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Pacific Avenue project presents opportunity, challenge

Post by Cheryl Tucker on May 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
May 13, 2011 5:00 pm

This editorial will appear in the Monday print edition.

A short distance from Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma is Thea Foss Waterway – a former Superfund site that the city spent $105 million cleaning up.

But untreated stormwater runoff from Pacific Avenue continues to drain dangerous toxins into the waterway, posing a threat to ongoing cleanup efforts. As environmental regulations regarding stormwater contamination tighten up, it becomes ever more incumbent on cities to seek solutions to their runoff problems.

It looks like Tacoma’s found one, and it promises to deliver aesthetic benefits in addition to environmental ones.

Plans are under way to retrofit Pacific Avenue between South Seventh and 17th streets with the latest in stormwater technologies, which may involve replacing curbs, gutters and sidewalks. The $8 million project will provide an opportunity to enhance the avenue with trees, water features and pervious pavement – all of which will help filter stormwater. Public input on the streetscaping part of the project is being sought (see box).

Some critics have suggested the city should give filling potholes a higher priority. But the city must address the polluted street runoff. Besides, much of the funding for Phase 1 of the project is federal money – a $1.5 million Environmental Protection Agency grant and $800,000 from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

The city’s contribution is $1.5 million from its designated Surface Water Fund to match the EPA grant, $175,000 to match the other federal grant and $200,000 in general obligation bond money that can only be used for capital projects, not maintenance work such as filling potholes.

The big challenge, of course, is the disruption the project will create for drivers and, especially, businesses in the area. Unfortunately, the stormwater/streetscaping construction – beginning in January 2012 – is currently scheduled to overlap at least four months with a project that will shut down another stretch of Pacific Avenue just eight blocks away.

The Sound Transit railway extension project – which will bring Sounder commuter train service to Lakewood – will shut down Pacific Avenue between South 25th and 27th streets for at least 11 months beginning as early as June. So in early 2012, Pacific Avenue could be a nightmare.

Although there’s an argument to be made for biting the bullet and getting the closures done at the same time, that sounds like a lot of inconvenience. Those involved with the streetscaping project should consider delaying it a few months so that two sections of the street aren’t closed at the same time.

Provide input
Visit the city’s website or contact Karrie Spitzer at 253-591-5790 or karrie.spitzer@cityoftacoma.org.

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