The Sound Transit board has added its stamp on plans that would run Link light rail from the Theater District to Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The task now is to find a way to pay for it, particularly “local partners” willing to pay $50 million to make the funding package ready for federal grant consideration.
“We need to have the local partner financing lined up and the next phase of environmental work complete before submitting the Small Starts grant,” Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said.
The Small Starts guidelines require that projects cost less than $250 million, with grants not exceeding $75 million. Sound Transit is set to fund $50 million of the $133 million estimated for the Link routing work, then apply for about $50 million in Small Starts funding in mid 2014 and match that with the $50 million in local funding that could come from donations, cost sharing or Local Improvement District property taxes.
“On other projects, Sound Transit has worked with jurisdictions to nullify project costs such as permitting and other fees, or cover the cost of a requested project component, as another,” Gray said.
“Each project presents its own set of circumstances, and it’s too early for the agency to know at this point what the various models for the Tacoma Link will be, other than to say that we’ll be looking at public and/or private partnerships, and combinations thereof.”
Alongside the search for dollars, Sound Transit staff will be conducting an environmental review of the project that will include detailed schedules and milestones as well as scheduling another round of public meetings concerning the route selection and its projected benefits and community impacts. Specifically, engineers will define an actual route rather than a route “corridor” that could involve shifts and tweaks.
“Over the next few months, we will be identifying potential alignment options (routes) to be included in the environmental process,” Gray said.
As it sits now, the “North Downtown Central” corridor, also known as E1, will be a 2.3-mile run from the Theater District Station near the corner of Commerce and Ninth Street up to Stadium Way to Sixth Avenue before turning left onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way and continuing past Group Health, Mary Bridge and Tacoma General to 19th Street, at a station near St. Joseph Medical Center.
The route was selected from a roster that had been whittled down from 24 options that were pondered during the last two years.
"We are pleased to be moving the project forward to the project level environmental review phase, though there is more work to be done in finding a financial partner or partners,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “Still, the selection of E1 as the preferred corridor is an important step in bringing us closer to offering Link light rail to more Tacoma residents, commuters and businesses."
The board selected the corridor from four options that had risen as “finalists” and received more detailed study during an evaluation process that included community involvement from a citizens' stakeholder group and numerous public meetings. The E1 route received a boost when Tacoma City Council endorsed it last month, although the stakeholder group endorsed another route. That route would have run north from the Tacoma Dome Station to Portland Avenue and up from the Theater District Station to Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Sixth Avenue.
"The City of Tacoma is pleased with the work accomplished to date in selecting a preferred corridor for the potential expansion of Tacoma Link," said Sound Transit Boardmember and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. "Thanks to the active involvement of the City Council, a citizens' stakeholder group and city residents in an intensive, 10-month public process, we now have a clearer path for making light rail more accessible to more people as ridership on the line continues to grow."
The 2.3-mile route will be further defined and evaluated as part of the project-level environmental review process. Once this environmental review is complete, the board is expected to take final action on the project route, station locations and project funding.
Tacoma Link currently operates on a 1.6-mile route between the Tacoma Dome and Theater District stations.
Perhaps by coincidence or sparked by the routing debate, two large projects have recently been announced for sites along the routes that were being considered.
Tacoma Housing Authority, for example, announced development plans at the mixed-use, public housing community of Salishan along Tacoma’s stretch of Portland Avenue, which would have been served by the Link line. THA sold 143 lots in the development for $5 million to D.R. Horton. The nation’s largest homebuilder is set to being construction of three-and-four-bedroom, single-family homes as early as this summer that will largely sell for market rates. A few dozen of the homes will be sold for less-than-market prices to lower-income families.
Along the Martin Luther King Jr. Way route, another private developer is working on a deal to renovate the historic Pochert and Kellogg-Sicker buildings for apartments, while THA has plans for two parcels nearby. All of the land is city-owned property.