Tacoma's $9.5M Stadium Way improvement project delayed

An underground heating oil tank discovered near the former Elk’s property in downtown Tacoma has unexpectedly delayed an estimated $9.5 million project to upgrade a large section of Stadium Way, the City of Tacoma’s Public Works director reported this week.

In an Oct. 5 memo to interim City Manager Rey Arellano, Public Works Director Richard McKinley reported that his staff had performed due diligence for environmental issues and was on track to advertise the project for bid this month when the heating tank was discovered on June 17. Staff notified the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), according to McKinley, and the tank was emptied on July 1. The preliminary Environmental Classification Summary (ECS), a requirement that needed to be filed with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to obtain a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permit, was updated to reflect the discovery and the action taken. As part of the updated ECS, staff submitted a “Low Level Hazardous Material Documentation Report” to WSDOT for approval. Once approved, WSDOT was expected to include it with the ECS and request approval from FHWA. Once approved by the FHWA, Public Works would be allowed to advertise the project.

“Public Works had several conversations with WSDOT about the ECS and the City’s pending approval,” wrote McKinley in the Oct. 5 memo. “On several occasions, City staff expressed its intent to advertise the project in October and asked if this process would prevent the City from meeting this deadline. Although the WSDOT had not given any guarantees, it appeared we would have approval in time to advertise the project. On Fri., Sept. 23, 2011, WSDOT informed the City that the approvals would not be granted in time to advertise the project this month.”

Parametrix, a firm hired by the City to assist with the ECS and NEPA permitting, is currently working on the revised ECS and anticipates it will be completed and submitted within the next two weeks, according to McKinley. “In conversations with WSDOT, it will take 6 to 12 weeks to obtain all of the approvals necessary to advertise the project,” McKinley added. “As a result of this delay and because we only allow limited construction activity during the winter months, it is likely construction of the Stadium Way project won’t begin until sometime in late winter or the early spring of 2012.”

The tank’s discovery surprised the City. “Staff reviewed the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Web site to evaluate if there were any storage tanks in the area,” McKinley explained. “The review indicated the closest tank to be about 400 feet from the project. Parametrix, as part of their process to obtain NEPA, also researched whether or not there were storage tanks and did not identify any in the area. In addition, while coordinating with the Elk’s project, staff requested any information they may have found pertaining to underground storage tanks. The research they conducted for their lender did not identify any tanks in the area.”

The Stadium Way Street Improvement Project — which stretches from South 9th Street and Commerce Street through the intersection of Division Avenue and North E Street, and ends at the intersection of North 1st Street and Tacoma Avenue — includes the complete removal of existing pavement, grind and overlay; upgrades to street lighting, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, and other utilities; construction of a new pavement section and sidewalks; improvements to Americans with Disabilities Accessibility, addition of bike lanes and other Complete Streets concepts such as green areas and rain gardens. The project will also include left turn-lanes where necessary and the rehabilitation of an old retaining wall along Schuster Parkway, near Interstate 705. The project is designed to provide for the future construction of an extension of the LINK Light Rail System in Stadium Way, if that should be the proposed street car alignment. The project was expected to be completed by November 2012.

For now, the City of Tacoma is expected to take the following steps to inform the public of the project’s delay: update the project’s Web site ( http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?nid=1013 ); mail postcards to all property owners within one block of the project; staff will attend the next Downtown Merchants Group meeting and Stadium Way Business District meeting; an e-mail will be sent to all who have given staff their email address; and staff will continue to work with the City’s community relations department to provide updates when needed.

To read the Oct. 5 memo from Public Works Director Richard McKinley, click here (pgs. 5-6) — http://cms.cityoftacoma.org/cityclerk/Files/CityCouncil/CMOWeeklyReport/2011/WklyReport20111006.pdf