CENTRAL Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) opened the 3.9km Hilltop Tacoma light rail extension on September 16. The $US 282.7m extension more than doubles the length of the T Line and runs parallel to former streetcar lines that closed in the 1930s.

Testing of the extension commenced in July. It adds one relocated station at Old City Hall and six new stations: South 4th, Stadium District, Tacoma General, 6th Avenue, Hilltop District and the new terminus, St Joseph.

Sound Transit board chair and King County executive, Mr Dow Constantine, described the Hilltop extension as “a major step toward creating a more connected Tacoma and region as we continue expanding our transit network.”

The project also involved expanding the operations and maintenance facility in Tacoma to accommodate five new LRVs built by Brookville Equipment, doubling the size of the LRV fleet.

Sound Transit awarded Brookville a $US 26.5m contract in 2017 and took delivery of the last Liberty NXT LRV in late 2022. Each LRV is designed to carry more than 100 passengers and offers seating for up to 26 people, with spaces for those using wheelchairs or other mobility devices plus space for bikes.

Services are now running at approximately 12-minute intervals during peak periods Monday-Saturday and at 20-minute intervals off peak and on Sundays. Sound Transit forecasts ridership of 2000-4000 passengers a day by 2026.

The extension project was approved by local voters in 2008 and construction began in 2018. Sound Transit anticipated a late-March 2023 launch, but announced in December 2022 that the opening would be delayed due to problems with track geometry.

The first section of the T Line opened in 2003. It was the first modern electric light rail line in Washington State.

“Connecting our historic Stadium District, Wright Park, medical facilities, downtown and the Tacoma Dome to the rest of our city and the broader region, these light rail stations represent our ongoing commitment to sustainability, equity, access and mobility for all,” says Sound Transit board member and Tacoma deputy mayor, Ms Kristina Walker.

Sound Transit plans to further extend the Tacoma Link from the Hilltop terminus by 5.6km to Tacoma Community College by 2039.

In May, the US Department of Transportation announced that its Build America Bureau had provided three new low-interest loans totalling $US 327m to Sound Transit, including $US 93.3m for the Hilltop Tacoma extension.

“Sound Transit is our largest borrower, now at $US 4.17bn,” Bureau executive director, Dr Morteza Farajian, said at that time. “They are leveraging low-interest financing to build critical projects that will benefit passengers for years to come.”

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