Transit plans move forward, input sought

Don’t laugh or roll your eyes. Sound Transit officials were required to look at all possible route options from the Theater District station to Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Some of the routes are just outright goofy, but researching them was required to qualify for future grant applications.

The City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee got a glimpse at the options under review earlier this month. Sound Transit has meetings planned with special interest groups in December and January. A public forum is set for after the New Year as well and others will continue through the spring. Construction is set for 2019.

“We are really in the information gathering stage,” said Sound Transit spokeswoman Chelsea Levy.

Tasked with getting Link light rail service from Commerce to the “Medical Mile” corridor of MLK, Sound Transit came up with seven options that are basically divided into two halves.

The A section, all five options of them, would get rail service from the station at Ninth and Commerce and go up the Stadium Way hillside, while the two B-segment routes would connect that loop to MLK.

The A segment routes range from simply running tracks straight on Commerce to Stadium Way and dog leg up the hill to MLK. Two alternatives to that route have downtown businesses, cultural activists and City Council members puzzled as to why they are even being studied. But rules are rules. All routes need to be reviewed. The oddball routes head up Broadway instead. One route would leave the Theater District and connect to Broadway and run in front of the Spanish Steps. Another route would abandon the Ninth Street station and cut up to Broadway at 10th Street and run in front of Theater on the Square and the Pantages and continue onto St. Helens to Division.

Needless to say, folks aren’t jazzed about this option since it would essentially kill the downtown farmers market and the ability of the theaters to use Broadway to load and unload performance equipment and tour buses.

“The collateral damage from an urban design standpoint would be beyond significant,” council member David Boe said, noting the “design failures” of the current Link route that created Tollefson Plaza, and the last stop ending at what is essentially a back alley on Commerce.

Yet another route would create an entirely separate Link line by running track from 11th and Broadway and to Stadium. That route would require passengers to walk up-hill to catch a new train. A variation of this route would have a station at 11th and Market.

The B segments look at running tracks on MLK and then looping around to ‘J’ Street at 19th Street.

Costs range from $165 million to $210 million, above the initial cost projections and funding of $150 million. Sound Transit has pledged $50 million; another $50 million is expected from federal grants while the remaining $50 million could come from Local Improvement District dollars, city, public and private partnerships and other sources like grants from the Puget Sound Regional Council. The rough estimate for the route when it was approved in May was $133 million, so the new working projection has increased by more than $30 million in a matter of months.

“We are doing this to collect riders and move them in an efficient way,” Councilmember Ryan Mello said.

Once this analysis is complete, Sound Transit Board will identify the alignments for environmental review in early 2014. The Sound Transit Board and City of Tacoma will then select a final alignment in late 2014 or early 2015.


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