Friday, September 14, 2012

White House “We Can’t Wait” initiative spotlights WSDOT’s Point Defiance Bypass project

By guest blogger Melanie Coon

Our Point Defiance Bypass rail project was in the national spotlight when the Obama Administration included it among four US transportation projects that President Obama wants accelerated under his “We Can’t Wait” initiative. The “We Can’t Wait” announcement highlighted an executive order issued by the president last March launching a government-wide effort to make the permitting and review process for transportation projects faster and more efficient.

This rendering shows a rail crossing at Berkeley street near
Lakewood with proposed updated safety features and signals.
We have completed comprehensive studies related to moving the Amtrak Cascades route away from Tacoma’s Point Defiance waterfront, exploring potential effects on traffic, noise and the natural environment near the bypass route through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. The proposed inland passenger rail route is shorter and will create room for Amtrak Cascades to add more daily trains between Seattle and Portland and will shorten travel times by avoiding rail congestion and delays.

The executive order pushes the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) who provided federal high speed rail funding for the project, to accelerate its internal review process and enable us to make those studies available to the public this fall. Shorter internal review cycles have shaved about six months off the project schedule.

We plan to publish the Point Defiance Bypass Environmental Assessment later this month and will let the public know when it’s available for review and comment. Part of that outreach includes public open houses on Oct. 10 and 11 in DuPont and Lakewood. Visit the Point Defiance Bypass webpage for times and locations. We expect a decision from FRA if we can move forward with final design by the end of this year. If all goes well, we’ll start construction in 2015 and we’ll be using the bypass by 2017.