The Tacoma Sun


Funding options for Tacoma Streetcar: Making an Idea a Reality


A few years ago local organizer and activist Morgan Alexander come up with an idea to build a streetcar network in Tacoma.  He realized that streetcars could re-connect our neighborhoods and business districts, spur economic development, and celebrate our historic roots of our city.  Morgan shopped this idea around to local leaders and elected officials as a citizen activist and got a lot of, “Great idea, good luck” type of responses.  Then somewhere along the way the city manager and some members of the council started to realize the practical and economic benefits of such a proposal and have started (albeit slowly) to look into the practicality of a streetcar network.

Recently the City Manager presented a rough plan to the City Council to move forward on a streetcar system and the ball is back in the council’s hands for the time being.

One of the big questions being discussed is how we would fund a system both in terms of capital infrastructure and ongoing operating costs.  Unfortunately the State Legislature controls what local taxing options can be implemented to fund transportation infrastructure improvements.  Basically, there are the major options the City of Tacoma has at its disposal right now to fund a streetcar network.  Any other funding sources would require legislative approval, which would be quite a difficult process to undergo.


1.      Commercial Parking Tax-Tacoma has no commercial parking tax.  Seattle, Seatac, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Mukilteo and Tukwila all utilize this mechanism.  All of the money raised from this tax could go to a streetcar network.  The City of Bremerton, which is noticeably smaller than Tacoma raises $399,703 a year.  Seattle is projected to raise $3,662,000 per year.

2.      Raise Pierce Transit’s Tacoma area sales tax rate to .9%. Right now they are operating at .6% would raise a huge amount of transit dollars to help build and operate a streetcar system.

3.      LID-Create business district LIDs around streetcar lines so the businesses who will boom the most from the system help contribute to the capitol costs.  This option is the primary funding source for the South Lake Union Line in Seattle.

4.      Innovative public-private partnerships-For example, the Portland streetcar has stops that are sponsored by businesses nearby.  They pay an annual fee for a huge amount of name recognition by having a streetcar stop named after them.


If it was decided that Pierce Transit was going to build and operate Tacoma Streetcar and fund it partially with a sales tax increase, they would somehow have to create a smaller citywide taxing district within their county taxing authority.  This has not been done elsewhere in the state but I don’t think it is legally out of the questions.  That said; it would probably be an issue that the lawyers would have to look into.


The current funding options available are limited in nature, but many of them provide possibilities that have not been discussed publicly by the city.  Some at city hall believe that more giant parking garages around the city perimeter are the answer to funding streetcars and further revitalizing downtown.  Anyone who has studied Tacoma history or walked down Pacific Ave. knows that parking garages do not create urban renewal, economic revitalization, or integrated neighborhoods.  The proposed Tacoma Streetcar will do all of these things and is valid in its own right.  Why should our eco-friendly revitalizing streetcars be dependent on car-centric blighting parking garages? There are better funding options at the city’s immediate disposal.

published November 18th, 2007

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Erik Bjornson // Nov 19, 2007 at 2:49 am

    “Some at city hall believe that more giant parking garages around the city perimeter are the answer to funding streetcars and further revitalizing downtown”

    Whether to construct a parking garage or not should depend exclusively on demand. From the reports I have read, there is a very modest demand for parking downtown. Around a third of free parking still isn’t used each day.

    Also, the surface level parking lots appear to not have much demand as you can still park for the whole day for $8.00.

    I think there is the substantial initial question of whether a parking garage would even pay for itself downtown.

  • 2 Pat McGregor // Nov 23, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I am all for streetcars – I think they could be a vital link between downtown AND the neighborhoods.

    I have enjoyed, cheered on and supported most projects for downtown because I believe that and city needs a vibrant downtown to be successful.

    However, the time has come to create some successful neighborhoods and business districts. I think the first lines should be run from the neighborhoods to downtown, not downtown to downtown. If you continue to run lines downtown, I will still have to drive there and take a streetcar, rather than walk down the street and hop on one to get to the Harmon, a museum or anywhere else down there.

    I’d love to see a line that ran from the Tacoma Mall, through the Lincoln District and over to McKinley, ending at the Tacoma Dome station. You would be connecting a major retail site with three business districts and the Tacoma Dome, all for eight miles of track (both ways).

    I hope that as these discussions take place, that the neighborhoods that border downtown are not frozen out and are considered first in this plan…

    I hope all enjoyed their Thanksgiving and I look forward to more disucssion as this idea moves ahead.

  • 3 Ben // Jan 22, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I think you’re proposal to build a line between the Tacoma Mall and “downtown” (which I define as the downtown core) is a good idea for an expansion line. However, Stadium, 6th Ave. and Proctor (and Ruston too! although excluded) are not downtown area’s in the same sense as the core is.

    Unlike the downtown core, the majority of buildings currently in Stadium, 6th and Proctor are residential, most with the necessary density to make a streetcar financially viable. The Tacoma Mall on the other hand is a large collection of stores, which people go to, with a small collection of dense housing. Building a line between the Mall and the downtown core really would only benefit the small number of people who live in the core (although expanding rapidly!) or the small number of people who live in those condo’s near the mall. Everything is so spread out at the mall, most people would end up driving downtown anyways instead of walking to the stop.

    Personally, I’m a fan of both 2 and 4 above. I don’t like the idea of further taxing business for parking. Parking which they are currently REQUIRED to build and maintain, even if it doesn’t all get used. I’m also not a fan of further taxing businesses which are close to the line. Sure, they’ll benefit, but the average user will benefit just as much from their convince factor. We have too much empty 1st floor commercial space in the downtown core/core-stadium area as it is. Adding an additional tax to these small business owners might push the numbers into the red and discourage new ventures.

  • 4 NSHDscott // Jan 22, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    My vote for the first line would be from the current north terminal of Link up Commerce/Stadium and at least to the hospital at Division and K. That segment could be a great “trial run” for the streetcar, kind of like Tacoma Link was for ST’s Seattle line. Of course I’d hope that this line would get extended much further up 6th, either as part of the first phase or a latter phase.

    Regarding the garages, my understanding was that the city wanted to build them at the outer terminals of the streetcar lines so that people who don’t live within walking distance of it could drive a little bit to a garage, park, and ride it into downtown. Land for garages is cheaper outside of downtown too. Does anyone know if this understanding is wrong?

    Funding is my biggest concern. If a pothole repair tax measure fails in a city whose biggest complaint is potholes, what hope does a streetcar tax measure have? For that reason I hope this doesn’t become a ballot issue because it will fail. I’d like to say it would have a better chance if paired with road repairs scattered throughout the city, but given recent past experience …

    As much as I hate to say this because I’d be included in the scope, I wonder if a broader LID that would include all businesses and residences within a 1/4 mile of a line should be a main form of revenue for the project (that would then be combined with other funds). But, given that my street (N. L) barely passed a little LID to get historic-looking streetlights instead of the industrial cobras even though every other street has the historic ones, I’m very pessimistic they would pass a big one. Especially when this LID vote was like two years ago and I still have the same rusty streetlights, and the whole St. Helens LID turned into a fiasco too. It just sends a bad message to those who care enough to vote for a LID.

  • 5 Pat // Jan 31, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Good comments as always – it is always nice to see another perpective. However, my suggested line would be one of the shortest, yet it would connect the Lincoln, McKinley and Dome Districts, as well as the mall to downtown. There is a large residential section that surrounds these districts. Just off 38th street is a wonderful neighborhgoods, much like the ones off 6th avenue We need something that can jumpstart our business district.

    I’d also like to see some wheeled trolleys in certain areas…

    Just some thoughts…


  • 6 Chris K. // Jan 31, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Where’s the plan though? Why don’t we have a piece of legislation working through the City Council Subcommittees? We’ve waited long enough to see some action on this. The Streetcar Advisory Committee has spoken. The Downtown Merchants Association has spoken. The Tacoman general public has spoken. The Green Ribbon Task Force is about to rubber stamp the issue. The City Manager has included streetcars in the downtown transportation plan.

    What is the hold up? If we’re resolved to get this thing done, where is the legislation to propose it to the voters to raise the funds to get it done?

  • 7 Erik Bjornson // Feb 2, 2008 at 2:53 am

    Where’s the plan though? Why don’t we have a piece of legislation working through the City Council Subcommittees? We’ve waited long enough to see some action on this. The Streetcar Advisory Committee has spoken.

    I think the opportunity lies with the new Sound Transit proposal. They are already placing streetcars on the table. Let’s make it a reality for the ballot issue.

  • 8 Michael S. // Mar 4, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Extending a streetcar line up Portland avenue to connect with the ongoing Salishan Development would definitely help with the Portland Avenue Redevelopment project. The necessary housing density is present in and near the Salishan area, (which would include access to the facing areas of the Puyallup Indian Nation) and should result in a total line extension of approximately two miles. Sounds like a win-win to me.

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