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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Tacoma Link Light Rail - Future Extensions

NOTE: nothing listed here is an official Sound Transit plan or statement. These are all my own ideas based on my knowledge of the city, ridership guesstimates, news, etc.

These are just a few ideas for future extensions of Link to show what could be done. It would be many years before any of these, outside of the first one, would be implemented, and would require more money and possibly the charging of fares. Some routes may add more riders and increase tourism, others may just be a waste. Almost any of these lines other than the Puyallup Casino extension would require more vehicles, and possibly a larger operations and maintenance base.

Puyallup Casino Extension

Possible 25th street extension

Light rail extension studied in Tacoma (Seattle P-I, March 26, 2004)

This line would run down 25th to Portland Avenue, go up Portland to the other side of I-5 and then run to the Puyallup Tribe's new casino. Another stop could be located somewhere near I-5 on Portland to service the planned business district there as well as the La Quinta hotel.

This line should get ENORMOUS ridership as people could stay at the casino's hotel and ride Link to the Convention Center or to shop downtown. Or people from conventions, staying at the Murano or other downtown hotels, could go to the casino complex.

The Puyallup tribe has or will put up to $50,000 to run a study for this extension.

Reality: Probably will be built. The Puyallups will probably put up some of the cash for the line, it's not too difficult to build the extension and it would increase ridership and continue to support downtown Tacoma.

Timeline: before the casino opens

Note: Project is on hold as the casino project is on hold. With the investment made in the Fife location it looks like this project will be on hold for some time to come.

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Puyallup Extension

Puyallup extension mapPuyallup extension map

This line would extend Sounder via River Road into downtown Puyallup. This would allow people from Puyallup to go into downtown Tacoma, accessing the Puyallup Casino and the Convention Center. It would also allow people from Tacoma to go into Puyallup, including to the fairgrounds which are now used for events year-round.

Building this line wouldn't be too difficult. River Road is wide and has lots of room for expansion (it sits on top of the Puyallup River Levee). Expanding in Downtown Puyallup may be a little harder, but the Meridian corridor has needed a redesign for years. This would require that the line be extended to the Puyallup casino, and would undoubtedly result in the conversion of the line from free to charging fares.

Ridership for this line should be phenomenal. Assuming the Fair allows use of their lot(s) as park and rides on non-event days/Sound Transit builds a large garage at the end, this line could be used for commuters from the South Hill area to commute into downtown Tacoma. It would also allow commuting from Sounder or buses at the Tacoma Dome Station to the fairgrounds during the fair.

Reality: Nobody is talking about this, even though it would be a pretty easy extension with great ridership. Assuming Sound Transit got behind it, this stands a real chance of happening.

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Tacoma General Extension

Possible Link route past Tacoma General

This Link extension would run up Stadium Way, then turn, going up a steep hill to go up Division to Tacoma General and Mary Bridge hospitals. It would primarily serve Tacoma General, allowing workers to commute using Sounder/buses, and Stadium High School and the Stadium district. This route would also set the groundwork for extensions down 6th avenue and to Point Defiance.

One problem is the hill between Stadium Way and Tacoma Avenue is rather steep and would require a lot of work for the trains to use it. Also, Stadium Way/Division may get too much traffic to support losing more than 1 lane to the trains, yet the distance is a little long to only run 1 track. And the amount of ridership versus the amount of work is probably not justified.

Reality: Quite possible as this does follow the proposed routing by Sound Transit.

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6th Avenue Extension and Beyond

Future Link Route down 6th Avenue

This major extension could be built in multiple phases. Ridership should be very heavy as you would pass through a large swath of Tacoma. With extensions to Point Defiance it would have major tourism uses. It would also pass several major schools and one major college. However, it would be VERY difficult to build and very expensive. This extension would almost certainly guarantee that Link would start charging fares.


Phase 1: 6th Avenue

Line would run from Tacoma General (see above) along 6th Avenue to one of several end points: Union, Stevens or Pearl. Since it passes through a major swath of Tacoma it should have major ridership. Possible places served are the 6th Avenue business district, University of Puget Sound, YMCA, plus several schools.

The difficulty is that 6th is already a narrow, busy 2 lane street. Extending Link down it would be very difficult, and there is really no extra right of way available. Single track would almost be required, yet the length demands a double track. The line would almost have to be elevated for most of its length.

On the other hand, the growth of businesses and clubs along 6th, especially around the University of Puget Sound, could make this a very valuable ride. If the line was set up more as a trolley, it could work. Capitol Hill in Seattle will be getting a similar line, and it is a very similar area.

Phase 2: to the Narrows

This would involve extending Link from its end point to a point near the Narrows Bridge. The basic benefits of this extension would be to access areas near the bridge. Places served would be more shopping areas and Tacoma Community College.

Would require Phase 1 to be built, plus sufficient estimated ridership to extend. Also, TCC has a MAJOR transit center....so extending Link down Mildred to this TC would be useful; or not extending Link this way would be very possible as the big user, TCC, already can use the TC.

Phase 3: to the Point

Would travel down Pearl to Point Defiance Park. Would probably go by the Zoo in the park. Stops could service the Westgate area and the city of Ruston. It could also serve the future Point Ruston development.

Would require Phase 1 to be built. Pearl has some room to allow construction of the line, but it would be difficult to build in places.

Reality: The route to TCC is quite probable, as it is the one proposed by Sound Transit. The extension to the point seems unfeasible at the current time.

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Dock Street/Waterfront Loop

Map of proposed Waterfront routing

Tacoma's Waterfront has for many years been very popular with the addition of a walking and biking trail. Several major restaurants, two parks and a long promenade are usually packed during the summer and on weekends. Construction of the Point Ruston development, on the old ASARCO site at the end of the waterfront, is well underway. Along with this the Thea Foss Waterway is in the process of redevelopment. While it is possible to access some of the waterway via the Bridge of Glass, anything developed at the end of Dock Street is a ways away from a Link station.

This line would solve these problems by extending Link on a parallel loop along Dock Street to Schuster Parkway and along the waterfront. Stops could service locations along the waterway, Old Town, and various stops along the waterfront. Dock Street could generate right of way with its redevelopment, and the waterfront has an old right of way that was a rail line for the Asarco smelter running most of it's length. Also, this line could be extended either through Ruston or the Asarco site to Point Defiance as an alternative to the 6th avenue extension.

While this line should enhance tourism and have great ridership, it would require major construction and more trains.

Reality: A possibility. Line would not be overly difficult to construct, and would serve a large tourist area, plus an area of major traffic congestion. Also possible that a separate trolley line could be run along the waterfront from Old Town to Asarco or the Point, along the lines of Seattle's former Waterfront Trolley.

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Tacoma/Seattle Link

An explanation as to the purpose of Tacoma Link is as a "Starter" line to eventually join with the Seattle system. While of dubious value (Sounder should eventually cover the same route with more trains), it is possible. Vancouver's SkyTrain system covers almost the same distance. This is an attempt to show some possible routes for that system.

Northbound: I-5 Line

This line would stay along the I-5 alignment, either in the median or along the sides. Stations could be located at major intersections/off ramps, either on one side of the freeway or in the median with skybridges to the sides of the freeway.

The problem with this line is that you would miss a lot of potential riders by following the freeway. Stations would either have to have bus connections or large park and ride lots. The freeway in places (i.e., Southcenter) has no median and little in the way of shoulders. Parts of the freeway are due to get carpool lanes in the near future as well. The build would be very difficult.

Northbound: Highway 99 Route

This line would mainly follow Highway 99 through Fife, Federal Way, Des Moines, Burien to the South 200th street station. The line would take right of way from along 99 whenever possible. This line passes a major mall, major shopping centers and intersections. It passes though heavily urbanized areas. It should get enormous ridership.

While this would be the better choice for a Seattle to Tacoma line due to the enhanced ridership, it too would be difficult to build. Some places do have the space for a right of way, but many others do not. Major expansion and addition of carpool lanes is in process along 99 currently, taking even more right of way (although the carpool lanes could be used for this line). Most of the route would probably need to be elevated to make sense.

Note: This is the line that will be constructed for Sound Transit 2, mostly elevated, to North Federal Way.

Why not down the Kent valley? Well, there would be more ridership along 99/I-5...and the Kent route is already served by Sounder.

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Gig Harbor via Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Map of potential Gig Harbor extension

This extension would build off of the extension to TCC as proposed in Sound Transit 2. It would go across a new second deck on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and finish at the Gig Harbor Kimball Drive Park and Ride. Future extensions from this stop could serve Purdy, other parts of Gig Harbor and could even go all the way out to Port Orchard or Bremerton.

This line would receive a great deal of ridership. Gig Harbor has long been the home for those who have wanted to leave the city. With the line headed into downtown, many people who now drive in (clogging Highway 16) could ride this in instead. Going the other direction, extensions into Bremerton or Port Orchard, or a bus connection, could serve the growing workforce of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Reality: If the extension proposed by Sound Transit 2 is put in place and built, this line extension could come up in Round 3. The second Tacoma Narrows Bridge is being built for the addition of a second deck, and traffic is already very bad going to and from the Gig Harbor area, which was the whole reason in constructing the second Narrows Bridge. Ridership would probably justify the cost, depending on how much tickets will cost for the new extension.

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Why no South Tacoma lines?

Like many cities in Western Washington, Tacoma is built on hills and restrained by topography. The current Link line is pretty much at the bottom of the hills that South and Central Tacoma sit on. While it is sort of possible to climb the hill at the North end, it is very steep where Link is now.

It would also be possible to go up South Tacoma Way via the Nalley Valley, but this would still not get you near major areas along Pacific, Yakima Avenue or near the Mall. It would also duplicate the route the Sounder will eventually follow.