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Tacoma Link expansion marks important breakthrough in community investment but raises questions on rising housing costs

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Construction of the Hilltop Link Light Rail Expansion.

Sound Transit has recently begun construction expanding the Tacoma Link Light Rail to the Hilltop neighborhood. The expansion, including six new and one relocated station, more than doubles the track’s length.

Expected to open in 2022, the tracks will extend the current system up Stadium Way, through Division Avenue, down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and end at South 19th Street. 

The current Tacoma Link provides transportation to platforms between the Tacoma Dome Station and the Theater District Station.

The new track will be located in the Tacoma roadway system, so powerful foundations and substation work are vital to promoting efficient track placement. Physical preparation has been ongoing since last fall with work focused on moving and relocating underground utilities. 

For Scott Thompson, a public information officer for Sound Transit, the extension will provide increased mobility and fiscal expansion.

“I think it's going to add some economic opportunities for folks who want to build more housing or build more businesses with access to transit,” Thompson said.

The expansion fits into Sound Transit’s future plans, starting construction preparations that span from the rapidly approaching 2021 opening of the new Northgate station to long term goals such as a new track line extending to Everett by 2036. 

“People are going [to Tacoma] because of the affordability and the access to transit,” Thompson said. 

Nevertheless, with any large impact on a community, there are detrimental consequences that must be considered. From a political perspective, there is concern of gentrification and rising property values in the Hilltop area.

“People are put in a position where they are struggling to afford the rising property taxes,” city of Tacoma council member Keith Blocker said.

With much of the Hilltop expansion encroaching on his district, it’s a problem that directly affects his constituents. 

Blocker believes the onus of preventing residents from losing their homes is on the city of Tacoma, non-profit organizations, and faith-based organizations through financial support and efficient representation. His role in the project focused primarily on funding at the state and federal government to ensure the proper financial stability for success. Throughout the changes, the residents of Hilltop have stayed positive. 

“There has been a lot of community engagement around the project,” Blocker said. “People have actually gone door to door to let people know about the link expansion and employment opportunities that will come with the expansion.” 

The general trend of increased construction spending in Tacoma is expected to create new jobs for those living in the communities where the construction is happening.

“We want to work to make sure that people who live in Tacoma and people who live in the neighborhoods where these projects are happening have access to the employment opportunities,” Blocker said. 

Sound Transit has high hopes for the expansion and future of Hilltop. The project marks another triumph as the company continues its aggressive expansion. Nevertheless, the economic outcome on the Hilltop neighborhood will serve as a litmus test for how increased transit opportunities impact the residents living in the area.

Reach contributing writer Carl Myers at Twitter: @Carl_walks_home

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