than any of the 15 or so poorly timed lights along Pacific through downtown.

Anyone that commutes through downtown on pacific like I do will tell you a 30-second rail crossing 15 times a day is but a grain of sand compared to the amount of congestion and idling caused by the moronic timing of downtown traffic lights.

Currently it is impossible to drive down Pacific without stopping at <i>every</I> metered intersection.

August 25, 2009 at 1:07 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I like the idea of an at-grade crossing.  A Sounder train is 739 feet long.  If it is traveling at 20 <span class=“caps”>MPH</span> (conservative) at the crossing, it’ll take 25 seconds to pass by.  The crossing gates start lowering 30 seconds before the train, and take less than 10 seconds to raise after.  So the train will stop traffic for no more than 65 seconds.  At 40 <span class=“caps”>MPH</span>, it will take 52 seconds. So, the question to the city council is, what’s the big deal?

Historically, there was a crossing at Pacific for decades, when both the street and the track were busier.  Trains were slower and longer, too.  Everyone survived then.

August 25, 2009 at 3:31 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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There were actually two crossings at one point. There was a Milwaukee Road R.R. industrial lead to the loading docks on Commerce Street, just about where the future Sounder crossing will be, and the original NP mainline (est. 1873) that got the axe in 2003 for the <span class=“caps”>LINK</span>.

The latter probably saw its greatest traffic load during <span class=“caps”>WWII</span> with regular troop trains and manifest freights, and they needed helper locomotives to make the 2% grade, at about 15mph.  NP used it as a mainline until the Point Defiance route was constructed in 1914 and the Great Northern did as well until 1943 when “protests by the city and those stuck waiting for long trains on Pacific” forced them to shift to the Point Defiance line.

Interesting side note:  The Milwaukee Road originally intended to build a grand train station fronting Pacific Ave. where the Elephant Car wash now stands until the Northern Pacific decided to construct Union Station; it would have replaced the old Tacoma Eastern station on 25’th St., between A and C streets, that stood until the early 1970’s.  Why not resurrect that idea?  Tacoma has lacked a proper train station since Union Station was severed in the 80’s.  A more proper station fronting Pacific for both Sounder and Amtrak trains would be outstanding.

August 25, 2009 at 6:40 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Amtrack trains are longer than Sounder trains, and will take much longer to pass than you guys are suggesting.  Plus the number of train crossings will be increasing over time. 

What everyone is forgetting about is that this area currently has very few people living and working in it.  We have to plan for future growth, not just build infrastructure this important for todays needs only.  In 20 years, this area should be alive with people living, working, and shopping.  A surface option will block too much traffic, and stifle growth.  Which is why the surface option was rejected years ago by our city council.

August 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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As both the Amtrack and Sounder station will be just a couple of blocks away from the Pacific Ave crossing, the trains will not be going blowing through town at 40 mph or faster.  They will be either just leaving the station, and building up speed, or slowing down to come to a complete stop.  Trains don’t stop on a dime, or go 0-60 in seconds.  Probably looking at crossing speeds closer to 15 mph, not 40.

August 25, 2009 at 3:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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David- with an at grade crossing where does Sound Transit make up the elevation gain? They have set the maximum grade so if they start lower at Pacific Avenue then they will go further into Nalley Valley below grade.

The original at grade idea had the tracks running up Wakefield drive and causing another crossing further East that was not at a right angle to the street. There were concerns about bicycle and motorcycle safety with a skewed track alignment.

August 25, 2009 at 4:16 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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You make a good point, at-grade crossings could be fine now, but what about 10/20/50 years from now? Those terribly timed lights can be fixed relatively cheaply, but raising/moving train tracks would be another story.

Which I suppose comes back to the berm debate, which addresses today’s needs but most likely won’t with future needs.

And here’s what gets me – if ST has a huge sales tax funding component, one would think the board would have the foresight to see the revenue potential of a booming dome district 10 or 20 years from now.

August 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Last time I was in my car in old town, the rr crossing arms came down,  I waited a about aminute, then the amtrack train came by, it seemed to take a few minutes to pass, then I waited a bit longer, then the rr crossing arm went up, the guy in the car in front of me was texting, eventually he stopped and took off.  I assure you that the whole process took at least 3 to 5 minutes.  Probably longer, and that train was moving at a decent clip.  This would be a disaster on Pacific Ave during the morning and evening rush hours.

This isn’t Seattle, we don’t have to revisit options once we’ve decided against them.

As to future uses of revenue for transit in 20 years, this round of transit expansion will be all built and paid for.  If we want to do the best possible for transit with our new prosperity, it should be by building out street cars in T Town, and light rail to the airport.

August 25, 2009 at 5:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The problem with at-grade crossing at Pacific (as I understand it from former coworkers in Traffic Engineering) is making up the grade to meet up with the track up behind the Rescue Mission.  The trains can’t be “at grade” at Pacific and up on the hill just west of S C St.  Where would you make up that grade (as asked above)?

I think that option only works if the track went along the south side of South Tacoma Way – a plan that was rejected because of the loss of trees, etc., along there.

August 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Wasn’t there a fuss about this being at grade so Sound Transit changed it to above grade?  I like the above grade idea if it’s done attractively and it doesn’t push Pacific Avenue into looking awkward or half-assed.

I also walked the parking lot by Freighthouse Square and looked to see where this berm would be.  Call me an crazy, or whatever, but it’s not all that bad.  It actually solves a few problems (creates some better building lots) when compared to the at grade option.  The at grade option, to me, is the worst of the three options….post and beam is ideal.

August 26, 2009 at 2:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Interesting idea David and comments.  The visual image has some attractive points in concept but Tacoma1 is right about some of the issues.

-This wasn’t just the city that forced the crossing to be not at grade.  <span class=“caps”>WSDOT</span> also wanted to see a separated crossing.  It is feasible that we could have 15 trains a day between Tacoma and Portland a day on top of 15 sounder trains a day, that starts to add up and create some major traffic problems on Pac Ave.

-The loss of the Pt. Defiance view on the train will be sad, but having the Amtrak come to freighouse square, cutting 7 minutes of the trip to portland, and allowing more trains between Tacoma and Portland <span class=“caps”>FAR</span> Outweights the loss of a pretty view (people can still get that nice waterfront view if they take the train north of Seattle into Bellingham).

August 27, 2009 at 12:06 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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the train has to go above grade over Pacific for many reasons…but there is no need for ugliness…

My young granddaughters will come to Tacoma to visit in 20 years…probably by train from California and Portland and Oly…there is no reason they need look at Nasty Berms and Trash…as they arrive and leave Tacoma…

August 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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