Sounder to Lakewood open house in Tacoma Nov. 4

Sound Transit will host an open house on Thurs., Nov. 4 from 4 p.m to 7 p.m. to discuss construction...

Sound Transit will host an open house on Thurs., Nov. 4 from 4 p.m to 7 p.m. to discuss construction plans related to the D-to-M Street project that will connect Sounder service from Tacoma to Lakewood. The open house will be held at the Milgard Family Assembly Room, Philip Hall, on the University of Washington Tacoma campus, located at 1918 Pacific Ave., in downtown Tacoma. According to Sound Transit, the project is scheduled to begin later this fall. During the open house, staff will provide information related to the construction schedule, phasing, and detours; safety; Sound Transit art program (STart); and Sound Transit’s proposed 2011 budget. For more information, visit http://www.soundtransit.org/DtoM .

— EARLIER TACOMA DAILY INDEX COVERAGE —

Sound Transit to award Sounder D-to-M Streets contract (08/26/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1828866&more=0

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Pac Ave drivers prepare for Sounder expansion project (03/16/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1734213&more=0

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City Council to discuss Sounder / Pacific Avenue bridge crossing (11/30/09)

Members of the City Council are scheduled Dec. 1 to receive a presentation from Sound Transit regarding the Pacific Avenue Bridge. As a second item on the agenda, members of the Council are scheduled to discuss the State Legislative and Federal Policy Priorities for 2010. The Council will not take public comment during the noon study session in the Tacoma Municipal Building North, 733 Market St., Room 16. Audio from the session will be broadcast live on TV Tacoma and on http://www.tvtacoma.com . On-demand audio archives are available on the Web within 24 hours of the meeting at http://www.tvtacoma.com .

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Sound Transit images show Sounder D to M design plans (10/19/09)

By Todd Matthews

Sound Transit’s proposed design renderings for connecting D Street to M Street through Tacoma’s Dome District and connecting Sounder service between Tacoma Dome Station and Lakewood Station were made available today on the City of Tacoma’s Web site.

To view the images visit http://www.cityoftacoma.org/dtomstreet and click on the link “Sound Transit design images for the D to M Street Sounder Project.”

The issue of how to connect commuter rail from Tacoma Dome Station to Lakewood Station is one that has pitted Dome District businesses and property owners against the regional transit agency for several years. Sound Transit plans to build wide berms through the district (specifically between South D Street and South M Street) in order to raise the tracks enough to build a bridge to cross over Pacific Avenue and climb South Tacoma Way toward Lakewood. Opponents want the agency to build post-and-beam structures instead because they would leave open space beneath the tracks and, they argue, create a more vibrant neighborhood for pedestrians, residents, small business owners, and even urban wildlife that pass through a nearby gulch.

Originally, the plan had called for a $76 million project that would include an at-grade crossing through busy Pacific Avenue. However, the agency and Tacoma City Council moved to raise the tracks over Pacific Avenue, lower a section of Pacific Avenue to accommodate a bridge, and build berms for the rail line.

According to Sound Transit, the post-and-beam alternative would cost another $4 million and result in more delays (the project was slated to be finished eight years ago; construction is now set to begin in April 2010, and service would begin in the second quarter of 2012).

Tacoma City Council held a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 6. On July 27, Dome District stakeholders turned out en masse to a public meeting and walking tour of the proposed 1.2-mile connecting rail line to oppose Sound Transit’s design plans for the project.

For more information, visit http://www.doitrighttacoma.blogspot.com/ .

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Sounder Dome District design opponents expected to jam City Hall Tuesday (10/05/09)

By Todd Matthews

Tacoma City Council has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday to hear comments on a proposed development agreement with Sound Transit regarding the Lakewood to Tacoma commuter rail project.

The hearing will be held Tues., Oct. 6 at approximately 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St.

If a meeting in July between Sound Transit officials and Dome District stakeholders is any indication, councilmembers should expect a full house at City Hall (see “One last pitch for alternative rail design through Dome District,” 07/28/09).

During that meeting, which was held on July 27 and included more than 100 people, Dome District stakeholders turned out en masse to oppose the transit agency’s design plans for the project.

The issue of how to connect commuter rail from Tacoma Dome Station to Lakewood Station is one that has pitted Dome District businesses and property owners against the regional transit agency for several years. Sound Transit plans to build wide berms through the district (specifically between South D Street and South M Street) in order to raise the tracks enough to build a bridge to cross over Pacific Avenue and climb South Tacoma Way toward Lakewood. Opponents want the agency to build post-and-beam structures instead because they would leave open space beneath the tracks and, they argue, create a more vibrant neighborhood for pedestrians, residents, small business owners, and even urban wildlife that pass through a nearby gulch.

Originally, the plan had called for a $76 million project that would include an at-grade crossing through busy Pacific Avenue. However, the agency and Tacoma City Council moved to raise the tracks over Pacific Avenue, lower a section of Pacific Avenue to accommodate a bridge, and build berms for the rail line — nearly doubling the project to $151 million.

According to Sound Transit, the post-and-beam alternative would cost another $4 million and result in more delays (the project was slated to be finished eight years ago; construction is now set to begin in April 2010, and service would begin in the second quarter of 2012).

For more information, visit http://www.doitrighttacoma.blogspot.com/ .

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Sounder ‘berm’ opponents will meet Wednesday in Dome District (08/25/09)

Organizers behind ‘Do It Right Tacoma,’ a citizen group promoting post-and-beam construction instead of a berm to connect Sounder between the Dome District and South Tacoma and Lakewood announced today it will hold a citizen’s meeting and walking tour Weds., Aug. 26 at 5:00 p.m. The group will meet at 402 E. 26th St. For more information, visit http://doitrighttacoma.blogspot.com/ .

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One last pitch for alternative rail design through Dome District (07/28/09)

By Todd Matthews

Tacoma Dome District stakeholders turned out en masse Monday to oppose Sound Transit’s design plans for connecting commuter rail service from Tacoma Dome Station to South Tacoma and Lakewood.

The issue of how to achieve that goal is one that has pitted Dome District businesses and property owners against the regional transit agency for several years. Sound Transit plans to build wide berms through the district (specifically between South D Street and South M Street) in order to raise the tracks enough to build a bridge to cross over Pacific Avenue and climb South Tacoma Way toward Lakewood. Opponents want the agency to build post-and-beam structures instead because they would leave open space beneath the tracks and, they argue, create a more vibrant neighborhood for pedestrians, residents, small business owners, and even urban wildlife that pass through a gulch.

Yesterday morning, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy invited Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl and community members to discuss the plan and walk the proposed route.

“I’m a Tacoma resident,” said Earl in an effort to endear herself to the 100-plus people who squeezed into Freighthouse Square’s center lobby for the presentation. “I live in North Tacoma. I’m not a Seattle person. I’m a Tacoma person.”

Unfortunately for Earl, it wasn’t enough.

One group set up its own poster boards with photographs and design plans for the alternative post-and-beam design. A Dome District property owner suggested meeting with elected officials in Washington D.C. to try and secure more money to pay for the alternative design. And a candidate for mayor said Tacoma was being stuck with a cheaper design while cities such as Seattle and Tukwila receive Sound Transit’s full attention.

Originally, the plan had called for a $76 million project that would include an at-grade crossing through busy Pacific Avenue. However, the agency and Tacoma City Council moved to raise the tracks over Pacific Avenue, lower a section of Pacific Avenue to accommodate a bridge, and build berms for the rail line — nearly doubling the project to $151 million.

According to Earl, the post-and-beam alternative would cost another $4 million and result in more delays (the project was slated to be finished eight years ago; construction is now set to begin in April 2010, and service would begin in the second quarter of 2012).

Here are some of the comments made yesterday from a variety of stakeholders:

JONI EARL, SOUND TRANSIT CEO

1. What is the history of the project?

This started back with an [Environmental Impact Statement] back in 1997 and 1998. The EIS was finalized in 2002. That was the at-grade alignment that we moved off of in 2007 for a variety of reasons, one of which was safety issues on the grade that we determined during final design. Also, working with the City of Tacoma and the community, many people raised a lot of questions about the surface alignment. In 2007, the City of Tacoma and the Sound Transit Board reached an agreement about the alignment that’s grade separated along here.

2. What is the budget for the project?

When this project started back in 2007, the cost was $76 million. That was for the surface alignment. As we worked through issues, City Manager Eric Anderson and I worked on a term sheet on how we would do the project. The City Council approved that term sheet back in January 2008. So we have a term sheet about how we’re working together. During the course of the last two-and-a-half to three years, we had at least 30 meetings about the project.

Where we stand now is we were at $76 million with the at-grade alignment. Based upon conceptual cost estimates, the Sound Transit Board approved a budget of $151 million, which is about doubling it, in order to do the grade separated alignment that the city and the community wanted. We said at the very beginning and all along that we didn’t have that much money for the project. We have been working with the city and the state to get grant dollars in addition to the money we have. We have been pretty successful. Right now we have $129 million for the project confirmed, with a $22 million shortfall. We got some grants to make up for that. We’ve been trying to work very hard to keep within the $151 million. That’s where we stand on the budget side of the project.

Since 2008, after we went with the grade separation, we have been going through the design process. At 30 per cent design, which happened earlier this year, we got a new cost estimate. That cost estimate today is about $166 million. As you can see, we are about $15 million over. If we were to stay at that number, we would be $37 million short on the project.

We’ve been trying to work very hard to keep within the $151 million. That’s where we stand on the budget side of the project.

3. Why won’t Sound Transit go with a post-and-beam design rather than the berm design?

We looked all the way across the entire D-to-M, and we’ve got technical reports here. We have a bunch of copies and we can get more copies if you need them. We actually tasked [our technical staff] to look at post-and-beam on the entire alignment, in addition to the berm, in order to look at the feasibility. When Tacoma City Council took its most recent action, which was what we call the Gateway Concept, they specifically wanted a gateway concept along A Street and a post-and-beam bridge over Pacific Avenue. We agreed with that. That’s what is in the project. But they said [we want] post-and-beam where appropriate, and left that to the technical staff between the city and Sound Transit to work out. In order to make that determination, we looked at the entire alignment — post-and-beam and berm. The determination made was the only two places on the line that were even engineering-wise feasible for post-and-beam were under I-705 and along the D Street gulch. Everyplace else, you actually have to dig down just to create a hole in order to create a post-and-beam. From an engineering standpoint, it didn’t make a lot of sense. It doesn’t make sense in our view and from an engineering standpoint to dig a hole in order to build a bridge.

As we looked at the project and where was it feasible to do it and how do we do it, that’s how we arrived at the design we have today. The other thing to think about is with commuter rail, those are heavier trains than what you’ve seen out here with light rail. It’s a different structure. We have to meet all the seismic earthquake codes and clearance codes for what the federal government requires. So it’s not an insignificant post-and-beam. You have heavy rail riding on that track.

4. What will be the size of the berm?

There’s a difference between the size of the berm and the size of the right-of-way. What we’re getting is an 80-foot right-of-way. But we’re only building a single track from D-to-M. The reason for the 80 feet is to preserve the right-of-way in order to possibly, in the future, in the event there is somebody — not Sound Transit — Amtrak or somebody that believes we need to double-track. But that’s not what we’re doing.

5. Will there be fencing along the berm?

We do not intend to fence the berm at all. Where there is fencing now, most of the fencing has to do with Washington State Department of Transportation right-of-way that has to do with I-705. Where we would fence, and we’ve worked this out with the city, is after we complete the project. Where we have parcels that we own, that we don’t have another buyer for, parcels would be fenced, possibly. But not the berm. Not the right-of-way. The other place we have a fence is up behind the mission, and that’s because [the track is] just right behind the mission.

6. What about the streetscape and wildlife habitat in the area?

The city has a complete streets program. Along 25th and where we are doing the work, we are required to have — and do have in our plan — the streetscape the city requires, which is street trees and wide sidewalks. Where the D Street gulch is, the type of wildlife habitat is called “urban adaptive wildlife.” Those are raccoons, rats, possums, those types of urban wildlife. We have not been able to find any records of deer there. Back in 2000, when we did the EIS, [the gulch] has always been planned to be filled in. So the idea of it being filled today with this project is consistent with the plan all along. But there are culverts that go through that and feed into the Thea Foss Waterway. One of the things we are talking about is looking at the size of those culverts to [see if we can] go bigger for that urban adaptive wildlife that we found in the gulch.

7. How will the berm be maintained?

The concern I’ve heard is it won’t be maintained. It will grow crazy and wild. We need to work that out with the city on what those expectations will be.

KEITH STONE, DOME DISTRICT PROPERTY OWNER: If we could come up with the $4 to $6 million [need for post-and-beam] by going back [to Washington, D.C.], would you do the post-and-beam for us? The majority of Tacoma wants post-and-beam and we’re not being listened to. If we can help by taking a majority of the people back there and talk to Sen. Patty Murray or someone. Transit is getting a lot of grants right now.

PAT MCCARTHY, PIERCE COUNTY EXECUTIVE AND SOUND TRANSIT BOARD MEMBER: Keith, it’s funny. We’re starting this dialogue with East Link, which is going to Bellevue. I will tell you the entire Bellevue community is split on what they want to do. About half the people want to go with a tunnel, which is going to cost $700 million more. We’ve got half the people saying they like at-grade. But it’s time and money. We have to consider that. But that’s a decision that is up to the Sound Transit Board. My observation is the City of Tacoma has been engaged with Sound Transit. I almost feel like Sound Transit has been carrying a lot of the heavy water and doing the heavy lifting. But the City of Tacoma has been engaged. I think it’s advocates and people who have said, ‘We want a gateway.’ That made all the difference in the world. But it added another $70 million on to this project. At some point in time, we’re going to have to move forward. I think that’s the reality. The answer to your question is that it’s up to the Sound Transit Board. That’s something we would have to deliberate. Would we put ourselves in a position to lose some of the other funding that is queued up and ready to go? And are we going to get to Lakewood? I can assure you the Lakewood folks are concerned about that.

STONE: But we’re not split on this issue in Tacoma. We want post-and-beam.

JORI ADKINS, DOME DISTRICT COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: First of all, here’s a picture of a deer going across the tracks and trying to get up the tracks. But I think the big thing I want to say has to do with post-and-beam. It has to do with Sound Transit’s drawings of post-and-beam and our vision of post-and-beam. We do not envision post-and-beam being posts that are 100 feet apart that make up a bridge that has to be really thick. We’re envisioning a post-and-beam that looks like what’s one 26th or any other overbridge that has posts that are about 30 feet apart, which means the bridge could be a lot thinner. We also don’t envision, even though we talked about post-and-beaming the whole thing, we’re not saying it has to be clear underneath. It can be backfilled. What we’re asking for is a track that is self-supportive. We’re asking for a track that is post-and-beam because it is self-supporting and you can build up close to those tracks. We cannot find one developer that will take on land that is near tracks, which is what the Dome District really wants. We want to be a transit-oriented developed district. To do that, we need to take the land next to that track and build next to it and up to it so we can have retail on the street, parking behind it protected from the track, and we have housing on top. This can’t happen if you berm out.

JONI EARL, SOUND TRANSIT CEO: Two comments. First, our posts are about 50 to 55 feet apart, not 100 feet. The second thing is that when the consultants looked at the opportunity for economic development and the ability to get closer to the track, we allowed a developer to go into the berm. That’s something the city specifically asked for language on that we would allow somebody to go in. From a flexibility standpoint, it’s our belief that you have more flexibility for the developers with the berm.

JIM MERRITT, CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR OF TACOMA: I took a train ride last Saturday from Tukwila to downtown Seattle. I specifically wanted to know — and looked out the window the whole time — how it was holding track. From Tukwila, it is on structure essentially all the way to Martin Luther King. There is not one foot of fill. There are places in Tukwila that certainly could have been like Tacoma. My question is, ‘Why does Tacoma have to accept an inferior solution?’

JONI EARL, SOUND TRANSIT CEO:There are actually seven structures along the 14-mile alignment that are earthen. The track is on it. Because we had very limited right-of-way to operate on, there are walls. In some places, they’re fenced. But there are actually seven parts of that alignment that have some type of an earthen structure holding it up. But they are contained with the retaining walls. Quite frankly, the retaining walls, years ago when we were in front of City Council, that was one of the things the city didn’t want. A bunch of retaining walls.

For photographs of yesterday’s meeting and walking tour, visit the Index’s blog at http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/

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Sound Transit, Dome District stakeholders will discuss D-to-M Street route today (07/27/09)

***UPDATE*** For photos of this morning’s meeting and walking tour, visit the Index’s blog at http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/photos-sound-transit-dome-district/ .

Sound Transit will host a public meeting this morning to discuss a plan to connect a new commuter rail line between Tacoma Dome Station and Lakewood Station. According to a July 17 letter from Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma and City Manager Eric Anderson to the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and local members of the Sound Transit Board of Directors have asked to meet with Dome District residents/property owners and the Tacoma community to discuss their plan for the D-To-M Street Sounder Extension and take a walking tour of the proposed route.

Some Dome District stakeholders have expressed concern that the proposed “Gateway Concept,” which calls for an earthen embankment through the district and a bridge over Pacific Avenue, would not serve a vibrant, walkable, transit-oriented community. They have proposed post-and-beam construction to keep the neighborhood intact and allow for the movement of people and wildlife.

The public meeting and walking tour will be held Mon., July 27 at 9:00 a.m. It will be held in Freighthouse Square’s center lobby, 802 E. 25th St., Tacoma.

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Trouble Crossing: A conversation with architect, planning commissioner David Boe (10/12/07)

By Todd Matthews, Editor

Tacoma resident and architect David Boe has become very familiar with the city’s Comprehensive Plan. During a recent meeting at his downtown architecture firm, he drops a thick, heavy (and heavily flagged) binder, which contains the plan, onto a conference room table and cracks it open. “Here it is,” he says, as though it’s the Holy Grail.

To anyone interested in urban planning, it is.

It’s the document that guides the city’s planning future. And it’s the document that Boe has pointed to in his effort to raise an alarm over Sound Transit’s plan to build an elevated bridge over Pacific Avenue to link Sounder commuter service between Tacoma Dome Station and Lakewood Station.

Supporters say the connection was promised to commuters in Lakewood, and the project is overdue. Opponents say Sound Transit’s plan violates the Comprehensive Plan, and that promise was made using an existing rail line; a new rail line and an elevated bridge will knock out businesses in the Dome District and have negative impact on the neighborhood for a century or more.

No one has been a more visible opponent than Boe, who is vice-chair of the City of Tacoma’s Planning Commission. In July, he wrote a lengthy editorial in The News Tribune opposing Sound Transit’s plan and urging city leaders to pressure the agency to look at other alternatives. He has also drawn maps and hosted walking tours to illustrate the project’s impact on the neighborhood: can you imagine a wall rising 12 feet to a bridge over Pacific Avenue? How about increased diesel train activity through the Dome District? What about the infrastructure headache involved with lowering a section of Pacific Avenue to dip beneath the train’s bridge crossing?

Boe’s first introduction to the city’s Comprehensive Plan occurred five years ago, when his firm was designing Rainier Pacific Bank’s downtown headquarters at South 15th Street and Pacific Avenue.

It was the first new public building to go through the city’s Destination Downtown code — a planning policy geared to foster projects that create a lively downtown. “In the process of going through that code, we realized there were inconsistencies,” he explains. “There were code requirements that were actually contradictory to each other, and the general policies of the Comprehensive Plan.”

At issue: a requirement of only one curb cut per development, unless the project had over 200 parking stalls. Boe and his client tried to get a variance, but found the policy inflexible. They considered going through a public process to change the code, but that would delay the project two years.

“So Rainier Pacific ended up building more parking than it needed to or should have provided by common sense,” says Boe, who still stands behind the project, but wishes it could have offered more. “It meant we couldn’t have retail all along Pacific Avenue or all along Commerce Street, which is what the client wanted. That building is not the building it could have been because of code requirements in the city.”

The experience spurred Boe to join the all-volunteer Planning Commission and provide an architects expertise.

Today, his concerns about Sounder crossing Pacific Avenue come at a time when residents and some City Councilmembers are questioning whether Sound Transit’s projects have Tacoma’s best interests in mind.

On Sept. 12, the city council’s environment and public works committee recommended the City hire an independent consultant to examine alternatives to Sound Transit’s plan. The decision came at the end of a spirited meeting with the mayor, some councilmembers, and a group of Dome District business leaders who oppose the bridge crossing.

This week, City Council faced two competing resolutions supporting and opposing Sound Transit’s $18 billion (in 2006 dollars; approximately $47 billion, say some experts, if you account for inflation and a rise in construction costs) Proposition 1 — the so-called “Roads and Transit” package that will implement new sales and motor vehicle taxes, and whose fate will be decided by voters Nov. 6. The opposition resolution was more of a statement against Sound Transit’s treatment of the city.

The Index met Boe recently to discuss his thoughts on urban planning and concerns over Sounder crossing Pacific Avenue.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: How did you first get involved in this issue of Sounder crossing Pacific Avenue?

DAVID BOE: When reviewing another project, I stumbled onto the transportation element of the Comprehensive Plan. The plan is a vision of where the city is going. I started reading these things about multi-modal transportation: how it’s supposed to be designed to foster economic development; how it’s supposed to be beautiful, engaging, and express the character of the surrounding context that it is being put into. Subsequently, looking at what Sound Transit was proposing on the rail extension, it didn’t seem to be doing that. It seemed to be doing the contrary. It was not respecting the character of the place. It was not something that was designed to foster economic development. So I asked the question of City staff, ‘Does this come before the planning commission?’ [My thought was that Sound Transit] would have to come in and modify the Comprehensive Plan to make it consistent with what it wanted to do, which is what private individuals are required to do. The staff said, ‘No.’ I was surprised at that. On my own, I wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council expressing my concern.

INDEX: You are the one, more than anyone else, whose name is attached to this issue, and has really taken the lead on raising concerns. Would you agree with that?

BOE: I think in some ways, I may have a little more passion about this issue because of my past experience. Between 1987 and 1989, I was the Docklands Light Railway coordinator in London for the Canary Wharf Station. I’m an architect, but for two years I was coordinating the design of this light rail station as it went from one side of the dock to the other side of the dock. I got an understanding about how these things are designed, and how engineers design them. What I was really impressed with was that this project had an urban design consultant from London Transport who was part of all the design decision-making. When the engineers would come solve the issue very straight-forward — ‘Oh, my rail line has to be at 2.85 percent, and that’s how I get that gradient’ — the urban design fellow would say, ‘Whoa! You may have solved the engineering issue, but you’ve just created a whole ton of urban design issues.’ I think that’s why, on the planning commission especially on this issue, I may be a little more vocal about it. But I also think part of it is just having the confidence on the commission that I can raise these issues. I must admit that I was impressed that the city councilmembers on the environment and public works committee who basically congratulated the planning commission chair and myself for bringing this up. We don’t have to necessarily always follow staff protocol. If we see issues, as guardians of the Comprehensive Plan, that seem to be amiss, we shouldn’t have our hands slapped down for raising them up and saying, ‘There’s an issue here.’

INDEX: One push-back to the demand that Sound Transit look at alternatives for Sounder crossing Pacific Avenue is affordability. Tacoma doesn’t have the ridership or budget to demand some of the changes Seattle has demanded of Sound Transit from its light rail line. Have you heard that argument? What do you think about it?

BOE: I’ve heard that argument. In which case, you start to wonder, ‘Why are we doing this at all?’ That push-back is, when you look at the ridership projected for this Lakewood expansion and the cost, it doesn’t pencil. If you were a project developer, you would say, ‘It’s not even close.’ So you’re going to spend millions and millions of dollars to basically amp up a little bit of the ridership. That doesn’t make fiscal sense. And especially when you think, ‘OK, are we really servicing the transit needs?’ You start to look at the realities of those heavy Sounder lines, and you start to wonder, ‘Maybe that doesn’t make any sense. Because if we don’t have the ridership for it, maybe we should develop a system that can have that kind of ridership.’ That push-back that we have to look at affordability for what our ridership is [makes you ask], ‘Should we really be extending that heavy rail at all?’ It’s the only heavy rail that Sound Transit is developing. Another push-back is people say, ‘This is our mandate. People voted on this, we have to complete this.’ Wait. Go back and look at your mandate. You said that on Sounder, you were going to use existing rail line and work with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and other rail providers to increase the maintenance and coordination of existing rail line. Go to Lakewood on existing rail lines. That’s what the mandate said. When you are basically changing the infrastructure, it better be worth it. But what I’m hearing is that we can’t afford it because there isn’t the ridership. Then maybe it’s not worth it.

INDEX: So, you’re saying don’t build it in the first place?

BOE: Well . . . It’s going to be a diesel train. We are increasing the amount of diesel trains that are running through our city, for a ridership that’s not in capacity of the trains running through the city.

INDEX: The other argument — and you touched on it — is that Lakewood is waiting for this, and every delay means a rise in construction cost. But you seem to be asking, ‘Why are we doing it in the first place?’

BOE: Well, [why are we doing] this exact type of system? I think the city manager right now is coming onboard with the streetcar system. I don’t think you make 100-year decisions saying, ‘We promised this to Lakewood, we have to get it out there to Lakewood, and we have our timeline and rising construction costs.’ If this did not have such a potential disastrous impact to Tacoma, I would say, ‘OK. Fine. Use the existing rail.’ Sound Transit can go and make improvements to the rail up the valley and connect through. That’s how Tacoma Rail right now services its customers in Nalley Valley. Tacoma Rail doesn’t go across Pacific Avenue. If you want to do it in the least obtrusive way, go up the valley. Again, you may have promised service to Lakewood, but you’ve promised, what, 500 riders? Is that worth Tacoma taking it in the shorts for 500 people in Lakewood? I would argue that’s probably not a good trade. Once you’ve done that, there’s no going back. And the construction cost alone of lowering Pacific Avenue and South Tacoma Way and 26th Street — you’re shutting that whole area down for at least a year. You have to lower all the infrastructure and all those pipes. For 500 riders, run up the valley. That’s a no-brainer.

INDEX: Clearly, there’s tension right now between some people in Tacoma, particularly in the Dome District, and Sound Transit. Do you think Sound Transit has run roughshod over Tacoma, and Seattle has gotten its way with projects in a way Tacoma hasn’t?

BOE: My feeling is that there aren’t a lot of people on City Council working in private business. They are more in the public agency or non-profit [arenas]. I think the council sometimes trusts consultants, staff, and planners more than it maybe should, and that’s not trying to cast evil in any way. It’s just like, ‘Well, we had a study on it. We had public meetings on it. It’s gone around the circuit. It must be OK.’ When it comes to some of these issues, you really need a different perspective. I would say Tacoma’s leadership hasn’t always held the bar to a higher level, especially when public money is involved. Being from the private practice and doing primarily private architecture and commercial architecture, I’ve seen the bar held to a certain height for private development, but lowered for public development. I personally believe it should be the other way around. If it’s public money, you don’t do it on the cheap because it’s public investment into your city. I look at Stadium High School and its renovation, and the amount of money spent. Any sensible person would say they never should have renovated that hotel into a school. Some people would say this latest renovation was just completely stupid. It’s public money — you should put in portables and make it as cheap as possible. But you look at that high school and say, ‘No, that’s a commitment to the city, the school district, and the high school.’ You really should build some quality in. If you look at something like [Sounder crossing Pacific Avenue], it isn’t a short-term solution. It’s going to have a lasting impact on the city and how people perceive the city.

David Boe has sketched his concerns for Sounder moving through the Dome District and across Pacific Avenue.

To view the rail line as it exists today, click here:

http://www.kevinfreitas.net/img/20070926-sounder-train-extension-before-big.jpg

To view Boe’s sketch of the impacts as proposed, click here:

http://www.kevinfreitas.net/img/20070926-sounder-train-extension-after-big.jpg

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City appears poised to endorse Dome District Sounder route (02/14/07)

By Todd Matthews, Editor

Discussion Tuesday during a study session at City Hall indicated that Tacoma City Council will likely endorse a Sound Transit Sounder route that threatens the future of several downtown businesses.

The plan, one of four alternative routes connecting the Dome District to South Tacoma and Lakewood, and ranging from an at-grade, $42 million line to a $240 million tunnel, calls for constructing a route that would cross Pacific Avenue between South 25th and South 26th Streets, and travel along South Tacoma Way. It’s a route that runs directly through a handful of businesses, including Tacoma Travel Lodge, Eagle Tire, Paramount Electric Co., and Star Ice & Fuel.

Last year, members of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects worked pro bono on a proposed a plan to build a tunnel underneath Pacific Avenue. They hoped to lessen the impact on local businesses. Sound Transit officials yesterday said the plan, which is estimated to cost $240 million, was too expensive.

“Each route has its own issues,” said Sound Transit project manager Mark Johnson. “If how to minimize the impact on Pacific Avenue was the only issue, we would probably build a tunnel. But there is a lot of issues we have to balance.”

The proposed $92 million rail line would reroute South Tacoma Way to meet Pacific Avenue at South 27th Street, close a portion of A Street and South C Street, and create a rail overpass on Pacific Avenue If the route is endorsed by the Sound Transit Board of Directors, service could start as soon as 2011. On Feb. 22, the Sound Transit Board will hear a staff report on the issue.

“I’m hoping the board will make a decision in April,” said Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl.

Still, another hurdle is cost: the original, at-grade-crossing plan was funded at $42 million (city leaders oppose it because it would stop traffic along Pacific Avenue). The proposed plan would cost $50 million more.

“It’s still a stretch to find all the money, but it’s the best chance we have of getting something approved and funded,” said Councilmember Tom Stenger.

Last week, city staff endorsed the plan during the Council’s environment and public works committee meeting. At that meeting, the route also received support from the Coalition for Nalley Valley Business Development. “We simply do not have a second choice as a recommendation,” coalition president Kevin Mauermann told committee members.

Though support exists, it’s hardly overwhelming. Most business owners and councilmembers realize the route is inevitable, and likely puts in jeopardy the future of several businesses. Moreover, several local business owners wrote letters to City Council outlining their concerns about impacts on businesses, traffic, and area environment.
Dome District stakeholders appear most concerned.

“I think the Dome District is struggling,” said Pierson Clair, President and CEO of Brown & Haley, which is located adjacent to the proposed Sounder line. Clair spoke during an afternoon meeting of the city’s community and economic development department. “It’s difficult to get your head around the impact of this.”

Dome District development director Lynn Thompson echoed that concern.

“I think it’s in the best interest for the City of Tacoma to sit down and look at how to lessen the impact of what happens in the Dome District,” said Thompson. She asked the committee to help fund a plan to hire a consultant to examine how to mitigate what impact the proposed route would have on the district.

That request was denied.

“I think we’re all adjusting to the reality of the discussion we had today,” said Ryan Petty, the city’s community and economic development director.

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