South 17th Street re-alignment planned near UW Tacoma

It could soon be a little easier to navigate the streets of downtown Tacoma near the University of Washington campus.

On Tuesday, Tacoma City Council voted to enter into an agreement with the University of Washington Tacoma for the design and construction of the re-alignment of South 17th Street between Jefferson Avenue, Broadway, and South Commerce Street.

For anyone familiar with the area, South 17th Street is cut off between Broadway and South Commerce Street by a small greenspace, forcing cars and pedestrians to head south on Broadway for a half-block, then backtrack a half-block north on Jefferson Avenue, before reconnecting to South 17th Street.

According to a report prepared by City of Tacoma staff and presented to councilmembers on Tuesday, UW Tacoma officials approached City officials to discuss the idea of turning South 17th Street into a through street. After a series of meetings, a re-alignment was proposed that would connect the two segments of South 17th Street, preserve a portion of the greenspace, and terminate Jefferson Avenue at Broadway. The two groups drafted an agreement whereas the City would manage the project while UW Tacoma would pay for the project, which is currently budgeted at $1.25 million. Councilmembers authorized the agreement Tuesday.

“In light of failed infrastructure all over the city, this is a great example of one of the many ways we can move forward to improve our infrastructure in really tough spots in Tacoma,” said Councilmember Ryan Mello. “I really appreciate the University of Washington stepping up to be the major financial partner here.”

Councilmember David Boe supported the plan, but was concerned that Jefferson Avenue would now terminate at Broadway. “Part of me grieves because we are losing the historic aspect of Jefferson,” he said. “But knowing and seeing the results of developable properties here are much greater, especially the property around Court C and Broadway.”

Deputy Mayor Marty Campbell, who owned a business nearby for nearly 15 years, was familiar with the confusion created by the current alignment. ”Having walked through that area many times, this will be a great improvement for students,” he said. “Right now, crossing those streets sometimes you take your life into your hands because it’s several streets. Or if you’re coming down 17th, you have to go half a block out of your way just to come back to the same point. And I know the business owners in the area are very happy with this.”

“We have to work really hard to make sure we are fixing what I call our counter-intuitive intersections that are confusing,” added Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “When you have a lot of people downtown now and having critical masses, it’s more important that we make it easy for people to get around, whether it’s walking, biking, or trying to park your car.”

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.