It’s been over 70 years since trolleys made the climb up South Stadium Way in Tacoma.
This week, the first tracks for the city’s new streetcar extension were laid down, and they are so close to the historical line that artifacts from that era are being unearthed by workers.
Contractors working for Sound Transit are installing a 312-foot long section of track on South Stadium Way as a test segment of the 2.4-mile Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension.
Sound Transit and its contractor, Walsh Construction Company, spent much of 2018 and this year relocating underground utilities. While there’s more of that to go, construction has entered an above-ground phase.
Eventually, the line will have two tracks — one inbound and one outbound. Only the inbound tracks have been put down, steps away from condos and apartments that occupy the hillside between South Stadium Way and Broadway.
The tracks run less than a third of the distance between Division Avenue and South 4th Street, but they are a crucial first step for the system, said Kenn Hallquist, a project manager for Walsh.
“Sound Transit gets two weeks to inspect it, take all their measurements, make sure this is worthy of proceeding forward,” Hallquist said.
If approved, track will continue to be added downhill toward South 4th Street.
Some time in summer, the outbound tracks will be installed, Hallquist said.
A new substation to provide power for the system also is under construction on South Stadium Way.
The entire extension follows a route of Tacoma’s first trolley system.
“We are locating some of the old track slabs and ties,” Hallquist said of the once extensive system that ran from the 1890s into the 1930s.
When those artifacts and others such as spikes are found, an archeologist is consulted to determine their significance, he said. So far, Hallquist said, none of them have been deemed worth keeping.
Like the old trolley and Tacoma’s current streetcars, the extension will run at grade — level with the street.
Concrete around the rails will be poured on Monday.
The $217 million streetcar project involves the construction of seven new stations and the removal of the theater district station — a new station near Old City Hall will replace it.
It also entails and the installation of 300 power poles that will hold overhead lines to power the trolleys. Foundations for those should all be in place by the end of this year, said Sound Transit spokesman Scott Thompson.
Five new trolleys are being built for the line and should arrive in 2020.
An expanded operations and maintenance facility near Freighthouse Square should open in 2020.
On Thursday, North E Street and North 1st Street at Stadium High School (from Division to Tacoma Avenue) will be shut down for the summer as crews install rail, pavement, curbs and other structures, said Kathy Harbert, a Sound Transit project manager.
The specialized track, which makes a 90-degree turn there, is being fabricated in Pennsylvania and will be installed in pieces.
Stations will start to rise in fall. Rail installation will continue through 2020. The first trolleys will be tested on the extension in May 2021.
When completely finished, the new line will travel along Division Avenue before turning onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way and ending at South 19th Street.
The new line, Sound Transit said, opens in May 2022.
In total, Tacoma Link will be a 4-mile long line with service every 10 minutes, Sound Transit said. It expects 2,000-4,000 riders daily by 2026.