No Light Rail in Plans for Tacoma Avenue Bridge

The Daily Index last week had a nice run-down of a recent Environment and Public Works Committee discussion around rehabbing the Tacoma Avenue South Bridge. Plans for upgrades include widening the bridge, and going from four lanes to two, with bike lanes and a turn lane. They do not currently include considerations for future light rail.

The 80-year old bridge is badly in need of structural improvements. Weight restrictions and lane closures have been forced by the deterioration of the bridge’s beams, guardrails, deck, and sidewalks.

The planned rehabilitation project would put $9 million towards structural fortifications, including widening the replaced bridge deck from 50 to 58 feet. Plans call for concrete guardrails, and narrowing vehicle traffic from four lanes to two, to allow space for a center turn lane, bike lanes, and pedestrian traffic. $1.8 million for the project will come from the City, with the remaining $7.2 million coming from a federal grant already secured by the City.

A major staff recommendation coming out of the committee discussion was for full closure of the bridge, rather than a phased approach to the project. Phasing the project to allow for partial continued use during construction would add six months to the timeline, and use up $1 million of the budget. There are also engineering concerns about the effect of road vibrations as the new green concrete is laid, and the City is eager to complete the project in a year, rather than 18 months, in order to coordinate with upcoming WSDOT work on Pacific Avenue.

The possibility of running light rail across the bridge has not been included in design considerations to this point. The decision was made by the former City Manager not to include it in the federal grant application 2010. Councilmember Boe had some thoughts on the irony of not considering the possibility of light rail for one of the few connectors south out of downtown – especially ironic since the bridge originally carried a streetcar. Councilmember Mello asked staff to look into the cost and possibility of adding light rail to the bridge in the future, but we’re a little worried that the horse may already be out of the barn on this one. Construction is expected to begin this fall and last about a year.

What’s that you said? Wouldn’t it be nice if Tacoma had a comprehensive transportation plan? Hm…

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Light rail on a Tacoma Ave bridge is going to be critical if any possible extension from Hilltop is going to link to the Lincoln district.  It was a poor choice to not include this as a design consideration.

This does bring up the larger issue that the City of Tacoma is the largest city in the Puget Sound without a transit master plan.  Without a map of priorities and a list of policies the city is flying blind when it comes to making decisions about transit.  A document that lays out what is important to Tacoma residents when it comes to transit could prove invaluable in helping to inform countless decisions about right of way and service provision.

Without a plan the city doesn’t even have an established opinion on transit changes and it slows every transit project down because we have to spend so much time scoping projects to see if they’re what the community really wants.

If Bellevue and Seattle can put a chunk of money into planning a transit future, so can we.

For further information:

Seattle Transit Master Plan

Bellevue Transit Master Plan

January 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’ve heard that our current city manager isn’t a rail proponent either. If the city council keeps hiring city managers that place little to no value on transit, we will continue to get what we’ve been getting for transit, which is not much of anything.

January 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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If the city goes with the E1 and E2 streetcar lines, as described by Sound Transit, it would be a 1/2-1 mile jog from where that run of streetcar tracks are to the Lincoln District and Lincoln High School… that is, if streetcar can cross at the Tacoma Avenue bridge here in question.

What a pity.  Although not ideal, at least the Yakima bridge can carry a streetcar to the Lincoln Business District… no?

January 28, 2013 at 12:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Yak Ave bridge was rebuilt in 07. Was it built to handle street cars?  If not, we aren’t gonna rebuild a rebuilt bridge and street cars will never cross I-5.

January 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

“Phasing the project to allow for partial continued use during construction would add six months to the timeline, and use up $1 million of the budget.” —E133.

Uh Huh. How much would it cost for the staff to look into the cost and possibility of adding light rail to the bridge in the future? I mean what would it really cost in terms of time, effort, and money spent on the councilmember’s request? I mean what would it really cost in terms of lost opportunities? I mean what would the unintended consequences really cost the taxpayer? I’d like to know. Just for the fun of it.

January 28, 2013 at 3:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Apparently, the previous city manager and council didn’t think that that side of I-5 deserved a street car. Sounds like we will know what this group thinks about the Lincoln district quite soon.

And for Pete’s sake, why don’t we have a master transpirtation plan?  Without a plan, how will they decide to allocate the new <span class=“caps”>TBD</span> funds? Tacoma seems like a rudderless ship with no one at the helm.

January 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Dan H.

Hopefully the fact that it has carried a streetcar in the past is evidence it could be repaired and strengthened to carry streetcar in the future.  Right now, with no money proposed, much less budgeted for a line on Tacoma Avenue, I’m mostly happy we won’t be having a bridge collapse in the near future on that one, so long as it doesn’t fall during construction.  The fact that we’ll get some bike lanes out of it is a bonus. 

Everyone is right, we need a transit master plan, but I think the planners are probably quite busy right now with the <span class=“caps”>MLK</span>, South Downtown and North Downtown sub-area plans being developed simultaneously.  Perhaps those plans will consider some of the transit needs of those areas.  My guess is that we don’t have the money at the moment to pay a consultant to do the work of developing another master plan.

January 28, 2013 at 10:06 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Somewhere in Tacoma there is a deep bunker with a massive steel vault that has a 4-foot thick door with a huge combination lock. That is the place where one can find reams of utopian master plans, and countless scrolls of watercolor landscapes, and tower after tower of cardboard boxes filled with studies by City staff—all of it by direction from the hidden councils of City Hall.

January 29, 2013 at 9:00 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tim Smith

Start a new light rail hub at the South Tacoma Sounder Station and don’t worry about the bridge. While we’re at it move the Amtrak Station to South Tacoma as well.

The Light Rail runs from the station, up Washington to 54th, and up to the Mall. Many options if you consider the entire City and not just those downtown development, redevelopment, remastered, reworked, overplanned projects. The South Tacoma Station provides an amazingly well positioned location.

January 29, 2013 at 5:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

The best job security in Tacoma belongs to the railway crewmates who maintain the taxpayer gravy train.

January 30, 2013 at 8:05 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Why would any of these city people care about our side of town.  We are all just a buch of knuckle draggers here in the Lincoln neighborhood in their eyes.

January 30, 2013 at 10:43 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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David Boe

Fred, I think there are a lot of city people who see the Lincoln District has great potential for increased development – close to Downtown and transportation connections, wonderful view properties, good bones of an urban center, growing communtiy pride (though I do miss Frisbie’s) – and why we need a good city wide transportation master plan in order to assure best bang for buck along with equitable distribution of resources.  Tacoma/Delin/G is already a designated bicycle route – and Yakima/Thompson is the old streetcar line.

January 31, 2013 at 3:06 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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