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Tacoma City Council expected to tentatively pick preferred route to extend Link next week

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on April 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
April 17, 2013 10:25 am

A week from today, Tacoma’s City Council is expected to finally choose a preferred route to extend Sound Transit’s Link light rail system.

“We’re going to show our hands next week,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday.

The mayor’s comments came following a nearly two-hour presentation Tuesday during which Sound Transit staffers presented findings of the latest engineering analysis for extending the Link along two new potential route alternatives.

The city asked the regional transit authority to analyze the two so-called “hybrid” routes just before Sound Transit was ready to make a recommendation about several routes that previously had been studied.

The routes are being studied to satisfy requirements to compete for a $50 million “Small Starts” grant from the Federal Transit Authority. Sound Transit plans to use the grant to match $50 million from local ST2 tax revenues, plus another $50 million raised from yet unspecified partners to cover the expansion’s estimated $150 million cost.

The proposed hybrids took portions of other potential extension corridors to create two new route possibilities. The city asked for the eleventh-hour analysis because city council members said they wanted to make sure they’re choosing the best option for extending the Link.

As we reported last week, neither proposed hybrid route fared well. Engineers found both to generally be costlier due to added operational capacities needed to support them and other factors. The hybrids also scored lower on a set of various criteria than at least three of the other alternatives previously analyzed.

The highest scoring routes include the C1 Eastside, the B1 North End Central and E1 North Downtown Central routes. Estimated costs for a Link expansion along those routes ranged from a low of $119 million (C1) to $163 milllion (B1).

Today’s presentation to council went over the details of the hybrid analyses and briefly reviewed details of the highest scoring route options. The so-called H1 route — a hybrid of parts of the E2 and the C1 routes — ranged in costs from about $140 million to $218 million. The H2 route — a combination of the E1 and C1 routes — ranged from $98 to $176 million.

Sound Transit planner Val Batey noted that choosing a route with a single corridor — rather than one of the hybrid routes, which combine parts of two corridors — likely will cost less during an environmental review process. A single corridor extension likely would require a less stringent environmental assessment, while a two corridor-route  might require a full-blown environmental impact statement, she said.

“We believe our chances to do an environmental assessment versus an environmental impact statement are much better with a single corridor,”  Batey said.

The cost difference between the review processes would be about $2 million, she added.

The council agreed to discuss the various alternatives and come up with a preferred choice at next week’s study session. Several council members, including David BoeMarty Campbell and Joe Lonergan, asked for clarifying information before next week’s discussion. The council will hold a formal vote to recommend its choice on April 30.

Once the city picks a preferred route, its recommendation will be sent to the Sound Transit Board of Directors, who will make the final decision on an extension route. The board could vote on the issue as early as May 23.

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