This is the third post in a series about the Tacoma to Olympia Corridor. In the first post we discussed I-5 improvements and in the second post we took a look at bus service between Tacoma and Olympia. This post takes a look at planned upgrades to rail infrastructure through the corridor. Although we have recently covered a lot of related news regarding the Point Defiance Bypass, I figured I'd still write an overall summary of what's happening for this series of posts.
As most people know already, Sound Transit and WSDOT are working right now on upgrading the tracks between Tacoma and the Thurston County Line. Sound Transit has been at work for quite some time now on extending the Sounder to Lakewood. The extension to Lakewood was part of the initial Sound Move plan from 1996. In 2003, a deal with BNSF was secured wherein among other things, Sound Transit would take ownership of the tracks between Tacoma and the Thurston County line.
The construction of the Sounder extension has recently begun. The two new stations at South Tacoma and Lakewood have already been completed. The track upgrades are split into two projects. The section of track from M Street to Lakewood is already under construction and is anticipated to finish by the end of the year. In this section, four at-grade intersections in Lakewood either were upgraded or are about to be. Three intersections have already been upgraded with one more schedule for work in June. The other section is from D Street to M Street which will create a new corridor for railway tracks that connects to Tacoma Dome Station. That project is supposed to begin construction this summer.
The WSDOT portion of the project is also underway, albeit with slightly more controversy. Officially called the Point Defiance Bypass project, this project is aimed at upgrading the tracks between Tacoma and Thurston County via the same tracks to Lakewood in order to switch Amtrak to this corridor instead of along the current route. This will save about 5 minutes off the total journey time, but much more importantly, will increase the reliability of Amtrak and allow for future expansion of service between Seattle and Portland.
Ever since 2007 when WSDOT won a categorical exclusion for the Point Defiance Project which dismissed the need for a full environmental assessment, the City of Lakewood and recently Dupont have been raising concerns related to safety. The project was then kicked into high gear after Washington State received nearly $600 million in stimulus funds for high speed rail. Ultimately though, the FRA told WSDOT that they did indeed have to do a full environmental assessment for the project. The current projected finish for the project will be in the year 2014. Seattle Transit Blog also has a good post on the Point Defiance Bypass project.