LRP Update: Tacoma Dome to Tacoma Mall Light Rail

The Sound Transit Board of Directors formally adopted the new regional transit Long Range Plan yesterday.  Stephen Fesler at The Urbanist has written an excellent post with the full scoop of what happened at the meeting.  I will focus my analysis on what’s in store for Pierce County now that the Long Range Plan update is complete.

Board Members approved all proposed additions to the Long Range Plan that were put on the table (with one exception).

Extension of Tacoma Link light rail to TCC was approved.  Downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Mall via light rail was approved and established as “the terminus of the light rail spine.”  A Puyallup Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor on Meridian, Downtown Tacoma to Parkland High Capacity Transit (HCT), and Orting to Sumner HCT were also approved.  An 11th-hour addition of light rail between Tacoma Mall and Dupont via Lakewood was added as Map Amendment 29 by Boardmember Moss from Lakewood, but her motion to define that portion of Corridor 6 as “the terminus of the light rail spine” failed to garner a second and died.

All amendments on this map were adopted at the Board Meeting on Thursday.

Moving on to the System Plan

While the Long Range Plan is a significant milestone, it is an unconstrained vision of what the regional transit system should look like given unlimited budget and time.  The new challenge in 2015 and early 2016 will be to craft a “System Plan,” which will be a list of projects in several alternative scenarios that will be affordable as an overall ST3 package.

The addition of Tacoma Mall as the new terminus for a regional light rail spine in the Pierce County subarea has substantial budget implications for an ST3 package, but its addition would add a good deal of ridership to make the link to Pierce County more favorable, and it would hypothetically enable a lot of restructuring (read: new efficiencies) of the Pierce Transit system.

Paying for Light Rail between Tacoma Dome and Tacoma Mall

Results from the Federal Way to Tacoma HCT study indicate that the cost of getting from Federal Way Transit Center to Tacoma Dome Station to be in the range of $1.9B.  To add in several additional miles of track to Tacoma Mall may be a heavy lift, given informed speculation from the Seattle Transit Blog that the Pierce Subarea may only have $2.1B to spend overall in an ST3 measure.  To make that Pierce’s primary investment may be an all or nothing deal, which would negate the possibility for substantially expanded Sounder service, ST Express bus service, or extension of Tacoma Link, BRT, etc.

If we are to make it to Tacoma Mall, South King County is going to have to chip in a responsible portion of the cost of making the light rail connection from Federal Way TC to the Pierce County Line, or staff will need to find a way of making the connection cheaper.  Getting Tacoma Link to TCC, as well as the other elements on the Long Range Plan wishlist, such as a Dupont commuter rail station will have to be factored into the mix as well.  How this is to turn out is anyone’s guess at this point.

Stay tuned for further developments as Sound Transit consultants and staff develop System Plan alternatives with more cost estimates and ridership projections.