Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tacoma Link Expansion Update

Yesterday Sound Transit presented at the Tacoma City Council Study Session regarding potential expansion routes for the Tacoma Link. The Chamber has previously discussed alternative corridors for the expansion of the 1.6 mile long Tacoma Link light rail line. The Tacoma Link expansion process has included numerous opportunities for public input, including meetings with various stakeholders, open houses, online surveys, distributed mailings, roundtable discussions, media articles, and business district and neighborhood council briefings. Through this process have emerged six possible corridors that would expand on the current light rail that begins at the Tacoma Dome Station and ends in the Theatre District.

The six corridors were identified (see map) as follows:

  • B1- North End Central- 6th Avenue to Union Avenue via Stadium Way and Division Street
  • C1- Eastside- 48th and Portland Avenue via E 25th Street
  • D4- South End via Eastside- Tacoma Mall via Portland Avenue, 38th/48th Street
  • E1- North Downtown Central- 19th and Martin Luther King Jr Way via Stadium Way and Division Street
  • E2- North Downtown Central Loop- A variant of E1 with a downtown loop component on Jefferson Street
  • G1- Pacific Highway- Extending from Fife to the Tacoma Dome station

Noted in the presentation were the approximate costs and length of each corridor, as well as the pros and cons associated with each route. A recurring theme of several of the City council members was how each corridor would contribute to the City’s economic development.

The B1 route would link downtown with the busy 6th Avenue business district, potentially attracting many riders and providing faster service to the Tacoma Dome. The area surrounding this route is also already zoned to support higher density mixed use development, all important factors to consider. The C1 route would also provide faster service from the eastside to both the Tacoma Dome and downtown, however a high ridership for the area is questionable and the current zoning is not supportive of higher density mixed use development.

Mixed use development refers to a building, complex of buildings, or city district that combines residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses. Some of the benefits of mixed use developments include greater housing variety and density, more affordable housing, reduced distances between housing, workplaces, retail businesses, and other amenities and destinations, a more compact development, a stronger neighborhood character, and generally improved pedestrian and bicycle-friendly environments that increase accessibility through transit, thereby reducing transportation costs.

The D4 route would connect the Tacoma Mall with the current light rail system and would serve the greatest number of regional destinations and activity centers, but it would not be faster than existing transit to downtown and the Tacoma Dome, and again the zoning does not support higher density mixed use development. It is also the longest and most expensive route, with approximate costs at $292 million, making this route ineligible for the Small Starts FTA grant.

The E1 route has potential to attract riders, connecting downtown to Stadium before looping around toward the medical mile, and is zoned to support higher density mixed-use development. However it was noted that there was a high number of noise sensitive receptors and a low amount of developable vacant land. The E2 route would cover the same corridor as E1, but close the loop on the route, costing approximately $249 million. Finally, the G1 route would travel from the Tacoma Dome station into Fife along Pacific Highway, providing faster service to downtown. This route, unfortunately, serves the lowest number of regional destinations and activity centers, has the lowest potential to attract riders, and the current zoning is not supportive of higher density mixed-use development.

Bus Rapid Transit was also analyzed in place of the light rail expansion and would be less expensive to construct, but would require riders to transfer from the existing Tacoma Link, encourage less potential investment along the corridor, while increasing potential noise impacts.

Next steps for the project include a Stakeholder Roundtable on January 30th, two open houses in February, and another Tacoma City Council Study Session on February 12th. For more information on the project and for presentation handouts see the City’s website.  

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