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Lakewood sues to stop rerouting of Amtrak trains

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on March 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm with 8 Comments »
March 28, 2013 3:52 pm

The city of Lakewood has sued the state to stop the proposed rerouting of Amtrak passenger trains through the community in its tracks.

The city claims that the Washington State Department of Transportation’s environmental review of the project glossed over traffic and neighborhood impacts on Lakewood and, specifically, its isolated Tillicum neighborhood by using incorrect or insufficient information.

The city filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court.

The three-year environmental review, approved by federal officials on March 1, concluded moving Amtrak trains from the waterfront route around Point Defiance to an inland route passing through DuPont, Lakewood and south Tacoma, would not significantly harm the environment. The trains will not stop in Lakewood.

The decision was crucial because it frees the state to seek reimbursement from $89 million in federal stimulus dollars budgeted for the project to complete its design and construction. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015, and the first trains would run on the new route two years later, officials estimate.

The city’s lawsuit concluded WSDOT violated state laws that required the review by reaching a decision “which was not based on sufficient or adequate information with respect to a number of impacts.”

Here’s a copy of the full complaint:

The lawsuit seeks a court order voiding the state’s decision, slamming the brakes on a project that had been gaining some momentum in the last month after years of delay.

Melanie Coon, WSDOT’s rail spokeswoman, said the agency had received notice of the lawsuit and is reviewing it in concert with the Federal Railroad Administration and the state Attorney General’s Office. She had no other immediate comments.

Officials with the Washington Department of Transportation say rerouting passenger trains away from the Puget Sound waterfront would decrease travel times through the Nisqually-Tacoma corridor by up to 10 minutes, improve rail safety and allow two more trains to run between Portland and Seattle each day.

The project also would make safety improvements to several at-grade crossings in DuPont and Lakewood and on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They include stationary horns and other warning devices, gates, traffic signals and sidewalks.

But Lakewood has long maintained more is needed to safeguard the public from trains traveling up to 79 miles per hour through the community.

In January 2010, the council passed a resolution opposing the project and asked WSDOT to conduct a in-depth review to include grade separation between vehicles and trains. Amtrak trains would pass through seven at-grade rail crossings in Lakewood.

State officials have said constructing overpasses is too costly at this time. But the lawsuit points out that  the proposed cross-base highway, which would connect Interstate 5 and State Route 7, envisioned such a project for North Thorne Lane, one of the at-grade rail crossings.

The lawsuit also identifies other conclusions that the city argued are “factually incorrect” and “makes clear that this (the environmental review) was merely a bureaucratic exercise.” They include that the Point Defiance Bypass would not alter neighborhoods, lower property values or cause significant traffic delays at some intersections.

The lawsuit suggests that the Tillicum neighborhood, where the city has made inroads of late to bolster its housing stock and revitalize its business corridor, has the most to lose from the project. The only ways to get and out of the neighborhood are from two I-5 exits, which would closed temporarily during the day to allow trains to pass.

“The Tillicum neighborhood, which proudly serves the needs of our mlitary service members and is home to one of the most socio-economically diverse populations in the state, will become even more isolated from the rest of the city because of this project,” city spokesman Jeff Brewster said.

Finally, the lawsuit charges that WSDOT didn’t account for Lakewood’s policies for rail traffic running through its community during the environmental review.

You’re invited to follow Christian Hill on Twitter @TNTchill.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. johnesherman says:

    Good reporting and adding the legal document filed is great for fact.

  2. upchopper says:

    Government suing government- A turf war between rival gangs with funding from the taxpayers. The pro or cons matter little to either side, just the fact that the other side is saying this will be done/ won’t be done and with each believing it’s their turf.

  3. I’M ALWAYS FOR IMPROVEMENT BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE APPROVAL FOR THE SWITCH WAS HURRIED AND WITHOUT TOTAL CONSIDERATION FOR THE COMMUNITIES IT INVOLVED. TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE IT RIGHT!!

  4. Scottc51 says:

    I’m glad to see this lawsuit. Re-routing solves a non-problem and creates new ones.

  5. This is a total waste of taxpayer money for the City of Lakewood to be using the State DOT. I think improving the railroad will actually help Tillicum by upgrading the traffic signals at either end of town and doing improvements to the interchanges so people can get in and out of town faster. The real reason the town of Tillicum is so isolated is not the railroad tracks, but I-5 cutting off its connection to the outside world. Lakewood should have been working with the DOT To squeeze every penny out of them for improvements in Tillicum, and possibly even an Amtrak stop in Lakewood instead of being opposed to the project and now suing the state over it.

  6. DavidAnderson says:

    Of course we out here in Tillicum wish the City of Lakewood well in derailing High Speed Fail given it’s our community that is “isolated,” and it is our neighborhood that “has the most to lose from the project.”

    However, given the track record of our community with the City, my guess is this lawsuit will end up in the same circular file ours did when fighting Lakewood to keep Camp Murray traffic from running us through.

    Crying over spilt milk?

    Just hope Lakewood has a better outcome in its battle with the WSDOT behemoth than our tiny community had with the City.

    Otherwise, should High Speed Rail not fail to run our life-congested neighborhood through, it’s just a matter of time before it’s about spilt blood.

    The excerpt above from: http://lakewood-jblm.patch.com/blog_posts/high-speed-fail-wont

  7. ltkeffer says:

    this is a supreme waste of time for everyone.

  8. I am a home owner that sits just on the west side of the existing railway on Clover Creek. Currently the trains that pass are mostly for military movements of equipment from what I see, and this is very infrequent. It’s so little that when it comes through I certainly know it, and its VERY LOUD.

    With this new Amtrak train going through multiple times a day and blaring horns I don’t see how I will not notice it. I have a sister in law that has this same train going through right next to her back-yard in Scio Oregon and its nearly intolerable, it shakes the house with its high speed and blaring horn. Conversations stop due to the noise, and that’s IN the house. it runs in the early AM times all the way to the very late hours. The times I have stated with her its VERY startling.

    This comment from above…
    “They include that the Point Defiance Bypass would not alter neighborhoods, lower property values or cause significant traffic delays”

    Are they serious? Trains are really loud! This is going to kill my property value that’s already much lower due to the housing market crashing. I would venture a guess that this train will decrease my property value by over $100K. That’s a huge loss and one that I will not be able to recover from easily.

    Who’s reimbursing me or guaranteeing me that I will not take a property value hit? The DOT did the survey, so are they going to guarantee/reimburse me when it comes time to sell?

    Is a sound barrier going to be constructed to cut down on the noise?

    Who’s going to pay for sound proofing my house?

    I’m a lite sleeper, who is going to pay for my sleep deprivation and loss of general health from trains going by all hours of the morning, day, and night?

    Who is going to be responsible for the property and houses that are abandoned and foreclosed on?

    What’s being done for emergency vehicles to get into and out of isolated areas like mine, the alternate routes to my place are small and winding… Emergency vehicles will have to pass over the tracks 2 times from my house to take us to the nearest hospital. This seems to be a high safety risk for me, my family, and my neighbors.

    The cost of this is too high and the losses too great.

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