Tacoma Link light rail has been quite popular since it began in 2003. Nearly a million riders used it in 2011. The system has one line, going 1.6 miles through downtown. Expanding it has been a topic of much interest since voters in the region approved some funding with passage of a Sound Transit ballot measure a few years ago. The topic was discussed during the Aug. 8 meeting of Tacoma City Council’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
Chelsea Levy, who works in government and community relations for the agency, noted a stakeholder group was formed to study expansion. Goals for expansion include improving mobility for residents and visitors, increasing transit use, spurring economic development, being sensitive to the environment and having a project that is competitive for federal funding.
Three routes stood out. One would head north through Stadium District, up to Hilltop to South 19th Street. No specific route is identified, but it would go near the three hospitals in the neighborhood.
Another would head east from Tacoma Dome Station, possibly up Portland Avenue, to East 72nd Street. This route is felt to have a unique partnership opportunity with Puyallup Tribe, which operates a casino, health care clinic and administrative buildings in the area. It would also run through or near the Salishan public housing development.
A third option runs from downtown to Stadium District, then west along Division and 6th Avenues to Alder Street. This is a highly developed corridor, with many stores, restaurants and bars. It already has high bus ridership.
Other alternatives were explored, which would have lines to the North End, Tacoma Mall, Tacoma Community College and heading east through Fife.
Councilmember David Boe said Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center struggles to book events because of a lack of nearby hotel rooms. He suggested exploring routes that would go by hotels outside the downtown core, or near undeveloped land where future hotels could be built.
Paying for expansion is a work in progress. The current money would have to be matched with funds from an outside source, most likely the federal government.
The East Side line is estimated to cost $205 million if work began this year and $233 million in 2015. The Hilltop route would be $252 million this year and $233 million in 2015. There is $79.2 million available from Sound Transit for expanding the system.
Valerie Batey, a planner with the agency, said its plan is based on funds from the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program. The maximum amount per project the program will fund is $75 million.
Once the agency completes its alternatives analysis, the Sound Transit Board would select preferred corridors for environmental review.
Batey said acquiring more funds in the current economy would be a challenge. “We expect there will be a lot of competition.” To have a realistic chance, Tacoma must have a proposal that is “fabulous.”
Sound Transit will hold two open houses on expanding light rail on Aug. 22. One will be at People’s Community Center, 1602 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The other will be on the outdoor plaza next to Tacoma Dome Station from 4-7 p.m.
Members of the public will be able to learn more about the project’s background and goals, offer their thoughts on where the system should expand and what criteria should be used in evaluating options.
Batey said Sound Transit wants to develop themes on what residents want and do not want to see in potential expansion of the system.