Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Peter Callaghan's story in Trib

When it comes to Dome District, Sound Transit planners aren’t listening
Published: 08/04/09 12:05 am
Comments (46)
Recommend (15)

At one time, Sound Transit operated under a strict policy: Any neighborhood that hosted the transit agency’s rails and stations would be better off after construction than it was before.
That policy now seems to have been amended to read “except in Tacoma.” Down here, we are being directed by the bureaucrats and the politicians who allegedly supervise them to take what they offer us and like it.
Or else.
Or else what?
Or else they’ll take their rails and trains and go home to Seattle.
The latest issue is the method to get Sounder trains from the current end of the line at Freighthouse Square to South Tacoma and Lakewood. In order to climb a small grade between D and M streets, the engineers must gradually elevate the tracks. The grade is needed so the tracks can cross Pacific on a bridge rather than at street level – a change made for safety reasons.
Sound Transit staff wants to build a tall earthen berm and put the tracks on top. When that decision was made, such a method was considerably cheaper. But the businesses and neighbors in the Dome District – plus lots of others who see that area as a great mixed-use area some day – see the berm as the Not-So-Great Wall of Tacoma.
The berm will create a visual and psychological barrier between the upper part of the district by the Dome and the lower part that approaches the Foss Waterway.
Dome District advocates have suggested using post-and-beam construction instead. That would allow pedestrians to pass beneath and allow some space for parking. While earlier estimates said post-and-beam would be much more expensive, more-recent analysis suggests the costs are comparable.
Neither one is a fabulous solution. But the post-and-beam method would be less bad, and advocates for the neighborhood are telling anyone and everyone who will listen. They are also trying to tell a lot of folks who aren’t listening – the Sound Transit staff and the local elected officials who serve on the Sound Transit board.
Last week, at the urging of Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who recently joined the Sound Transit board, a meeting was held with agency staff, politicians and neighborhood advocates. Plans were presented, opinions were shared, the path of the tracks was toured.
When it was over, Sound Transit said thanks for coming, but it isn’t changing its plans. The design was changed once, staff said, when the decision was made to go over the top of Pacific. The project is already over time and over budget.
None of that is the fault of the neighborhoods or the city of Tacoma.
Neighbors probably don’t expect the bureaucrats in Seattle to pay them much attention. They do, however, expect the local elected officials who represent them on the Sound Transit board to take on their case. That hasn’t happened either.
After last week’s meeting, Tacoma Councilwoman Julie Anderson told News Tribune editorial page editor Pat O’Callahan that residents shouldn’t get their hopes up.
“It’s unfortunate that people think we’re at a decision point, because a decision was made quite some time ago,” Anderson said.
Once again, Sound Transit has demonstrated the difference between being willing to listen and being willing to be persuaded. The agency is required to spend millions of dollars to distribute information and seek public opinion. But there is little evidence that opinions contrary to those held by staff and board members are considered.
Anyone who has ridden the Seattle LINK segments can see how much was spent to make those neighborhoods better. Seattle politicians also assured that millions more were spent on nontransit economic and social programs to buy off opposition in the Rainier Valley.
But when Tacoma residents ask for a design that won’t damage the Dome District, they’re told to take a hike.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657


  1. Sound Transit is not "bureaucrats in Seattle." It's a regional agency with proportional representation from all areas, including Pierce County. Most board members are elected, and they're making the decisions, not the ST administrators.

    Tacoma dragged its feet on this and now it's past time to make a decision. Instead of playing the persecution card open your eyes and look at the compromises that have happened for service in other places that are far more disruptive than a berm in an industrial neighborhood. Check out MLK Way in Seattle, and the years of construction it had to endure despite many residents preferring an underground route that was deemed too expensive. Or look at Bellevue, which will have to pay for a tunnel downtown if it wants one. In each of these cities and every other there were disruptions to neighborhoods and compromises to make things worse. But the public was deeply involved all along, as in Tacoma.

  2. Actually Tacoma politician and citizens alike worked really hard to get some sort of decent urban design solution from ST. That part of tacoma doesn't plan to always be an industrial nieghborhood - its near to the waterfront, and the growing UWT. AIts urban and walkable and near to the largest resional transit center at the Dome. It should be walkable. Why are you arguing AGAINST walkability and good transit integration? Because its not Seattle? Tacoma should just shut up??

    I am not sure that you know what you are talking about- I am a transit advoate and I am appalled by ST's disregard of decent urban design.