Construction of the 2.4-mile extension of the Tacoma Link rail line from the Theater District through the Stadium District and up to the Hilltop neighborhood has begun. An official groundbreaking with gold-painted shovels Monday marked the occasion.
The ceremony came the same day as Sound Transit announced the first slate of road closures needed to begin building the route. The official groundbreaking occurred at People’s Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, but the road closure occurred along Stadium Way, so crews could underground utility lines as part of the project.
The southbound traffic lane and the adjacent bike lane will be closed on Stadium Way just north of Division Avenue and down the hill to South 4th Street through Dec. 28. Commuters should expect traffic delays throughout the area and are encouraged to use alternate routes whenever possible. The northbound lane on Stadium Way will remain open.
The work is needed for the $217 million Hilltop Tacoma Link extension of the existing light rail system. The work will run up from Commerce Street to Stadium Way, 1st Street and Division Avenue and then down Martin Luther King Jr. Way to South 19th Street.
“Our city is poised to grow by 64 percent in the next 20 years and expanding Tacoma Link will connect residents to our regional transit system for years to come,” said Tacoma Mayor and Sound Transit boardmember Victoria Woodards.
This project is funded through a partnership between Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma, and a $75 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. It is part of the Sound Transit 2 package that Puget Sound residents approved in 2008. The route will have six new stations and connect to the current tracks that run through downtown to the Tacoma Dome Station. Service on the new extension is scheduled to begin in 2022.
Plans of the link extension through Hilltop have already sparked some $250 million in private development, raising concerns that the current residents will be priced out of the area right as the service begins running. Hilltop Action Coalition Executive Director Brandan Nelson calmed some of those fears by saying the coalition and its partners are working with Sound Transit so residents can land family-wage jobs to build the system as well as to make sure affordable housing options are included in as many of those new developments as possible.
“It has been such an honor to see this project come to light,” he said. The first section of the Link system opened in 2003 and was part of the transportation package that voters approved in 1996 that created the tri-county Sound Transit agency. The route has about a million passengers a year. This second extension is seen as a way to connect downtown and Hilltop, which is increasingly becoming home to medical centers and offices as part of what some call the city’s “Medical Mile” between Tacoma General Hospital and St. Joseph Medical Center. A voter-approved package in 2016 included an extension of Tacoma Link even further – all the way out to Tacoma Community College by 2039. “We have plenty of work to get done,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said.
Another project will add transit service on the other end of the line with light rail from Tacoma to Federal way by 2030. That route would then tie Tacoma to SeaTac International Airport and Seattle. Trains would then shuttle from Tacoma to Seattle in an hour or to the airport in just 35 minutes.