THE LINK EXPANSION

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Tacoma’s current building boom created some trickledown angst and frustration after Sound Transit’s contractor selected a vacant parcel two miles from downtown to use as a staging area for its trucks and equipment. Eastside neighbors near the staging area at Pacific Avenue and 38th Street feel disappointed, frustrated and angry that decision makers have yet again shortchanged their long-overlooked neighborhood.

The snafu was a case of miscommunication.

“I’m concerned that the new Pacific Avenue Bridge, the brand-new McKinley Avenue bridge, and beautiful Lincoln District will be damaged from the heavy traffic,” said neighborhood activist Tara Scheidt. Her post on social media earlier this month raised eyebrows, frowned faces and caused a flurry of emails and phone calls among city officials, Sound Transit and Walsh Construction Co., the contractor building the Link extension.

“I saw the fences being changed and thought I would check in on what’s happening to let neighbors know good things were coming soon. I thought it would be cool to get the community on board for whatever it was as early as possible but soon figured out it was a construction yard … Why is this project placed at an already congested site daily? What sort of traffic nightmare will this bring for years? How will our roads withstand the extra heavy equipment? There are so many questions.”

Sound Transit said the transportation agency and Walsh had reviewed six other sites that were closer to the Link route through downtown but those were either too small, too expensive or the owner didn’t want the property tied up for two years, especially when new developments are mushrooming up around downtown in the hot real estate market. The equipment couldn’t be stored at the construction sites along the route because the work areas are too small and in public right of ways.

“It would have been nice to find something closer, but we just weren’t able to do that,” Sound Transit spokesman Scott Thompson said, noting that the 38th and Pacific site, called a “layover space” in the construction industry, will store trucks, backhoes and supplies bound for the Link light rail project as well as serve as a short-term storage site for construction debris before it is ultimately hauled away for recycling or disposal. “It’s not going to be a dumping ground.”

Sound Transit, Walsh and Tacoma officials are now sorting out how best to move forward over what was apparently some misunderstanding about how the site would be used, according to Tacoma’s Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver.

“I would say there was a bit of miscommunication,” he said. “Everyone thought we were communicating and then things got crossed.”

Complicating the crossed wires is the holiday season, which now hampers efforts to call a neighborhood meeting tout suite to allow Eastside residents to vent their frustrations as well as learn about solutions surrounding truck routes, noise controls and construction congestion.

“People are upset. I can’t blame them for feeling that way,” he said, noting that he was elected to be the city’s representative to Eastside Neighborhood Council to help ensure that the neighborhood felt included and that their frustrations were heard. “This is the last thing I wanted.”

The December meeting of the neighborhood council had already been canceled, Kingsolver noted, and the January meeting will provide information only after weeks of building frustration.

“We are sort of between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

The 38th Street site, for example, will have a maximum of 10 truck trips a day and an average of between three and five. The trucks will avoid going west of 38th Street and avoid Pacific Avenue by heading East to Interstate-705 to the construction sites along the Link route. The details of the full plan still need city approval from Public Works as well as Planning and Land Services.

The $217 million will extend the existing Link light rail system 2.4 miles from the Theater District along Stadium Way to 1st Street, Division Avenue and then swing a left onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way to South 19th Street. Trains are scheduled to begin in 2022 and provide uninterrupted train service from the Tacoma Dome Station to the Hilltop’s “Medical Mile” that runs between Tacoma General Hospital to St Joseph Medical Center. The system will then extend again, to Tacoma Community College, by 2039.

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