Tacoma Link Expansion environmental analysis is now complete. The Tacoma City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Committee heard a presentation on it back in March. Later this month, Sound Transit will be announcing an open house to showcase the findings of the environmental work, which will kick off a two week public comment period. Following the comment period, the Tacoma City Council is expected to weigh in and provide comment and then in June the Sound Transit Board is expected to sign off on the project.
The 2.4 mile light rail extension to the Stadium District and Hilltop would operate primarily in mixed traffic, i.e. without its own dedicated right of way, and would add six stations and relocate one other. The added double-track of the extension would enable Tacoma Link to improve headways from 12 minutes to 10 minutes most of the day, with 20 minute service in the off-peak period.
Ridership is projected to grow from 3,000 daily riders today to 10,800 riders per day with the extension, in the year 2035. These projections are based on the line serving an area with 54,000 jobs and 47,000 residents as per Puget Sound Regional Council growth allocations.
Sound Transit broke out ridership by station. The four top stations for projected ridership include: Tacoma Dome (2,300), MLK/19th (1,500), Convention Center (1,300) and MLK/Division (1,300). The station with the lowest projected 2035 ridership is Stadium and 4th Street, at only 100 riders per day. That is less than 1% of the total ridership along the line, which owes to the steep slope and lack of development along the eastern side of Stadium Way.
Travel times along the extension between the relocated Theater District station at Old City Hall and St. Joseph Medical Center on 19th and MLK are projected to be between 13 and 14 minutes, with total end to end travel times at roughly 21-22 minutes. Peak passenger loads for the line are expected to be during the PM rush hour between Convention Center and UW Tacoma stations, but Sound Transit says that they expect one car trains to be able to handle that level of demand.
The project is unlikely to contribute significant impacts. Parking is only minimally affected, with the loss of only 50 on-street parking spaces along the 2.4 mile extension, representing about 2% of the on-street parking in the area. Traffic is also expected to not be highly affected, with appropriate signal timing and traffic signal priority. Noise, vibration, historic impact, and visual character of the neighborhoods are all minimal and within limits. Sound Transit notes that all of the areas affected used to have streetcars running along the same streets until the mid-1900’s. The wires and poles are not expected to affect views along Stadium Way in most cases as their heights won’t generally exceed 23 feet from the ground.
Since Hilltop Link is going to run in shared right of way, any station placed in the street is liable to obstruct traffic, and traffic is liable to obstruct trains. This should concern residents wanting to see Tacoma Link be as effective as it can be. Where this is readily a concern is with the S. 4th and Stadium station, which is projected to only have 100 riders per day in 2035. It makes very little sense to construct such a station now, when it will in-turn delay every passenger between the other stations with no real benefit from access to additional commercial establishments.
Further, each additional station adds both an inital capital cost as well as the need to decelerate and accellerate from a station, and a 30-second dwell time per trip. As operating time increases, it becomes more expensive to provide high frequency service or all day service. The public is liable to see more benefit from a deferred S. 4th and Stadium Way Station, to allow for additional levels of demand to justify its existence.