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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Seattle/Central Link Light Rail

Map of the initial Link line

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This is Seattle's first light rail system,with the initial line running from downtown to the airport. This line was originally designed to serve riders from the University District through to the airport, but the line was shortened after costs increased. Soon after voters approved Sound Transit, discussions began on extending the line to Northgate, which has a large regional bus transit center. Even future extensions to the Eastside or to Tacoma were proposed.

Then the problems began. Due to the unique topography of the Seattle area, as well as its urbanization, a significant portion of the line needed to be in a tunnel under Capitol Hill and the University District. It turned out the tunneling would cost more than predicted due to difficult soils along the route. Then, another large portion of the line was designed to run at street level through the Rainier Valley. The community was upset by this, and demanded concessions. These issues led to years of delays, at a time when property values were almost doubling every year. Note that Sound Transit didn't own any of the right of way for the project at the beginning.

The completed project has been scaled back, yet still costs more than the original plan. The line currently runs from Westlake Station in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to the Airport.

The extension to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington began construction in 2009. Due to the 2008 passage of Sound Transit 2, more extensions will continue North from UW to Northgate and eventually Lynnwood. South extensions will continue from the airport to North Federal Way. East the line will continue over the I-90 floating bridge to Bellevue and out to Microsoft.

Link trains at Mount Baker station

The current line doesn't appear to solve the region’s traffic problems, although ridership has been heavy. It does pass through some of the most urbanized areas of the state. However, the two major traffic problems here are between Tacoma and Seattle/the Eastside, and between Seattle and the Eastside. Tacoma to Seattle is already handled by the Sounder

What is really needed is light rail to the Eastside. The majority of jobs in the area exist in the Bellevue/Redmond area. The passage of Sound Transit 2 in 2007 does plan to run an Eastside Link over the I-90 floating bridge through Bellevue to Redmond. This line should be open by 2023.

Interesting Facts: Back to Top

  • The Seattle Bus Tunnel is the first tunnel designed for hybrid buses in the US. At the end of construction track was laid in the tunnel for a possible light rail connection; due to errors with installation, it had to be removed and replaced.

Thoughts: Back to Top

The current line serves two important purposes. First, it allows access from the airport to downtown and back. If you are in town as a tourist or business, this is very important. Most systems in the US have connections to the area’s airports. In my riding Link I have seen many users headed to or from the airport.

Second, it allows another way into downtown, by allowing you to park at an outlying area and riding the train in. In 2010 I started a new job downtown, very close to the transit tunnel. I took Link for the first few months, and found it to be packed full at rush hours. However, the one park and ride on the line, in Tukwila, fills up rapidly, currently by 8:15am.

On a side note, I see many users headed to UW in the mornings and to the Eastside in the evenings in the Transit Tunnel. I can see where both the University Link and Eastside Link extensions will have heavy ridership once completed.

One big plus of this system is using it to access sporting events at both Qwest Field and Safeco Field. With a station within a block of both stadiums the line again provides a fairly inexpensive, convenient way to the games.

Extending to the Eastside and North and South should also dramatically help traffic in the area, as so much traffic heads to the Eastside for the high tech jobs that exist there.

Future: Back to Top

  • Extension through Capitol Hill to the University District (open 2016)
  • Northgate extension (open 2023)
  • South extension (open 2023)
  • Eastside extension (open 2023)

Links: Back to Top

Map: © Sound Transit
Image: © Ben Brooks/Paul Roush