Tacoma Link Expansion: Fine Tuning Begins

After much discussion last spring a preferred corridor for the future expansion of Tacoma's Link Light Rail was selected. A corridor running from downtown Tacoma to the Stadium District, and continuing on to the MLK neighborhood was selected.

That was just the beginning of a lengthy process. That corridor identifies a general direction for the Link expansion, but does not identify the specific streets any future route would take. Since then, Sound Transit and City of Tacoma staff have been working to identify streets that could potentially serve as the specific alignment for the new route. 

This preliminary evaluation of alignments will result in a short list to be moved forward for more in-depth evaluation of environmental and other impacts.

Possible alignments were presented to the City Council's Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee yesterday.

The full corridor has been divided into two segments for the purposes of this phase of evaluations: Segment A connecting the existing Link to the Stadium District, and Segment B connecting Stadium to the MLK Mixed-Use Center. Staff have identified five possible alignments in Segment A, and two in Segment B.

The five options for Segment A force a conversation that was inevitible when the downtown to Stadium route was chosen: exactly how to get the Link out of downtown. Currently tracks dead end at 9th and Commerce.

  • A1 - It appears that the most straightforward route would be what Sound Transit is calling A1 - a route that would continue those tracks straight up Stadium Way (coincidentally that route is also the least costly, although all routes push the cost over the $150 million budget).
  • A2/A2a - The A2 options would both run up Broadway, with the distinction being that A2 would follow the first few blocks of the A1 option from the 9th and Commerce terminus, before cutting uphill to Broadway via the space currently occupied by the parking lots and garages just south of the Spanish Steps (ah well, no more graffiti there anymore anyway). A2a, on the other hand, would split off the existing Link tracks at the 10th and Commerce Street transit center and climb through Theater Square to meet up with Broadway.
  • A3/A3a - Similar to A2a, the A3 options would split from the existing tracks at the transit center, but would continue past Broadway to St Helens, following that street all the way up the hill. A3 would wrap around the business district like the other routes, while A3a would turn the corner earlier, making a left on Division as it heads for MLK.

  • A4 - This route would not actually connect to the existing Link route, but would start just uphill on 11th and follow Broadway to the Stadium District. This would mean passengers would have to get off and walk the block between the two routes.
  • A5 - Again, passengers would be walking between the existing Link stop and this possible option, which would begin just uphill from the A4 option, at 11th and Market, following Market uphill to join up with the St Helens route.

All of the Segment A tracks reach the heart of the Stadium District in similar ways - they loop around the main commercial center, hooking back around and traveling up North 1st Street before continuing up Division to connect to Segment B.

The options for Segment B are a little more straightforward: either run an out-an-back along MLK, or create a short loop running up MLK to 19th, before doubling back along J Street.

These potential alignments are being evaluated based on five criteria, which were chosen for their relationship to the goals and objectives for the Link expansion, and the potential for highlighting differences between the potential alignments.

  • Travel time (to Tacoma Dome station)
  • Destinations served
  • Economic development potential
  • Potential community and environmental impacts
  • Estimated capital costs. 

Sound Transit will be looking for public involvement through meetings with neighborhood councils, business districts, and other stakeholders; online and print information; and an online survey. A community open house has also been scheduled for January 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Stadium High School.

Council will choose which of the potential alignments for both segments it wants to see move forward to the environmental review phase. 

Which would you choose?

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Am I the first comment?  Wow… you know I have to say something about this….

First off, a couplet is:  A single direction track on one street and a single direction track on another street that goes in the opposite direction two streets over.  Like B2 shown in the picture.  Transit extremists hate them because of their one demential view that everyone should ride transit and that the fastest possible route is the best option.  A block’s worth of walk or a transfer to go in the opposite direction slows the time it takes to use transit to get someplace.  While that’s all good, it ignores why cities use streetcar as opposed to a bus in the first place.  Economic development, to PAY for the streetcar, is also important… as well as the psychology behind getting new riders to use it.

I love couplets with streetcars.  I love the B2 idea. Couplets create more blocks “touching” the tracks (a four block wide streetcar economic impact zone instead of a two block wide zone) and therefore create more commerce and places to live “along the tracks.”  Portland is a god with streetcar and does this in it’s downtown core with great success.  In fact, a gigantic percentage of the growth and density in Portland is found within only a couple of blocks of their streetcar tracks.

In downtown, they could actually create another couplet using A3/A3a heading north and A2 heading south.  A3/A3a NORTH because there is the most commerce along this line and people have more time going home (out of downtown) from work to stop off at these businesses than the time they have in the morning going into downtown to work.  Same theory with B2 on MLK moving streetcars away from downtown and moving them toward downtown on J street.

Couplets are proven to create more rail front commerce and density.  That’s what you want for a downtown.  I like this stuff regardless of what Peter Callahan has to say about it in the News Tribune.  I found his last five paragraphs of the attached article void of common sense,  city planning prowess, and another over-step of “news” boundaries for the Tribune:  http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/11/14/2890403/link-expansion-faces-a-tough-road.html

November 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I read Callahan’s article. If I could add one last sentence: “Chaos wastes a tremendous amount of time and money.”

There is something laughable or pitiable about people dreaming up impossible schemes that depend on deceiving or deluding others—Socializing risk through taxation, for the private gain of a few un-civil servants.

November 14, 2013 at 9:52 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I don’t care as long as A4 and A5 are laughed out of town.

November 15, 2013 at 6:52 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Dan H

It is strange that Mr. Callaghan complains about policy makers paying too little attention to where people live in favor of focusing on development and then argues in favor of Stadium Way which has exactly zero people living on one side of the line ( excluding perhaps a few squatters on the bluff).

I’m kind of surprised that A2 is even possible.  There is a long parking lot next to the (former) graffiti garages, but that is still quite a climb.  That said both A2 or A3 are vastly superior to A1 in their ability to both reach existing residents and spur development on either side of the tracks.  St. Helens is the best street, but it would require the abandonment of an existing street car station, the loss of a big portion of the plaza, and significant costs to rebuild or relocate Pierce Transit station center.  It may also run into resistance from the Broadway center because of the potential for extra noise near the theaters.  A2 picks up people both up and down the hill on Broadway, could make use of the existing Theater District station and would only impact a surface parking lot and maybe a dilapidated garage for its climb.

My opinion (with only vague guesses as the actual cost differences) is that the A2 line has significant enough advantages over A1 to justify the extra costs, but A3 probably is not enough better than A2 to justify even higher costs. You might even be able to trade the cost of the A2 hill climb to Broadway for a shorter line on MLK stopping at 1th rather than 19th.

November 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Costs are really going to dictate what we can do in the rest of this phase - most of what people are talking about in the comments - St. Helens and a couplet, are the most expensive options available in the area of $200m.  Without a financing plan, these are not going to happen in this phase.

An LID on MLK could come up with some funds, and maybe we could get a TIGER grant on top of the Small Starts grant to help pay for things.  If PT goes back to the ballot again, maybe we could carve out part of those funds for a capital match.

November 18, 2013 at 11:33 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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After thinking/reading more about these routes, I’d go with Stadium (A1)  - let’s go for the easier, less expensive route, and spare the area around the Broadway Center.  And there’s no reason to go along Broadway north of 7th anyway (a la A2)

November 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The Jinxmedic

That the Link expansion is not going to Salishan continues to confound me. It’s a good thing that that city has a budget surplus and didn’t need any of that FREE MONEY that the Puyallups would have contributed.

November 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Have to change the route.
Owner at http://carsnb.com

March 10, 2018 at 3:04 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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June 7, 2018 at 10:38 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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