With a message one Sound Transit official was so proud of he repeated it twice, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led a media tour Tuesday morning of the “ahead of schedule and under budget” U-Link subway line’s Capitol Hill Station.
“When U-Link opens early next year it will transform how people get around this city,” Constantine said before getting to the heart of the matter — a public push to pass the state transportation budget in Olympia including a fully-funded Sound Transit 3 package.
Mayor Murray echoed the call to Olympia before heading underground below Broadway. “Tens of thousands of people will use this as a way to commute to work,” Murray said, “to enjoy life when they’re not working. It’s going to make a difference.”
Tuesday’s tour was the first public opportunity to see inside the $110 million station that stretches from John to Denny below two acres of Broadway just northwest of Cal Anderson Park. Later this summer, Sound Transit says it will begin “pre-revenue testing” on the twin tracks between downtown and Montlake via Capitol Hill. Starting around August, every train will continue from Westlake tunnel to put the system fully through its paces. Passengers, of course, will need to get off the train before it continues all the way to UW station.
When service begins, Capitol Hill riders will descend around
90 feet 65 feet via escalators or elevators to reach the Capitol Hill Station platform. In addition to the main entrance near Broadway and John, the station will also be accessed by a Seattle Central-friendly entrance near Denny on the west side of Broadway and a third entrance on the south end of the site. By 2030, about 14,000 Capitol Hill riders are expected to board the light rail trains each day. Hours of operation will mirror the service — the facility is scheduled to be open from 5 AM to 1 AM — every day but Sunday when hours are reduced to 6 AM to midnight.
The ride from downtown to UW via Broadway is expected to take about 8 minutes — 3 minutes from the Hill to the Montlake station adjacent Husky Stadium. When Metro buses are finally phased out of the Downtown Transit Tunnel in 2021, Sound Transit expects the the trip to UW to drop to around 6 minutes. CHS reported that, yes, you’ll be able to use your mobile phone thanks to a new contract Sound Transit has pounded out with a service provider for the twin tunnels on the route. Fares and service hours are predicted to remain stable.
Through five years of work (or, really, six if you count demolition), the construction project to create the twin tunnels and two new light rail stations has been remarkably issue-free — especially in comparison to Seattle’s waterfront tunnel project. U-Link tunnel boring began in May 2011.
The land Capitol Hill Station occupies was previously home to an array of single family homes, storefronts and businesses purchased — and demolished — by Sound Transit to make way for the project. Meanwhile, Sound Transit’s public art programs have attempted to keep the changing area active and eyesores mostly to a minimum. For example, the old Jack in the Box became an art installation. Today, the big red construction wall is coming down piece by piece and many of the works of art that called it home are finding new homes.
According to Sound Transit, their U-Link project remains around 8% under budget with the total cost expected to come in around $1.8 billion. An early 2016 opening would put the project about six months ahead of some of its early planning and keep to the pace the agency has been talking about publicly since 2013.
Inside the station, final touches are being added in some areas while other portions remain fully under construction. Above the platform, the controversial Jet Kiss, a massive sculpture crafted from A-4 Skyhawk fighter jets by artist Mike Ross, already hangs. Tiled murals by Capitol Hill artist Ellen Forney will be installed in coming months.
Above ground, the process to develop the sites around the Broadway light rail facility with a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments, a community plaza, and commercial space — including a home being planned for a new grocery store — is underway. Portland-based Gerding Edlen will lead the development planned to meet community priorities for 418 apartments with 38% of units to rent for below market rate for 12 years and 86 units designated for “permanent affordable housing.” A third of the units will have at least two bedrooms. Community space for the farmers market and tenants including a day care facility are being planned. Plans for a retail “bazaar” at Site A-North, called The Market Hall, envision “a mix of local retailers, served by booths of varying sizes to accommodate the start-up entrepreneur as well as more established specialty retailers.” Gerding says it plans to work closely with the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to select a retail broker and future tenants.
Meanwhile, planners are adjusting area bus routes in anticipation of the new transit service coming online and the surface level streetcar has begun testing on Broadway with hopes of opening the service to riders later this summer.
Over the weekend, contractors tested the station’s airflow using “artificial smoke.” The work is part of preparations through the rest of 2015 to open Capitol Hill Station and the U-Link light rail extension connecting downtown to Montlake by way of Broadway.
The development of housing and retail buildings — some reaching 85 feet along Broadway — that will fill in the land above the station is planned to begin in 2017 following planning and design review.