Grand walkway along former Prairie line set for open house

  • University of Washington-Tacoma officials will present three options under review to transform the decommissioned Prairie Line tracks through campus into a “landmark” walking and gathering place for the community. (Courtesy of City of Tacoma)

The next big steps in the creation of a Prairie Line Historical Trail that would run through the University of Washington-Tacoma campus on its way to Thea Foss Waterway comes later this month when university officials will present trail options.

The open house to display the trail options will be held at 5 p.m. on Jan. 30 at Philip Hall on the UWT campus.

Plans include the redevelopment of the area where the Prairie Line train track ran from South 17 to South 21st streets, through what is now the heart of the campus. The campus work is part of a larger project that would link the nearby Water Ditch trail to the southeast and the Foss Waterway to the northwest.

The one-mile span through campus will include walkways, open spaces for gatherings and events, landscaping and historical markers denoting the tracks as the last leg of the transcontinental railroad that gave rise to Tacoma as an industrial and transportation hub on the West Coast during the late 1800s. Burlington Santa Fe Railroad Co. traded the surplus tracks to the city four years ago for other land and concessions.

"I think it is going to be an iconic spot of Tacoma," said UWT Director of Construction Projects Milt Tremblay. "It is really going to transform the campus."

Campus buildings had been originally built or redesigned to downplay the undeveloped and largely unkempt swath of track when the university was taking shape a decade ago. The addition of a grand walkway that bisects the campus would allow for buildings to open onto what could become an anchor feature for the whole campus along the track's right of way. The tracks themselves will largely remain visible and play a part in the trail's design as a way to tie the modern use of the corridor to Tacoma's railroad roots as the terminus for the West Coast when the tracks were laid in 1873.

"We are committed to preserving the heritage of the Prairie Line," Tremblay said. "In every option, the rails stay in place."

The project itself will not only include pedestrian improvements but also features to better manage storm water runoff from along the hillside. Cost estimates are not in play at this point since the options are still under review, but the idea is to select an option or aspects of all of the options to form a final design package. A search for grants and other funding options would follow a phased approach that could take years depending on how quickly the flow of money comes. City grants, for example, have already been won for the storm water work and the installation of LED lights.

The final route of the Prairie Line's leg to the water once it leaves the campus is still in the works. The tracks cross Pacific Avenue and diagonally down the hill behind what is now the United Way of Pierce County headquarters and the Children's Museum of Tacoma. United Way officials have been eying that strip for additional parking or further commercial development, so the trail could shift to nearby Hood Street that runs next to Tacoma Art Museum. The museum is developing a plaza design to play off the trail as well as it routes to Dock Street.

Whatever the route, the trail will connect to the Esplanade along the waterfront, which runs the length of Foss to Ruston Way and eventually will tie into Point Defiance Park, while another trail project at 25th Street will tie into the Water Ditch that runs along South Tacoma Way as far south as Oak Tree Park on 72nd Street.

"The Prairie Line Trail will transform the historic Prairie Line corridor into a distinctive urban pedestrian and bicycle trail that connects downtown Tacoma's most significant recreational, cultural and educational destinations to its waterfront," the city's transportation grant application stated. "The trail also provides yet another important link in the region's trail system with connections to multiple cities and attractions such as Chambers Bay Recreational Area and the Foothills Trail."

Links to those trail systems would mean the walkway would span from Tacoma's waterfront to as far eastward as Buckley.


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