No light rail planned for Tacoma Avenue South Bridge rehab

When a $9 million rehabilitation of the 80-year-old Tacoma Avenue South Bridge is completed next year, it will boast many new amenities: a new and wider bridge deck; a fresh coat of paint; dedicated bicycle lanes; and new sidewalks for pedestrians.

What it won’t include, however, are tracks for light rail, according to city staff.

Tacoma City Council’s environment and public works committee met last month at City Hall to hear an update on the project from city staff. During that meeting, Councilmember David Boe asked city engineers if the new bridge design would accommodate light rail. “Because Tacoma Avenue is one of the few places you can get to the south end if you are on a streetcar,” said Boe. “In fact, one could argue it’s about the only place mid-hill or even top-hill height you can get through, other than Yakima [Avenue]. You can’t go up M [Street]. You can’t go up Pacific [Avenue] because it’s too steep. You can’t go up D Street because there’s a Sounder train coming across it.”

City staff responded that light rail was not part of the plan. “When we did the grant in 2010, we had a fairly lengthy conversation with our prior city manager about this very topic,” said city engineer (and now interim public works director) Kurtis D. Kingsolver. “His instruction to us at that time was to not move forward with that. That’s how we wrote the grant and why we have the project here today. I know, personally, I had more than one conversation about that.”

Kingsolver followed up on the issue this week.

“Staff completed a cursory review and found that new streetcar loads and axle spacing are different from the original design for this bridge,” he wrote in a Feb. 13 memo to Tacoma City Manager T. C. Broadnax. “This change in loads and spacing necessitates upgrades to existing beams that would cost an estimated $1 million and delay the current project schedule. The funds required for streetcar upgrades are not eligible for reimbursement under the federal grant for this project so Tacoma would be responsible for this cost. Due to the additional cost and time, Public Works does not recommend that the bridge include an upgrade to support future streetcars.”

Additionally, Kingsolver noted, “The Delin Street Bridge over I-5, located 800 feet south of the Tacoma Avenue [South] Bridge, was not designed to carry streetcar loads and represents an additional obstacle for a future streetcar line.”

According to city engineers, the bridge’s beams, sidewalks, guard rails and deck have deteriorated so severely that lane closures and weight restrictions have been instituted. Two years ago, the City of Tacoma was awarded a $7.2 million federal grant to help pay for the project. The city is contributing $1.8 million. In August, the city awarded a $1.2 million contract to Bellevue, Wash.-based TranTech Engineering to draw up the design plans, which are approximately 20 percent complete. Construction is expected to begin this fall and last approximately one year.

A design plan for the $9 million Tacoma Avenue South Bridge rehabilitation. (IMAGE COURTESY CITY OF TACOMA)