A former railroad line that runs through the University of Washington Tacoma campus and down to Tacoma’s waterfront could be converted into a trail for bikes and pedestrians traveling between South Tacoma and the city’s central business district, according to a development deal presently being considered by the City of Tacoma and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.
The plan, however, is contingent upon two variables.
First, a $120-million deal underway between BNSF and ProLogis, a Denver-based company that wants to purchase a 157-acre parcel from the railroad company in order to build its 1.9-million-square-foot distribution center. The deal would also require some cooperation from the city, which owns land in an area that would serve as the distribution center’s north access.
Second, BNSF has said it will donate a 20-foot easement of the former Prairie Line, which runs between South 27th and South 15th Street, and crosses Pacific Avenue downtown, if the city will agree to permanently close a portion of A Street, near South 22nd and Dock Streets, in order to create a five-mile continuous rail cargo link between the Port of Tacoma, downtown, and Ruston.
For years, the city has asked BNSF to donate the former railroad line in order to create a connection to the Water Ditch Trail and Scott Pierson Trail, but has not been successful. On Tuesday, a BNSF spokesperson said the railroad company hoped to reach an agreement with the City and ProLogis soon.
“We want to make sure we complete this transaction before we lose traction and it fades away,” said BNSF spokesperson James A. Ball during Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is huge, getting the property donated,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Connie Ladenburg, who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’ll venture to guess this does not happen often.”
Still, several councilmembers were concerned about the impact of permanently closing A Street.
But City of Tacoma Economic Development Director Ryan Petty noted that Sound Transit already plans to permanently close A Street near 25th Street in order to make way for a future connection to South Tacoma. “It will not be the one-shot thoroughfare it has been in the past,” said Petty. He also added that public safety along A Street, near South 22nd and Dock Streets, has been a concern for more than a decade, as pedestrians and cars navigate heavy freight traffic.
A public meeting was held during Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting.
Foss Waterway Association president Ted Johnson told councilmembers he was concerned closing A Street would make it more difficult for visitors to access the downtown waterfront.
Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce president David W. Graybill was also concerned about the A Street closure, but added that he supported the economic benefit of the ProLogis development plan.
University of Washington Tacoma spokesperson Mike Wark told councilmembers the university supported opening the Prairie Line to bicyclists and pedestrians. “We support the project as an amenity for our students and the community,” said Wark.