Before Sound Transit’s light rail took people from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown Seattle, there was the Tacoma Link.
The 1.6-mile line has stayed roughly the same since it opened in 2003, starting at the Tacoma Dome and bringing passengers down Pacific Avenue, past the University of Washington Tacoma, the federal courthouse, and several of the city’s museums.
The line ends on Commerce Street, just past 11th, and if you stand on the platform and look north, you can see orange construction barrels running up the street where it curves left and becomes Stadium Way.
Soon, the trains will follow.
Sound Transit is in the middle of building a $217 million, 2.4-mile extension that will add six stops through the Stadium District and the Hilltop neighborhood.
“If you can imagine, when this extension is done in 2022, you could park down at the Tacoma Dome, hop on the rail, and get all the way down to the Stadium District or Hilltop and never get in your car,” said Scott Thompson, a spokesman for Sound Transit.
The hope is that people will choose more often to leave the car at home, easing congestion in the city and on surrounding roads.
“We think it’s going to transform (Tacoma) for the better, to provide more access and more mobility,” he said.
A second extension was approved by voters in 2016, as part of the massive “Sound Transit 3” tax package. That line will travel 3.5 miles down S. 19th Street, a major east-west artery in Tacoma. It adds another six stations and will pass by parks, Bates Technical College, Cheney Stadium and Tacoma Community College. Formal planning hasn’t begun, but the agency estimates the cost of the S. 19th Street extension at between $447 million and $478 million.
And all of this ties into plans to connect Tacoma's light rail system with the line that serves Sea-Tac Airport and Seattle – eventually providing light rail travel between the two cities.
“I can see a future where we’ve got denser housing and people are more able to walk and use this corridor as more than just this automobile thoroughfare that it is today,” said Matt Driscoll, a columnist at the News Tribune who has written about transit growth. “And that’ll be a good thing.”
The News Tribune offices are near 19th Street – just a short walk away – and Driscoll says he’s in favor of more light rail. But he also sees the cons.
“As transit comes in, a lot of times you see property values go up, and you see people who have lived here for a long time sometimes get pushed out,” Driscoll said. “That’s a big fear, and it’s an understandable fear.”
Thompson, with Sound Transit, says the agency hopes its expansions will assuage those fears, and points to transit-oriented development, such as affordable housing near stations, and retail space.
“Some of that’s coming to fruition in the Seattle area,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s affordable for people to be able to walk and live and use transit that’s convenient for them.”