On Friday, I shadowed Tacoma mayoral hopeful Jim Merritt for several hours during a typical campaign day, collecting string for an eventual profile I’ll do of the two candidates in the mayor’s race. I’m scheduled to tag along behind Marilyn Strickland later this week.
During one of Merritt’s stops on Friday, he met at the Mystic Mocha Cafe with one of his biggest supporters, Dome District construction firm owner, Keith Stone. Stone and Merritt had called the meeting to discuss Sound Transit’s D to M Street rail project with two structural engineers.
The reason? Merritt is forging ahead with getting an alternative “post & beam” design plan drafted of the project — even though Sound Transit has said it intends to use a different design plan that is now about 75 percent complete.
The Sound Transit proposal largely plans to install an earthen berm to elevate the commuter tracks through the Dome District, allowing the connection of existing and new tracks over the roughly 1.4 miles from D to M Street as part of the planned Sounder commuter train’s Lakewood line.
In what’s becoming the lynch-pin issue of his campaign, Merritt — who insists the berm design will be bad for aesthetics and future development of the Dome District — is trying to keep the post and beam issue alive.
Along with Stone, Merritt’s input to the structural engineers on Friday has them now working on a formal post-and-beam design draft. The work, largely being done on a volunteer basis at this point, will help determine if a post-and-beam plan is a feasible and cost-effective model, Merritt said.
“If post-and-beam’s cost (is too much) and gets blown out of the water by the other proposal, that’s a chance I’ve got to take,” Merritt said. “Then I’ll be willing to back off.”
“But I really don’t think that will happen,” he added. “It’s too simple of a design.”
Merritt contends providing a formal alternative design plan will finally give the public a chance to see for themselves how post-and-beam stacks up with Sound Transit’s preferred berm design.
The longtime Tacoma architect, whose past projects include the cable stayed bridge and renovating Union Station, says if the post-and-beam plan pencils out, he’ll take it to City Hall, town hall meetings — or “anywhere I can get someone to listen.”
“I will try to tell as many people as possible,” Merritt said. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”