As a regular reader who lives in Downtown Tacoma, I’m always excited to see articles that address the challenges and opportunities in our city. The recent article proposing a Central Tacoma Link Extension (CTLE) to improve transit service into Downtown Tacoma was no different. However, I’d like to present a different solution for how to effectively bring mass transit into Central Tacoma: improve the Sounder by offering regular service throughout the day.

While the CTLE proposal makes sense if you think of Central Link as the main means of transit between Tacoma and Seattle, utilizing the Sounder makes for a more sensible connection. The Central Link primarily serves car-dependent suburbs that developed around SR-99, while the route Sounder runs along serves historically transit-oriented downtowns, such as Puyallup, Sumner, and Auburn. More importantly, improving intercity heavy rail with complementary streetcar systems at each end is simply a more effective arrangement given heavy rail’s speed advantage over light rail.

Sounder commuter rail runs along serves historically transit-oriented downtowns, such as Puyallup, Sumner, and Auburn, pictured above. (Credit: Explore Auburn)

The Sounder very well may continue to be the main means of transportation by rail between Tacoma and Seattle even after Central Link is built out, meaning that extending the Central Link to Tacoma’s Commercial Core wouldn’t actually eliminate the transfer even for people making use of the extension. It already takes 40 minutes on Link light rail to get from King Street Station to the current light rail final stop at Angle Lake, so it should take around 80 minutes to get to Tacoma Dome Station from King Street Station. Meanwhile, the Sounder takes slightly less than an hour, which means that even once light rail is completed, it will be faster to take the Sounder, transfer to the T Line, and then take the T Line into Downtown Tacoma than it would be to ride light rail from Seattle to the Tacoma Dome station — assuming the trip fits Sounder’s more limited schedule. After factoring in potential wait times, running Sounder at a half hour headway would still be about as fast as Link light rail.

Price is also a major consideration. The CTLE proposal estimates spending $200 million dollars in order to expand Central Link’s route to one existing streetcar stop in Downtown Tacoma and to add a new light rail stop replacing the only greenspace in the area. Considering the high price tag, and the placement half a block east of the existing line, this would be difficult to get voters behind. Furthermore, if Sound Transit were able to secure funds, the money would be far better spent on expanding the walkshed of high capacity rail transit. For about the same price as the CTLE, almost two miles of track could be built into one of the many historic and dense neighborhoods of Tacoma currently unserved by rail transit, such as through 6th Avenue to the University of Puget Sound.

Walkable 6th Avenue in Tacoma is home to many small businesses and would benefit from increased transit service. (Credit: 6th Avenue Facebook Group)

Stopping Link light rail at Tacoma Dome station doesn’t preclude stopping in Downtown Tacoma because it is already technically in Downtown. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) includes it in the Downtown Tacoma regional growth area in their Vision 2050 plan. While it’s easy to think of the Dome District as just the Dome with ugly acreage of asphalt moat, we are still (at least) eight years out from the Link project’s completion, and new construction will most likely accelerate until that point. There are already about 10 to 15 square blocks of proper urban development to the north of the Dome that already has a higher density than some other areas of Downtown Tacoma, including the area up the hill from University of Washington Tacoma (UWT). In isolation this business district north of the dome has a comparable building density to the Hilltop business district, both areas being dominated by low rise commercial buildings with some undeveloped lots punctuated by a few taller buildings.

Currently the City of Tacoma hasn’t adequately upzoned the area and chooses to maintain massive surface parking lots for the Tacoma Dome. If they were to upzone, there isn’t much reason why a similar rapid urbanization of a light industrial and commercial area into a dense urban jobs center couldn’t occur in the Dome District much like it did in South Lake Union in Seattle, albeit at a smaller scale. It’s an obvious location for transportation and logistics oriented office space, especially with its existing status as a major transit hub for commuters and proximity to major industries within the Port. It’s worth pointing out other large areas of Downtown Tacoma, most notably UWT, have already been completely transformed before. It could be effectively marketed as an industrial hub for logistics management, with this transformation potentially catalyzed by a purposeful relocation of Pierce Transit or Tacoma Rail’s headquarters.

Map shows a high speed rail mainline from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon. Also shows secondary lines serving Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and Yakima in Easter Washington.
Cascadia Rail’s 2019 high speed rail vision map. (Oran Viriyincy)

To move even a step further into the future, Tacoma Dome Station is also the city’s most likely location for a stop on Cascadia High Speed Rail (HSR). While Cascadia HSR would impact Sounder service for the other stops along the line if they shared a route, it would be the best commuting option from Tacoma to Seattle if priced using Sounder’s fare schedule, as is already done with Amtrak Cascades along the north Sounder route. This arrangement would form a two tier system, with faster intercity heavy rail in the form of HSR or Sounder that interchanges with a local streetcar system at either end. Riders will probably prefer the transfer to a faster commute compared to a slower direct route to an area of Downtown Tacoma they probably don’t live in.

One last important point to raise is that routing Link light rail to a dead end in Downtown Tacoma basically guarantees it would be the final stop, which is mutually exclusive with further Link expansion. The primary concern is that it would eliminate an excellent opportunity to extend high capacity rail transit to the Tacoma Mall area, Tacoma’s other PSRC defined growth area. The Tacoma Mall and its surrounding area has been plagued by it’s car dependent design since its inception as a retail alternative to Downtown for people who need parking, but routing the Central Link another few miles along I-5 to stop at the mall’s transit center could be the catalyst for a similar transformation to what we’re currently seeing in the Northgate area. It could also effectively serve the moderately dense, though poorly laid out, housing of the area. This plan would also roughly reflect Seattle Subway’s proposal. Given the lack of other rail connections, the mall’s elevation relative to the nearest rail, and Central Link’s clear design intent to parallel Interstate 5, this is the most practical way to bring high capacity rail transit to the mall.

The Tacoma Mall area is designated as an urban regional growth center in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2050. (Credit: Puget Sound Regional Council)

Thus, looking at the situation holistically, the best investment is to connect Downtown Tacoma to Downtown Seattle with more regular Sounder service throughout the day. The trips would be faster for commuters, and the cost savings could be invested in Link light rail expansion serving additional areas of Tacoma, or to expand the T Line streetcar system to access more historic streetcar suburbs. Future connection with Cascadia HSR at the Tacoma Dome Station could also really leverage the speed advantages of heavy rail in the network.

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Jeremiah Thomas (Guest Contributor)

Jeremiah Thomas is a resident of Downtown Tacoma with a deep interest in improving the region’s urban form and walkability. He works as a Union Concrete Carpenter and is excited by the opportunities to actively participate in building a better landscape. As a regular transit rider, his proudest work has been for Sound Transit's subcontractors, most prominently including the concrete staircases for the new Judkin’s Park station.

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AJ M

routing the Central Link another few miles along I-5 to stop at the Mall’s transit center could be the catalyst for a similar transformation to what we’re currently seeing in the Northgate area

Ugh, no. At least Northgate had destinations west of I5 (notably the college). The Tacoma Mall footprint is entirely west of I5. Any HCT alignment (it could be Link, Streetcar, or Stride) between the Mall and the Tacoma Dome should leverage the ST owned ROW through the Nalley Valley and then approach the mall along Pine (or nearby), not I5.

AJ M

routing Link light rail to a dead end in Downtown Tacoma basically guarantees it would be the final stop, which is mutually exclusive with further Link expansion.

I disagree. It’s plausible to have a junction west of the Dome, where some trains go downtown and others head west. Given this will be a branch of a branch, I don’t think this is a good idea unless there are other investments that boost frequency on the spine south of ID, but just wanted to point out dead-ending into downtown is not mutually exclusive with Link expansion to the west.

It’s also plausible that if light rail displaces Tacoma streetcar’s routing into downtown, the streetcar could then be the mode to serve the Mall. A tram-train that runs on rails through Nalley Valley (using the existing Sounder ROW) and then at grade (but reserved ROW) through the Mall could be a very compelling solution to connecting Tacoma Mall to Tacoma Downtown (though I don’t know what would happen to T-Link’s phase II operations; is that interlined with the LRT, orphaned, or abandoned?)

Jeremiah Thomas

While technically possible to build a separate branch to provide mall service, I think the main barrier isn’t so much the new routing through downtown as much as it is the change in grade. An elevated station can be routed onto a grade separated line adjacent to I-5, while it’s not clear how an at-grade line would be routed given the severe elevation changes in the area. Granted, it’s also not entirely clear how an elevated rail line would be routed around the elevated freeway interchanges that would be along this route. I did consider using the Point Defiance bypass, but the difference in elevation between it and the mall area is simply too great for rail transit to handle.

AJ M

Fair – I’m a bit perplexed on why the proposed alignments have the Tacoma Dome station elevated, as that seems like it would make it difficult for Link to cross under/over 705.

For the grade difference between the Sounder alignment (I think that’s the same as the Point Defiance bypass?) and the Mall, once Link turns south away from that alignment, couldn’t it simply be in a trench as it climbs the grade? A trench would facilitate grade separation, going under Tacoma Way etc., and the station(s) could even retained cut like East Link’s Spring District/120th station, if that’s what the grade change requires.

Troy Serad

Jeremiah, we are united in thought more than we disagree.

Link light rail is without doubt an unsatisfactory regional rail service, with dismal travel times relative to the 1902 interurban, and featuring far poorer alignments and station locations. As a tool to construct an effective rail spine, upend travel mode shares and connect our cities, it fails. However, Link is what we are being given to work with and, as the title of my original blog piece conveys, “If Link to Tacoma Must Be Built, Do It Right: Send Trains Into the City Center“. If we are to be stuck with an underperforming, hugely expensive light rail line as our regional rail provider, at least send it to Downtown Tacoma to ensure that it provides some local utility beyond suburban park-n-ride transfers. The CTLE proposal exists only to salvage a bad rail program.

With regards to Sounder improvements, these are critical to any rail-based interconnected region. I have been researching and writing about the SPIRE Region Rail Plan for seven years now, imploring decision-makers to first gain control over BNSF trackage through a public-private-partnership with that railroad and UPRR, and then to incrementally upgrade the line into an urban high-speed rail line (100-125mph, max). Even without improvements to support faster trains, just being in possession of this section of redundant mainline trackage would be transformational. Your article adeptly explains the inherent value of an improved Sounder South.

However, I have broached the subject of SPIRE with the office of the governor, the speaker of the State house, State rail directors, U.S. senators, port officials and with Sound Transit members, only to have nothing come of it. The reaction to the plan is generally positive as it is a no-brainer, but no one wants to negotiate with the private railways. Despite the fact that Sound Transit and other area megaprojects get 10, 15 and 25-year implementation time-frames, and despite the fact that there already exist publicly financed projects that have realigned private rail systems for public and private benefit, neither the State nor Sound Transit have ever publicly considered making key rail improvements to secure this 27-mile BNSF right-of-way for the public. It is literally the case that building greenfield rail alignments is preferred over partnering with the freight railroads for better rail operations. And as Sound Transit has pushed twenty-minute headways for the rush hour that just wreck BNSF operations during those times— versus modestly less frequent but all day service—BNSF of course plays hardball and Sounder gets the shaft. Et voila, we get parasitic Link investments that are political and financial capital-busting, all to serve Tacoma Dome Station twice. True high-speed rail in the PNW is pure fantasy, as evidenced by our inability to pay for the logical and basic improvements proposed by the 2006 Cascades Long Range Plan. Still, any real high-performance rail proposal will never happen without SPIRE. 

Finally, absolutely, cancel the South 19th Street LRT project. What a waste. Definitely send trains, if we have to, down 6th Avenue….but good luck with that. I questioned Pierce Transit (not ST) planners on why that avenue was not slated for even BRT improvements, and, without missing a beat, said “right-of-way constraints”, as if having to build within a denser and popular neighborhood was an intelligent reason to avoid it with high-capacity transit. 

AJ M

Wouldn’t running Sounder all day be more disruptive to BNSF operations than just running frequent trains at peak and letting BNSF move freight during the rest of the day? The likely outcome of ST3 is 15 minute frequency at peak. Unless you think the commute window will disappear, it seems more important to resolve the long term peak capacity issues on travel in/out of Seattle from Pierce & SW King than to make modest improvements in midday transit … I’d rather have all-day frequent bus routes connecting Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, and Kent to the Link spine than a 30 minute commuter train route; low frequency, long distance commute train routes have always had anemic ridership outside of peak; all-day Sounder isn’t worthwhile unless ST can run it at good frequency. When the immense capacity of Sounder isn’t needed to prevent overcrowding on Link, it’s better to just run a frequent bus network instead of an infrequent train.

If all-day Sounder can be implemented in the context of a megaproject like HSR, great, but spending billions to create a 30-minute headway service seems like a poor investment. I don’t know where you are getting your figures, but it strikes me a blindingly obvious that extending Link 10 miles south FW is far cheaper than creating new rail ROW the entire length of Sounder, unless you hand-wave away ROW costs.

Troy A Serad

AJ M, it all depends upon the Sounder headways. With greater passenger frequencies, freight operations are halted due to track capacity and speed differential issues. With reduced headways spread throughout the day, the operations can better coexist. Sending fast passenger trains every twenty minutes, one-way, on a largely two-track mainline effectively shuts down cargo operations. I have had contacts with rail planners who negotiated operations for this system, and ST had the ability to secure all-day service and instead pushed for rush-hour only. Apparently those negotiations were unpleasant. This is why Sounder services cannot be easily expanded today, and why the triple tracking effort was required on key portions of the corridor.

Regardless, the SPIRE regional rail proposal isn’t a plan to just add more daily trains, it is to heavily invest in the redundant, parallel UPRR mainline for freight operations in effort to secure the BNSF mainline for passenger trains. People are overwhelmed by the prospect of such a proposal, despite the fact that it is rather straightforward and has been done elsewhere. At the same time, those same individuals often suggest a frivolous high-speed train system that somehow reaches from PDX to VAC, as if that is imminently reasonable and feasible. The ultimate goal of SPIRE is total separation so that the BNSF line, which serves the historic and established valley cities of the Puget Sound, can be improved and electrified for urban high speed rail (again, this being 125-mph max for express trains, not the 220-mph science fiction of some dreamers). This would indeed cost billions of dollars, mainly for grade separations and the relocation of some rail facilities, but this could be achieved with incremental investment over 10 to 25-year timeframes.

If SPIRE was realized, the current BNSF line would become a passenger-dedicated rail corridor that could host passenger trains every couple of minutes or better. All the links I provided for my response to Jeremiah elaborate on these items in detail. The trade-off you wrote about is not what is being proposed by me or SPIRE. Instead, I have long advocated for serious Sounder investments that would have taken the place of Link, which should really terminate at Federal Way.

AJ M

I fully support the long term goal of SPIRE, and the idea of investing in UP certainly seems clever (I have no technical expertise to opine further). I don’t agree that a steady roll out of all-day Sounder should have been prioritized over getting Link to Tacoma (I think Link’s frequency is preferable to Sounder’s end-to-end speed for all-day service, and if Link to FW is a ‘sunk cost,’ completing the Spine is cheaper to build & operate than all-day diesel Sounder), but I think there are good arguments on both sides on whether Pierce should have prioritize the I5 Link or BNSF Sounder as the ‘Spine.’ I definitely lean towards getting TDLE completed given the complete absence on consensus around SPIRE, but if we had a time machine to get back to 2006 or earlier, I think it would be a fascinating discussion on the best approach.

Where you lose me, however, is thinking that ST staff made the wrong choice at the beginning picking rush hour over all day service. South Sounder has been a clear success and without COVID was on track to exceed capacity of 8-car trains in the near future. For the same(ish) cost, I don’t think an all-day service would have had nearly the same success. What level of bidirectional frequency would Sounder have today if it had gone the all-day route?

If 20 minute bi-direction service effectively shuts down freight operations during that window, then shouldn’t that mean running 15-minutes or less in the same window involve minimal incremental disruption to freight operations? ST writing checks and investing in triple tracking, etc. to dominate the BNSF ROW during specific time windows seems like a good phase I of SPIRE? I’d like ST to first get to 15 minute direction headways in its existing time windows and then, over time, expand its span of service to cover most of the day, perhaps by using the approach you’ve laid out with SPIRE.

Last edited 1 month ago by AJ McGauley
Jeremiah Thomas

I appreciate the response. I had read your writing on the SPIRE plan before writing this and I think it is an excellent transit plan, very much in line with what I have proposed here. I’ve done some research into acquiring the the BNSF line outright through eminent domain, but that’s technically a regulation only the surface transportation board could impose, which means Sounder is almost completely at the whims of BNSF. Ultimately I think expecting regular Sounder service is utopian, the only way I see it happening is if Sound Transit built it’s own Rail parallel to the current BNSF line which would be cost prohibitive.
I think one of the main points where our views diverge is with regards to the Dome District’s relation to Downtown Tacoma. I do entirely think of the Dome District as a part of Downtown, in the same way as Stadium and Hilltop, and while it certainly isn’t the Commercial Core, It will almost certainly develop significantly in the years to come. As such I think providing Link access to Tacoma Dome Station and no further is sufficient service for downtown, especially when weighed against the opportunity costs, mainly the virtual prohibition of further expansion of the Central Link.

Troy A Serad

AJ M, I am not necessarily trying to state that 20-minute headways by itself are bad, but they kneecapped the ability for ST to more fully expand these services. While it is true that over 20-years of service improvements and ridership ramp-up has nurtured demand for rush-hour trains, we can never know what equivalent improvements over a full-day service model would have produced. I would argue that hourly, all-day Sounder services from TAC to SEA at 55-minutes or faster is a superior rail spine than fifteen-minute Link headways at 80-plus minutes, especially if rush-hour was ultimately provided 30-minute headways over those 20 years. I think basic Sounder improvements with supportive bus systems can easily handle the corridor demand better than multi-billion dollar Link extensions. Recall that highway-parallel Link, from Federal Way to Tacoma Dome Station alone, will cost $3.5-billion, an enormous sum of money.

Jeremiah, right when discussions of eminent domain are raised, the public loses. BNSF and UPRR are not enemies whose property must be condemned, but are partners in improving the rail system.

With regards to the Dome District, we do indeed have divergent views of its value over that of the actual downtown. As I have written elsewhere, the value of that district or that of the mall are improperly appraised. And all this talk of junctions and terminal stations is misplaced: the Link spine already has extraordinary length and it must end somewhere, and the economic heart of the South Sound is the proper place to do it.

AJ M

we can never know what equivalent improvements over a full-day service model would have produced

Can’t we look at the performance of the STX service as a good proxy? Take the 590/594 – perhaps less comfortable and less reliable than an all-day Sounder, but also consistently faster and more frequent than your contrapositive Sounder service. Which gets to my key point: at 11am on a weekday, there’s no advantage to catching a Sounder train over the 590. I see no reason why an hourly Sounder service would have induced midday demand better than all-day half-hourly 59X service.

But we can say with good confidence your contrapositive would have had less peak ridership, as Sounder trains would have been well over capacity and ridership would have either been diverted to express buses or would have shifted to other modes.

Essentially, I don’t think you are putting enough of a premium on frequency. Even for long distance trips, hourly service is pretty mediocre; these are still intra-regional trips, which is why ST runs the 594 half-hourly even if it’s mostly empty all day. Hourly is only acceptable for inter-regional trips, such as a bus from Olympia to Tacoma.

hourly, all-day Sounder services from TAC to SEA at 55-minutes or faster is a superior rail spine than fifteen-minute Link headways at 80-plus minutes,

So average 30 minute wait + 55 minute trip > average 7.5 minute wait + 80 minute trip? Only if people value waiting time the same as travel time (they don’t), and only if someone is heading to King Station (most do not). If you insist that Link cannot end at Tacoma Dome, then you should also value that Link serves all of downtown Seattle, whereas your hourly Sounder terminates at the ID. I agree with Jeremiah; I think a Tacoma Dome regional rail station is very comparable to King Street; not in the heart of downtown but also clearly within the urban core.

I think basic Sounder improvements with supportive bus systems can easily handle the corridor demand better than multi-billion dollar Link extensions.

Yes, an infrequent train likely wouldn’t have overwhelmed the local bus network.

AJ M

especially if rush-hour was ultimately provided 30-minute headways over those 20 years.

So you think for the exact same capital investment as required for 20 minute peak frequency, ST could have had all-day hourly trains and half-hourly peak trains? Does that additional 10 minutes of frequency really drive that much of a different?

Troy Serad

AJ M, we cannot look at bus services as a good proxy because I am relaying to you rail service negations from the mid 1990s and earlier, services that would have supported a dramatically different region. This was before Link was financed, before any line to Angle Lake, and well before the guideways were put up toward Federal Way. It is all water under the bridge now, and we will never know how Sounder operations with an all-day service model could have dovetailed into modern operations in 2021. I suspect the relationship with BNSF would have been improved, that we would have better leveraged the public triple-track investments for better-than-hourly services, that 1,000-person trains and supplemental bus services would been generally adequate in lieu of Link-levels of investment, and that our regional transit planning doctrine would have been more focused on Sounder. But, again, that isn’t the debate anymore, and now ST won’t even touch Sounder operations for at least another generation.
 
Yes, passenger train headways increased by even minutes can seriously hamper freight operations of the sort we run out of the U.S.A.
 
Finally, King Street Station was a city center terminus and Downtown Seattle simply grew beyond it. It is also littered with transit connections of all sorts, which Tacoma Dome Station did not have, and which the City of Tacoma and Pierce Transit are going out of their way to provide. Downtown Tacoma is where the majority of transit connections and transfers occur. Additionally, King Street Station and Union Station are immediately adjacent to densely populated neighborhoods today that are in the walk shed of Downtown offices and cultural amenities, and the same cannot be claimed for Tacoma Dome Station. These are not equivalent stops.

Respectfully to Jeremiah, any review of census population and employment densities will immediately reveal that the Dome District is not the urban core of the city. But, if we are dealing with gut feelings here and not data, and are inclined to spend billions of dollars with the hope that this neighborhood will become something substantial, and that a constant growth theory is our guiding light for rail planning, while simultaneously not sending our regional metro system into the South Sound’s biggest urban core, then I have nothing constructive to add.

Put another way, if Capitol Hill and First Hill got their streetcar stops in 2003 with the expectation that Link trains wouldn’t get to it for decades, or perhaps ever, would Link skip those stops today because of it? Of course not, but Tacoma-bound travelers will have to deal with perpetual forced transfers to get to even UW, let alone Downtown. The streetcar is used for getting around Tacoma and Link is used for getting into and out of it; they can both go into its center. Anyway, rant over!

AJ M

Fair enough, if we are debating decisions from the 1990s, there are enough unknowns to prevent judging which choice was best.

now ST won’t even touch Sounder operations for at least another generation.

ST on was on track to improve Sounder frequency to 15 minutes in the middle of the ST3 package. That investment is on pause pending data on how commute patterns will return. I fully expect ridership on that corridor to skew towards peak, necessitating the planned capacity investments, but I think it’s very reasonable to put those plans on ice for a few years pending how the region evolves post-Covid. The delay has nothing to do with the decision to be peak oriented; ST has steadily invested in South Sounder each generation.

we are … are inclined to spend billions of dollars with the hope that this neighborhood will become something substantial

Isn’t it the other way around? You are inclined to spend incremental billions (in YOE) to extend Link beyond the Dome into downtown because you are convinced the Dome will be an inconsequential neighborhood, while Jeremiah and I are optimistic Tacoma will respond to major changes in infrastructure and grow accordingly.

a constant growth theory is our guiding light for rail planning

That is certainly true. The central thesis of ST3 is massive population and employment grow in the region. Aside from perhaps the Pacific BRT investment, none of ST3 in Pierce is justified unless the county, and Tacoma in particular, continues to grow robustly in future decades. Designing a transit system to service Tacoma as it is today would certainly result in different investments.

Capitol Hill and First Hill got their streetcar stops in 2003 with the expectation that Link trains wouldn’t get to it for decades, or perhaps ever, would Link skip those stops today because of it?

Yes, as that’s exactly what has happened to First Hill. First Hill is being skipped by the 2nd Link tunnel because it is adequately served by Madison BRT, IMO; the location of the ‘Midtown’ station is driven by a desire to create a high quality transfer to Madison BRT, in lieu of serving First Hill directly with Link. If First Hill had kept it’s Link station, I’m skeptical Madison BRT would have been a priority project for Seattle.

Last edited 1 month ago by AJ McGauley
Jeremiah Thomas

I apparently did not read enough into your SPIRE plan to see it’s complementary improvements to the UPRR, which if you could get BNSF to agree to move a significant amount of it’s service over then it would be a very effective solution.
It’s not clear this is a factually resolvable disagreement, but I think you’ve over-appraised the value of Tacoma’s Commercial Core, which many companies are actively leaving. It certainly looks and feels important, though I’m not sure there are as many jobs there as it may seem, granted I can’t find the employment data to do a more in depth analysis. What I do know, however, it that the Commercial Core is massively overshadowed as a jobs center when compared to the Port of Tacoma, which is far better served by transfers to/from Tacoma Dome Station, and currently lacks any service other than Pierce Transit’s lackluster Runner system. If you’re trying to serve jobs with Central link, then I think ending at Tacoma Dome Station and building a Bus system throughout the port would be a far better use of funds than an extension downtown. Routing it along the current T Line without the separate trackage along Pacific wouldn’t be a terrible alternative that would still provide the access to downtown you’re so interested in while avoiding costly new construction. I simply don’t think the cost of new trackage in downtown is justified when one considers the wide variety of other projects that said funds could be invested in.

Jeremiah Thomas

As an addendum, I kind of skipped over that a bus system through the port would be funded by Pierce Transit rather than Sound Transit, though I still think many potential Sound Transit investments would be better uses of funds, and while I’m unfamiliar with the internal workings of Sound Transit I don’t see why they couldn’t give Pierce Transit a grant to build out the physical infrastructure for a BRT system through the Port.

AJ M

ST is writing a check (i.e. a ‘grant’) to partially fund both Madison BRT in Seattle and Pacific BRT in Tacoma, so it could definitely do something simillar for other BRT projects in Pierce. Bankrolling the buildout of PT’s Stream network of 4~5 BRT lines is probably the best use of ST’s funds in Pierce, ahead of any further investment in Link, Sounder, or the Streetcar.

Troy A Serad

Thank you for the discussion here, I think it is terrific.

My larger point related to the First Hill Streetcar and its First Hill / Capitol Hill stops got lost in the baggage of the First Hill Link station. Envisioning a scenario where Central Link is not yet constructed and alignments for it are being investigated now—and the streetcar to Capitol Hill and First Hill has already been operating for 20-years—would Link therefore skip those stops because a transfer occurs at the I.D.? Would Link planners consider those stops duplicative as the streetcar already serves those neighborhoods? I strenuously argue no, that is patently absurd, but somehow this model is satisfactory for Tacoma. Is anyone aware of any other metro that purposefully avoids the regional downtown and instead forces people to transfer to a streetcar or bus to access it? Please do list two or three examples.

The 2nd Link tunnel in Downtown Seattle missing First Hill is terribly saddening. It was at least worthy of escalated review. The original miss was crushing.

Finally, CTLE would cost at least $200-million based off the per mile construction costs of the Hilltop streetcar extension up the road. I also wrote that costs can be saved via refined Puyallup River approaches (that should naturally be coordinated with the Tribe). $200-million for a $3.5-billion project is basically a rounding error, and it will result in service to the third biggest business district in the State, a prominent university, etc., etc. I’ve written ad nauseum about it. This debate reminds me of LaGuardia’s flight to “New York” where he landed in Newark instead, infuriating him. Tacoma Dome Station simply isn’t the city—never has been and never will be.

Jeremiah Thomas

I too appreciate the discussion, though this is going to be my final reply because I feel like we could go on forever. I think the equivalency between the first hill streetcar and the T line is a false one on account of Geography. Serving Capitol Hill with the Link makes complete sense in every regard because it’s on the way to other locations, Seattle generally is the geographic center and the fastest north-south routing through the region. On the other hand, Tacoma is mostly on a peninsula formed by Commencement bay, and the Brewery and Dome Districts are the only parts of Downtown that aren’t on said Peninsula. Because of this it follows that most potential expansions would be better served by a terminus at Tacoma Dome Station, unlike Capitol Hill.
With regards to the growth in the Dome District, one of your proposal’s primary goals is to serve a bustling university and retail area that less than 30 years ago was a bunch of abandoned warehouses. A similar transformation could absolutely occur in the Dome District. I don’t see why Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma couldn’t work together to consolidate the Dome’s parking into garages that would also serve as a sound barriers against I-5 while opening up space for Transit oriented affordable housing.
I think ultimately we just have an irresolvable difference in priorities, My first concern with transit planning is the total area covered, while yours seems to be in optimizing service to urban centers, and I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree in that regard.

AJ M

Agree – great discussion!