Tacoma Link to finish Preliminary Engineering in 2015

Potential Tacoma Link Expansion stations (2014)

Today the Sound Transit Capital Committee is slated to green-light a new and third phase of the Tacoma Link Expansion project.

Motion M2015-05 would approve a contract amendment of roughly $1.7m with CH2m Hill, Inc to provide engineering services that will bring the Tacoma Link Expansion project to 30% design.  Here engineers will look at utilities, grades, determine lengths of track and identify additional design parameters for use in final design.  Preliminary engineering should take 8 months, and Sound Transit says that it should be complete by the end of 2015.

Here’s an example of what the report looks like for 30% design (taken from Northgate Link).

While I haven’t seen images of the station locations and conceptual engineering, apparently they do exist, but haven’t been shared publicly because work on Phase 2 (conceptual design) is not yet fully completed.

Update on Finance Plan

The financial plan for the Tacoma Link Expansion project to the Stadium District and Hilltop now assumes $75m of federal funding, with much from the FTA’s Small Starts program.  $75m is the maximum amount possible from the program and is a somewhat larger request than most other projects of this scale have been granted in the past.  According to the project profile on the FTA website posted in July 2014, Sound Transit expected to request $58m for the Small Starts program.

Update on Environmental Process

The background information in the motion indicates that the Federal Transit Administration has granted a Documented Categorical Exclusion to the project, which minimizes the timeline for environmental review.  Sound Transit, which is the lead agency doing environmental documentation for the project will be using a Determination of Non-Significance on the project and will complete environmental review by mid-2015.

This is good news, since it means staff and consultants will be tackling both engineering and environmental review simultaneously, which may enable the project to apply for additional grant opportunities and may accelerate the timeline.  It also means that the Sound Transit Board will potentially formally approve the “project to be constructed” this year.

Update on local competition

Another project which lends itself for comparison with Tacoma Link Expansion is Seattle’s Central City Connector project, which is slated to be a line which will merge the First Hill Streetcar (to open this year) and the South Lake Union streetcar line.  Seattle’s CCC is expecting an FTA-granted categorical exclusion in March of this year.  Seattle is going to be asking for about the same amount of money from Small Starts, but will have a smaller $110m budget.  Their project has a much more aggressive timeline of opening for revenue service in early 2018 instead of 2021, as Tacoma Link is slated to open.