My initial Central Tacoma Link Extension (CTLE) surface alignment proposal stirred a large debate regarding how Link light rail should properly serve Tacoma over a decade from now. Among commentators, there was broad agreement that terminating light rail service at Tacoma Dome Station was deeply unsatisfactory, with most agreeing that light rail should reach Downtown Tacoma. Sound Transit is aiming to open the Tacoma Dome Link Extension in 2032.
However, there were also legitimate concerns voiced about how to accomplish getting light rail into Downtown Tacoma. Where the surface CTLE came under routine fire was on two fronts: its interaction with the existing streetcar system, and the location of the Central Tacoma Station. Although these points are discussed in the proposal, they are real concerns that warrant further investigation. The CTLE surface option remains the cheapest and most cost effective manner of delivering trains into Central Tacoma. That station, even without extensive bus connections, has independent utility as a rail station in an urban core.
Still, it is worthy to consider alternative alignments into Tacoma that: one, have no impacts on the existing streetcar system; two, more finely integrate Link with the existing Downtown transit corridor along Commerce Street; and three, further the conversation of getting trains into the city center.
A preliminary review of alternative alignments into Downtown Tacoma produced three distinct alignments, whose components could be mixed to produce a larger variety of routing options. The first option is the original surface alignment. The three new alignments include moderate tunneling or elevated segments. It’s worth noting that the impacted areas are predominantly surface parking lots, a wide avenue, or the margins of a freeway, all of which should dramatically reduce construction costs relative to other large rail projects through a developed urban quarter. All three proposed light rail alignments can be viewed on an interactive ArcGIS map. This article will also assess the alignments’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as make the cost-benefit argument for investing in light rail for Downtown Tacoma rather than an extension to the Tacoma Mall.