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The Battle of the Berm

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Sep. 5, 2009 at 6:19 pm with 3 Comments »
September 4, 2009 6:27 pm

In battle, the fate of empires can turn on a small piece of higher ground. Think Little Roundtop. Think Bunker Hill.

Think the Dome District berm.

OK, that’s hyping things a bit, but the berm – which Sound Transit wants to build to bring its Sounder trains from Freighthouse Square to Pacific Avenue – is turning improbably into the central issue in Tacoma’s mayoral race.

Jim Merritt (I give some credit to campaign manager Ronnie Bush) has been playing the issue brilliantly. A much-respected architect, he’s pushing a “post-and-beam” alternative of concrete piers, and he’s has positioned himself as the champion of underdog Tacoma against the overbearing Sound Transit.

His opponent, Marilyn Strickland, has had a hard time responding. She voted with her fellow city council members to work with Sound Transit, which Merritt’s camp casts as a bully bent on ruining the future of the Dome District.

In the middle of all this is City Manager Eric Anderson. Visiting us yesterday, he offered a far less apocalyptic view of the beam-vs.-berm choice.

Anderson – who knows something about urban development – called himself an “agnostic” on the issue. But he thinks either alternative could turn out very well for the neighborhood.

He said he’s not concerned about rail blighting the district. “It’s impact on the area will be absolutely huge,” he said – as in “a huge asset.”

He said he doesn’t expect the tracks to get in the way of development “in any way, shape or form.”

The berm would be a visual barrier, he said, while the post-and-beam would require an extra six feet of railbed to support the tracks.

“Post-and-beam would be open, but it would be higher. If you want to minimize the profile, post and beam is not the answer.”

I suspect Anderson is right: Both options could work equally well – or equally badly. The world has no shortage of ugly concrete transportation structures and ugly rail berms. The key is figuring out who’s going to pay to keep the grounds prettified in perpetuity. That’s the high ground I think this battle should fought on.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. obamamama says:

    Depending on the engineer and whose side their on it makes a difference. Our engineer has a solution given to us by Burlington Northern. BN does this post and beam all over the country. They have it down. In the near future the citizens of Tacoma will be hiring an engineering firm to show the right P&B design and show the miss-truths of Sound Transit. Common sense tells us,look around do you see any dirt hills with tracks on them in any cities in the past few years? How does Eric Anderson know? He has only an opinion. Like so many other forecasters that are wrong so many times. The dirt hills from East C to South C will be a blight forever with no development as we see to this day in Spokane WA.It is a fact the city has not wanted Downtown to move South for years and the dirt will clinch it. We can become the parking lot Eric wants us to be. The dome District has the largest transit hub in Pierce County. We have the most people in our area due to transit, the Dome and soon the Lemay Museum. There has absolutly been no help with development from the city. Drive to Kent Station, Everett Station, Puyallup and even Federal Way. They have seen great development and progress in their smaller cities. post and Beam for Sound Transit and our City Council would be a class act of progress.

  2. dltooley3 says:

    But the problem is the low ground of the 705 Gulch, yes? Just putting a pile of dirt on top of the problem doesn’t solve it.

    Jim Merritt and the Post and Beam can, and he certainly knows more about urban development in Tacoma than Eric Anderson and as a matter of professionalism, shouldn’t be favoring one alternative over another.

    Insisting that all public employees serve the public interest not some legally contrived and bullied aproximation thereof is the high ground on this issue.

    One has to wonder what is more important to Anderson and O’Callahan – Sound Transit bureaucrats or the residents and businesses of Tacoma?

  3. City Manager Eric Anderson’s comment about the height is incorrect. He says “The berm would be a visual barrier, he said, while the post-and-beam would require an extra six feet of railbed to support the tracks.”

    The rail tracks need to be at a specific grade, so the height is the same for either options.

    There’s a very large group of concerned citizens, including neighborhood councils and environmental groups that are Post and Beam Supporters. There seems to be only a small number of berm supporters and most of them do not live in Tacoma.

    Erik Anderson and the City Council should be listening to citizens of Tacoma. Actually, they are listening but still seem to be stuck on the berm. There’s still time to get this project done right, and to recommend the best solution.

    Post and Beam just makes sense in most of the area, particuarly under I-705 and over the B Street Ravine. The difference in price is minimal and it will be best for the future of the area and Tacoma.

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