Our Views: The best of a bad route seems clear

Tacoma City Council is primed to make a recommendation to Sound Transit on its preferred route for the Tacoma Link expansion that will bring light rail services to Hilltop. A decision is expected in February, which will then lead to more review and detailed work by Sound Transit. The City Council Committee of the Whole is set to ponder the issue on Feb. 4.

The general corridor has already been established after hearings and votes last summer. The Link will run from Commerce Street and up the hill to Martin Luther King Jr. Way and head toward the heart of the “Medical Mile” between Tacoma General and Franciscan Health System’s medical complexes. How far the Link will run and along which streets are up for discussion.

But the city’s Planning Commission and Transportation Commission have already weighed in on the issue. The Planning Commission opted out of actually endorsing a route, instead offering up a slate of guidelines the City Council should consider that range from boosting economic development, least disruptive to the “urban lifestyles” of the area, and ease of connections to other mass transit options. The Transportation Commission actually did its job and evaluated the proposed routes and issued a recommendation. It wants the routes known as “A1” and “B1.” Those routes would take Link from the Theater District Station up Stadium Way and straight onto MLK. Other options would have run a line along ‘J’ Street. The recommendation further says the Link should run to 19th Street instead of stopping at 11th.

The recommended route is the least expensive, least impactful and most straightforward as well as the route that received the most positive comments at open houses. All of the options are projected to cost more than the $150 million initially projected, but at $165 million, the recommended route comes closest.

That said, the idea of running light rail up to the Hilltop doesn’t seem like it was the best route to begin with but that train has left the station so to speak. What are the future expansion plans after this line opens? How many people will actually pay to go from downtown to the Hilltop or vice versa? How can such a massive investment in infrastructure designed to promote economic development not push out the low and middle income residents already living in the neighborhood? The math just doesn’t seem to work, but here we are and the decision seems clear. Like the initial routing decision to run rail lines along Commerce instead of Pacific Avenue in a way that created the awkward patch known as Tollefson Plaza and the “scenic views” of the alley way in the Theater District, Tacoma is going to try to make the best out of a bad call.

At some point Tacoma should start thinking two or three steps head on such matters instead of just making decisions because decisions need to be made to keep a project on track. Heaven forbid policy makers talk about future expansions before there is a deadline at hand.


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