Light rail service to Tacoma delayed to 2035

Sound Transit studies more options for the train line route.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that construction of the Tacoma Dome light rail station would begin in 2035. It is service, not construction, that is estimated to start in 2035; in fact, Sound Transit estimates construction on that station to start in 2028. We regret the error.

Construction of the Tacoma Dome Sound Transit light rail station has been delayed again, and service is now estimated to start in 2035, as the agency considers whether to change the route the train line takes as it passes through Federal Way.

According to Sound Transit, an environmental impact statement showed the need to consider more station and route options in southern Federal Way, as well as whether to move a proposed station on a floodplain in Fife. The options for the Tacoma stations, including the Tacoma Dome, remain as they are.

The Sound Transit board will convene March 23 to discuss those options and consider whether to study them in full, which would delay publishing the environmental statement to mid-2024 and change the timeline for opening the Tacoma Dome Station.

Sound Transit is operating on the assumption that those delays will occur.

The $3.3 billion light rail extension was first planned to open in 2030, and later delayed to 2032. Sound Transit spokesperson David Jackson said this new delay to 2035 “reflects the time required to study the other options that will go before the board later this month.”

Around 2019, Sound Transit narrowed down the expansion project to a single station in Fife and a single route through south Federal Way.

But the Fife station location sits on a floodplain which, due to federal regulations, requires Sound Transit to now consider alternatives outside of the floodplain. That’s led the agency to consider two other stations slightly to the west of the proposed Fife Station, which still remains the agency’s preferred option.

The alternate south Federal Way routes would mean much more substantial changes.

The current preferred route hugs I-5 until reaching the South 348th Street intersection, where it then breaks west and would meet a station on Enchanted Parkway or 352nd Street before rejoining I-5. An alternate route doesn’t break from I-5 and would meet a station by the freeway.

But a new third alternative would instead break even farther west, meeting a potential station near 352nd Street before running along Pacific Highway until rejoining the freeway near Milton.

Changing the preferred light rail route through Federal Way could be key to safeguarding the county’s investment in a homelessness shelter project at the former Red Lion hotel. The current preferred Enchanted Parkway route travels perilously close, if not entirely through the existing hotel building.

When completed, the light rail system will connect residents and visitors from downtown Tacoma to Northgate. From the south Federal Way station, Sound Transit estimates travel times of 20 minutes to the Tacoma Dome and 15 minutes to Sea-Tac Airport.

Ahead of the Sound Transit Board’s March 23 meeting, the agency will hold three information sessions on the new options this month:

  • Milton / Edgewood Library: March 8, 5 to 7 p.m.
  • Federal Way Community Center: March 14, 8 to 10 a.m.
  • Poodle Dog Restaurant in Fife: March 15, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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