Hilltop Link extension preps for fall construction

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Construction on the extension of Tacoma Link light rail from downtown to the Hilltop neighborhood will start in the fall and begin operations in 2022. Map courtesy of Sound Transit

Construction on the Link light rail extension from downtown Tacoma to the Hilltop neighborhood is on track to start in the fall. 

“Expanding Tacoma Link to the Hilltop will provide our current residents and commuters from other areas with more ways to get to and from downtown and fuel our continuing economic growth,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards. “Tacoma will continue to attract more and more people and jobs in the coming years. The expanded Tacoma Link system will improve transportation around the city and connect riders with regional light rail, Sounder trains and bus service at the Tacoma Dome.”

Utility companies are starting to relocate power, communication and gas lines along the route. The light rail system will connect downtown to Martin Luther King Jr. Way. That work will start in the fall, but the next big announcement is expected in July, when the Sound Transit Board selects the contractor. 

That then triggers another round of open houses for people to meet the contractor, which will then establish a construction timeline for street closures and detours for years to come. 

“Really, until we get a contractor on board, it will be hard to say what they will be working on first,” said Sound Transit spokesman Scott Thompson.

What is known is that crews will construct the new light rail corridor in three segments along the route. Each section will include a construction zone of up to 1,000 feet, or about three blocks. Prior to constructing the light rail track itself, the contractor will replace and install new utility connections. The final stages of construction will include overhead span wire installation, traffic signal work and ADA ramp construction.

“It’s going to impact traffic,” Thompson said.

Part of the Tacoma Link light rail expansion from downtown to the Hilltop will include the relocation of the current terminus on Commerce to a new location closer to Old City Hall. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

News of the on-time groundbreaking comes after the project received $75 million from the Federal Transit Administration Small Starts grant program. The grant award news last month marked the last piece of the funding puzzle for the 2.4-mile expansion.

“As communities in and around Tacoma continue to grow, we have an opportunity to make sure transportation options for workers, students, patients and families keep up. Expanding light rail to the ‘Medical Mile’ and Hilltop communities is a major step forward that will increase access to safe, reliable transportation and facilitate economic development in the city,” said Sen. Patty Murray at the grant announcement. “The federal government can and should be a good partner to local communities and support transportation solutions – like the Hilltop Tacoma Link – and I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to strengthen investments that help make these solutions a reality in our communities.”

The $217 million rail extension will run tracks north along Commerce Street and run along Stadium Way to the Hilltop District, with six new stations and a relocation of the Commerce station to be closer to Old City Hall. The project will provide additional access to Tacoma’s downtown corridor, with several new housing, retail and commercial developments already planned along the new route. It will also provide an uninterrupted rail route between the Hilltop and current tracks that run to the Tacoma Dome.

Funding for the project includes the voter-approved Sound Transit 2, the City of Tacoma and federal and state grants. A future voter-approved extension of Tacoma Link will extend the line even further, all the way out to Tacoma Community College. But that won’t start operations until 2039.

Another project on the other side of the tracks will come sooner than the TCC route, however. A 9.7-mile rail line that will connect the Tacoma Dome to South King County and provide direct access to SeaTac Airport and then to downtown Seattle, with stations in East Tacoma, Fife and Federal Way, is set to start in 2030. The Dome station will serve as a multi-modal transit hub, with transfer options to and from Sounder service and Tacoma Link as well as for Pierce Transit and Sound Transit buses as part of the Sound Transit 3 plan.

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