Federal stimulus boosts Sounder extension to Lakewood

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Work to begin on track improvements

The Sound Transit Board of Directors today awarded a contract for track and signal improvements on the Tacoma-to-Lakewood rail corridor, boosted by a $4.6 million federal stimulus infusion that will help bring commuter rail service to South Tacoma and Lakewood.

The M Street-to-Lakewood Track and Signal project will upgrade seven miles of existing track and street crossings on the rail corridor from South M Street in Tacoma to Bridgeport Way Southwest near Lakewood Station, which opened for express bus service last September. The federal grant and other project savings will be used to help close the funding gap for work between D Street and M Street in Tacoma that is also needed to expand Sounder service south by 2012.

“This kind of construction project will get our economy moving today, and keep us moving tomorrow.” said Sound Transit Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

The $4.6 million grant is part of $131 million in federal stimulus funds for transit projects in the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit will receive a total of $23 million for five shovel-ready construction projects in communities throughout the Sound Transit District.

The upgrades made along the seven-mile stretch of rail include all new track and signal systems and improvements to 11 at-grade railroad crossings to meet current passenger rail safety standards along the corridor, which Sound Transit purchased from BNSF Railway. Layover tracks for train storage will also be added north of Lakewood Station.

The track and signal upgrade project is one of four projects along the rail corridor to ready it for passenger train service. Two of the projects, Lakewood Station and South Tacoma Station, are complete and currently open for commuter parking and express bus service.

“With two projects down and two to go, we are keeping our promises to Pierce County residents and creating more transportation options,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Lakewood City Councilmember Claudia Thomas.

The future D-to-M Streets track and signal project will build a new 1.2-mile section of rail connecting Tacoma Dome Station to the rest of the rail corridor, including a rail overpass spanning Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma. Final design of the D-to-M Streets project is underway. Even with the help of the federal stimulus grant and other grants and savings, a $39 million funding gap remains for the D-to-M Streets rail project, and Sound Transit is seeking additional funding and contributions from other partners.

“We are squeezing every dollar we can out of these construction projects. With the federal help we received for the Tacoma-to-Lakewood rail corridor, we’re that much closer to the finish line,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.

“I am very proud of the way Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, the federal government and the state are collaborating to make this Sounder extension a reality,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Tacoma City Councilmember Julie Anderson.

While work on the Tacoma-to-Lakewood Sounder extension continues, more service will be added to Sounder’s south line starting in June. A ninth round-trip train running between Tacoma and Seattle will start June 1. Four more round-trip trains and longer trains in the future add up to a 65 percent increase in Sounder capacity that was included as part of the Sound Transit 2 system expansion plan approved by voters last November.