Talk from city officials of expanding the Tacoma Link light rail have heightened since the beginning of September. The projected plan—to expand the downtown railing system up Hilltop through S. 19th St.—will be put up for a vote on the November 2016 ballot.

The link rail is a 1.6-mile railway that runs through downtown Tacoma. The rail stretches from the Tacoma Dome Station to the Theatre Station on S. 9th street, making 11 stops throughout its trip.  The link rail runs Monday through Friday, 8 am to 10 pm.

Tacoma’s population comprises of 204,000 residents, up from 193,000 in 2005, a decade ago. According to the City of Tacoma website, during the next 25 years its population will increase by 62%, raising the city’s occupancy to 331,000 residents.

A newly formed Tacoma Community College route would extend the link 3.65 miles and will include a portion of elevated track over State Route 16 and would welcome an estimated 6,000-8,000 daily commuters.

According to the South Transit, the link rail currently serves about 2,864 Tacomans daily. The transit website also says the most current draft plan for the expansion would create seven extra stations through S. 19th Street, with Tacoma Community College being the final stop.

There is also another plan to extend the link as far as the Tacoma Mall, in hopes of making it easier for Sound travelers headed towards Seattle. However, city council members question how the City of Tacoma will extend the link to the Tacoma Mall.

According to Sound Transit, the link rail expansion is approximated to cost $642-687 million.  The City of Tacoma has agreed to pay $7 million while South Transit is offering $50 million for the expansion. The link rail also received a $75 million grant at the beginning of 2015 with President Obama’s budget plan that was passed.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funded the link rail $15 million in November 2015 for the project.

If Tacomans vote in favor of the link expansion this November there would still be a lot to accomplish in order for the link rail to be established.  According to Sound Transit, construction crews would need to widen existing right-of-way lanes to allow space for center-running tracks along S. 19th Street. from Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the rail link will stretch past SR 16, concluding at TCC. The construction that would be required for this projects accounts for a bulk of the estimated completion costs ($642-687 million).

In October 2015, President Obama signed a $305 billion federal highway bill, which reauthorized a $153 million city grant that Tacoma was depending on. Derrick Nunnally of The News Tribune reports, “A subsequent budget deal meant the project’s $75 million federal grant had officially cleared Congress, bringing construction of the long-awaited streetcar segment closer.”

City officials hope that the link rail is utilized more throughout the city, and that the expansion will benefit TCC students as much as the local Link aids UWT.

To learn more about funding and planning for the Tacoma Link Rail
expansion, please visit: soundtransit3.org

PHOTO BY KRISTINA HANSEN
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