Tacoma’s Mayor says public needs to show up for Light Rail to Tacoma

Sound Transit 3 may LINK Tacoma Dome, Mall, TCC
Draft Light Rail and Sounder Commuter Rail projects in South Corridor

About 50 people showed up to Tacoma’s ST3 open house showcasing Sound Transit’s draft project list for the next phase of light rail, bus, and commuter rail extensions.

The largest concern for the crowd was extension of regional light rail to Tacoma from Federal Way and the airport. “We’re not going to accept bus service, it just gets stuck in traffic,” said one attendee in a conversation with Mayor Strickland. The sentiment was echoed time and again by every person I spoke with.

At 6 o’clock staff started a canned presentation about what Sound Transit has accomplished in ST2 and why it is planning for future development of the transportation system. Geoff Patrick, Sound Transit’s Public Information Officer, noted that the Puget Sound region is going to be adding another million residents by 2040 and that congestion is getting worse. Sound Transit’s presentation highlighted increases in congestion between Everett and Seattle, but not Seattle to Tacoma. Staff later explained that this was not to snub Tacoma, but Tacoma congestion was not highlighted because WSDOT does not track Seattle to Tacoma congestion patterns explicitly. Instead that commute is broken into smaller segments where congestion is measured.

Tacoma’s Mayor Marilyn Strickland spoke to the crowd several times and gave a short speech about the importance of connecting Tacoma to the region with light rail. “When you get off an airplane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you can take light rail to Seattle, but not to Tacoma,” she waxed. “Part of the promise of when Sound Transit was established was that we would connect the urban centers of the three counties – King, Pierce, and Snohomish.”

One point she stressed in this talk over others is that there are detractors in King County who are questioning the viability of light rail to Tacoma.

However, Strickland was adamant that Tacoma has done its duty to plan for the oncoming growth according to the Growth Management Act. “Just ask Ian Munce,” she said. Ian Munce is one of the City of Tacoma’s land use planners who has worked to develop subarea plans for South Downtown, North Downtown, Hilltop, and now the Tacoma Mall. The City of Tacoma was recently given a 2015 Vision 2040 award from the Puget Sound Regional Council for some of this work.

I brought up the issue of subarea equity with the Mayor. If the policy stands, the Pierce County subarea should be able to afford its connection to King County and a number of other key projects. The Mayor agreed that the policy of subarea equity has been in place for the last two ballot measures, but one complication may be South King County, which was hit hard by the recession and may not have the local revenue to get light rail all the way to the Pierce County border.

“We need you to show up to the Sound Transit Board meetings with your comments to get light rail to Tacoma,” said Strickland.