ST3 Could Mean More Light Rail in Tacoma’s Future… Maybe

As the funding and planning for the Tacoma Link extension move forward, Sound Transit is at work on ST3, its next round of plans for the future. And those plans could hold interesting things for the future of light rail in Tacoma. 

ST3 could include provisions that would extend the Link beyond the Hilltop, straight up 19th, all the way out to Tacoma Community College and the TCC transit center located there. There could also be a connection taking the long-awaited light rail connection to the airport south to the Tacoma Mall.

At this point, however, those potential projects are still just "maybes." Very expensive, potentially problematic maybes. And they are just a couple of the four dozen potential projects being considered for inclusion in the ST3 funding ask. 

Last week, The News Tribune's Derrick Nunnally took a look at the possibilities: funding, what could get built, and what Sound Transit's next moves will be. Learn more about the proposed projects for yourself, includig studies of some of the proposed projects, on the ST3 project page at Watch for a draft proposal (and accompanying opportunities for public comment) sometime this spring.

So, who's on board for more light rail in Tacoma?

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altered chords

Planning an upcoming trip.  Flying out.  Will use long term parking.  Would rather take light rail.  There’s light rail from SeaTac to Downtown Seattle.  Tacoma should have light rail to the airport.

January 6, 2016 at 1:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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If you can find a way to the Dome, the 574 bus is usually a pretty good option for getting to the airport. I agree though, light rail to the airport would be great.

January 6, 2016 at 5:39 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Jim C

I’ve posted before and I’m sure I’ll post again, a light rail connection to the regional system is absolutely critical to future quality of life here in Tacoma. Without it, the well-paying jobs in King County will become less and less accessible to the people who live here and the commute, even on the bus, will become a heavier cost. My fear is that if the ballot measure gets loaded up with pork that it will fail and we’ll have another 20 years without the regional connection.

Also, the TCC line extension document states (and I imagine this would also be true for the mall): “This project will require replacement of the entire Tacoma Link fleet”. Yeesh. Way to plan ahead there, geniuses.

January 6, 2016 at 2:49 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Instead of using $650m or more to get streetcar to TCC, why not create a TCC/UWT partnership on the UWT grounds.  Sell the current TCC campus to the county for their consolidation site and use the money to build out UWT as a hybrid community college and university.  I would imaging even a ballot measure to sell TCC to the county for a couple hundred million could even pass if it meant putting TCC on the UWT campus.  It seems asinine to build $650m in streetcar to reach a campus that probably isn’t worth that.

Cost savings of $650m in light rail (or money used elsewhere), use of MOST classrooms by UWT in the daytime and TCC at night (shared facilities), and the excess land at the current TCC site sold as land for housing.  A giant buildout of UWT if matching funds with the state exist.

Use the $650m to get to neighborhoods using streetcars instead - like Lincoln, McKinley, and 6th Avenue…

January 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Ah, who would buy the TCC campus? A private for profit prison? Western State II?

January 8, 2016 at 12:30 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Exit133 needs to get something clear.  These projects may be expensive, but Pierce County is in a good position to be able to afford everything that is in the Sound Transit Long Range Plan (for Pierce County), because we paid for our portions of Sound Transit 2 in cash.  We have no debt.  The rail segments included are not unreasonable extensions and they’re relatively cost effective compared with other regional investments.  So, as the urban center in Pierce County, we deserve pretty much everything that we ask for.  This is a once in a lifetime vote, so Tacoma needs to make sure that it gets as much transit funded by ST3 as possible.

Also, these initial ideas through Nalley Valley and S. 19th are “concepts” that are more about eyeballing how much money would be needed to build something in the same general corridor than anything else.  They need a LOT of tweaking.  Going with these alternatives without further study would leave Lower 6th Ave and the Lincoln District, two core urban neighborhoods, disconnected from the rail system.  I think that’s unacceptable given the amount of support that both of those areas have for transit.

There are other alternatives.  I’ll offer one: continue Hilltop Link south to the Lincoln District with a bridge over Nalley Valley and west to Tacoma Mall via 38th, and then connect TCC with Downtown via 6th Avenue and Mildred St.  That might prove more cost effective, provide more opportunities for transit oriented development, and provide more walking and biking access to rail stations.  In addition, it would provide more opportunities to displace Pierce Transit bus service, allowing for those service hours to be redeployed throughout the City to create more frequent transit service everywhere.

January 6, 2016 at 6:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Chris Pyke

This would be perfect! Going down 19th wouldn’t be too useful but 6th would be incredible! And going down S Tacoma way would bypass where all the people are where going through Lincoln would connect parts of the city seperated by I5. The way you describe it would be immediately useful but the proposed routes just seem incomplete.

January 7, 2016 at 12:02 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I like the routes you suggest more than what’s on the table.  Much more.

It puts Lincoln in between downtown and the mall and therefore makes it a very attractive place to live without a car.  IMO, that’s what that neighborhood needs.

I guess I don’t “get” the obsession around going out to and reaching TCC.  I understand if it’s a western flank spine for more streetcar at a later date, but I don’t understand the people who want to link UWT and TCC as THE reason for this route.  I get that students might not want the expense of a car and this would be convenient to link the two symbiotic schools, but to build a streetcar that is monetarily worth more than the entire TCC campus is insane. 

To me, it’s like saying we’re going to build a streetcar to Cheney Stadium for $600m so baseball fans can dine downtown before the games - when Cheney is only worth like $50m.  I mean, move the stadium closer if that’s the case!

There are more worthwhile, and closer in, inner-city neighborhoods to link to than getting this out to the western edge of town, IMO.

January 8, 2016 at 8:37 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Every family in Tacoma would be paying $50 a year for this, and Sound Transit has made it very clear they have no intention of ever serving East Tacoma, 30% city’s of the population. An underfunded Pierce Transit cuts service to Tacoma’s poorest neighborhoods, and why should those folks pay $50 a month for ST trains that will never help them?

January 8, 2016 at 12:24 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Not necessarily true.  One project has a Portland Ave Station that would serve the Central Spine.  East Tacoma has better access to regional transit than the localized Tacoma Link though, that much is true.

January 9, 2016 at 11:34 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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One station on what? 20th and Portland, and East Tacoma pays $50? No thanks.

January 10, 2016 at 9:37 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I support this as it helps Tacoma be less automobile dependent.
It would be better if this transit was more extensive and was entirely funded by heavier and heavier taxation on personal motor vehicles to discourage driving.

January 8, 2016 at 10:47 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Light rail should be extended to the airport but any more light rail within the city will kill retail projects and tenants (see Los Angeles, CA and talk to the developers there).  Access and traffic are impacted. We need to focus on the bigger picture of light rail replacing cars on the freeway versus simple trips around town.

January 8, 2016 at 11:56 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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It’s a scientific fact that many freeway traffic jams correspond to travelers using on-ramps and off-ramps, notably within city limits. More ramps, more likelihood of traffic jams.

Traffic engineers have indulged travelers, including city dwellers, by providing easy freeway access with an increasing and twisting array of ramps.

Now let’s consider the re-engineered traffic flow, for no apparent reason, within the city limits of Tacoma in recent decades, notably downtown. Many once broad main thoroughfares have been narrowed, and sometimes blocked with an assortment of rezoning measures.

These problems I’ve noted are the result of social constructions. Just like the speculations from advocates of glorified public transit, it’s all empty pageantry. It’s like an ongoing vaudeville show. Mindless entertainment. Expensive, but mindless.

What’s the solution? Better checks and balances on those people who appear to present real public information, which seems to be doing something good for the people, but in reality is really doing something bad to them.

January 11, 2016 at 11:16 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Getting Central Link connected to Tacoma via Federal Way does a few really good things for Tacoma.  First, it links a lot of suburban dwellers with Tacoma’s central core.  A Link trip from FW to Seattle will be long, very long.  To Tacoma, it will be quite short.  Like it or not, a lot of Tacoma’s workers do not live in the city, and that’s a fact.  I’ll bet less than half of my co-workers have a Tacoma address.  A lot of them actually do live in Federal Way.  As mentioned by others, getting Link here connects us to the airport with a reliable train that doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

I really question the continued investment in a streetcar when Pierce County can’t even pass a ballot measure for its bus system.  But, we do get subarea equity, meaning, we get our fair share of whatever we pay in, so they need to find something to serve our area.  The City of Tacoma would actually be wise to consider a City-only bus ballot within the next few years, just as Seattle had done, in order to get a reasonable bus network within the City where there is a demand for it.  I suppose investment in an urban streetcar line that will be fully utilized is better than investment in a suburban bus route that has dismal ridership.

Finally, not mentioned in the article is the possibility of continued investment in Sounder Commuter Rail, which has been wildly popular.  I’ve heard rumors that ST3 may include supplemental service on the Sounder South Line (not on the North Line) to make service span all day, and possibly evenings and weekends.  Wouldn’t that be great?  All day service means more “REVERSE TRIPS” with Tacoma being the destination for travelers from Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup.  If a better span of service were offered for these reverse trips, I’d likely take the train to work rather than driving, freeing up a parking space at the office and reducing congestion on I-5.  Fewer parking spaces in Tacoma means more land available for other uses.

The bottom line here is that the freeways of Puget Sound are at capacity (in the Seattle and Bellevue areas, they are well beyond capacity), and we need to find more efficient ways of moving people around our region.  Infill growth within the City certainly helps, especially when we can locate new housing near job centers, but people will still commute, especially when spouses have different careers and different employers.  Continued investment in ST will allow our region to absorb the growth that is expected in the coming years.

January 19, 2016 at 1:16 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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