More than six years after the first fences went up and five years after the tunnel boring first began, Sound Transit has picked a date to open its new U-Link light rail line connecting downtown to Montlake via Broadway’s new Capitol Hill Station.
An announcement of the expected March launch date is planned for Tuesday’s lunch hour at the underground station along Broadway between John and Denny.
UPDATE 12:42 PM: Service will begin Saturday, March 19th, one week ahead of a planned restructure of Seattle’s Metro bus routes. Here’s Sound Transit’s promo for the big day:
It’s time to celebrate the opening of the University Link light rail extension! Service to Capitol Hill and University of Washington Stations begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 19, 2016. We are planning for a day of fun and adventure, with activities and entertainment for all ages. Visit ulink2016.org to learn all about U Link and our Launch Day plans.
First U-Link train pulls out of UW station towards Capitol Hill at 10am March 19th. Start counting pic.twitter.com/2Iuey9DZ28
— Bryan Cohen (@bchasesc) January 26, 2016
Speaking inside the Capitol Hill Station, Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a countdown clock to the 10 AM departure of the first U-Link train from the University of Washington Station to Capitol Hill.
“This is actually going to be an incredibly positive moment on Broadway in its history,” said Murray, a longtime Capitol Hill resident. “This is going to create businesses and restaurants once again on Broadway.”
Sound Transit is planning a celebration on Capitol Hill to commemorate the launch. Officials said details would be coming soon. A week after the two new stops open, Metro busses will begin new routes to better connect riders to the stations. “It will be a real change to the way people get around,” Constantine said.
By 2030, around 14,000 Capitol Hill riders are expected to board the light rail trains each day. However, a Sound Transit spokesperson said that a revised projection would show even more usage as the system improvements in Sound Transit 2 were not factored into the original estimates. Sound Transit estimates that from 2015-2017, light rail’s average weekday ridership will increase by about 26,000 boardings.
Light rail fares are based on how far riders travel. Traveling south from Capitol Hill, adult fares start at $2.25 to go as far as the SODO station, $2.50 to Othello, $2.75 to Rainier Beach, and $3 to Sea-Tac Airport. The fare from Capitol Hill to Husky Stadium will be $2.25.
(Table courtesy @GordonWerner)
The March service start is a major point of pride for Sound Transit and Constantine, who praised the agency for its early completion of the two stations and twin-bored tunnels. Of course, “early” depends on when you start counting. Plans for the line were first drafted in 2000, but the project timeline was rebooted in 2008. From that mark, starting service in March would put the project six months ahead of schedule and $150 million under budget.
Bike parking will be available at the station entrance at E Denny Way by the time trains are running, according to Sound Transit. Eventually, bike cages will be added as part of the “transit oriented development” that will surround the station in the coming years.
Tuesday brings the second announcement of a major Capitol Hill transportation project’s start of service — though it won’t see the same rapid turnaround from announcement to operations. Last week, Seattle Department of Transportation officials followed a Friday announcement of the start of the First Hill Streetcar line with a Saturday return of streetcar passenger service on Broadway for the first time in 75 years.
While it most definitely won’t be a “soft launch,” the situation for Capitol Hill Station, UW Station, and U-Link addition to the system’s Seattle-side Blue Line includes no hurry. In fact, the project is coming in ahead of planning schedules developed at the start of construction and even a handful of percentage points under its planned $1.9 billion budget. You can thank the federal government, by the way, for the around $800 million transportation grant that helped pay for the extension.
When service begins, Capitol Hill riders will descend around 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. Hours of operation at the station 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, Sound Transit expects the the trip to UW to drop to around 6 minutes. Yes, you’ll be able to use your mobile phone thanks to a contract Sound Transit has pounded out with a service provider for the twin tunnels on the route and the entirety of its light rail system. Fares and service hours are predicted to remain stable. In addition to the new streetcar bringing passengers to Broadway and Denny, planners have also adjusted Metro routes in the area in anticipation of the start of U-Link service.
While Tuesday’s announcement of an official date is highly anticipated, transit nerds and enterprising journalists have been eyeballing March of 2016 ever since the transit agency first start talking about a possible early start of service. CHS reported the framework of the launch plan in October. The celebration will be part of an amazing set of major transportation infrastructure opening around Capitol Hill in early 2016.
For Capitol Hill Station, years of anticipation will be tied to the official date. 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 3.1-mile twin tunnels between downtown and Montlake pass beneath dozens of apartment buildings, about 250 homes and several municipal structures at depths between 15 feet (beneath the Montlake cut) and 300 feet (beneath Volunteer Park) below the surface. The deepest digging between Broadway and downtown bottoms out at a still impressive 150 feet below the pavement.
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 mitigation support to the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and public art programs were attempts to keep the changing area active and limit eyesores.
CHS got its first look at the $110 million Capitol Hill Station last May as Sound Transit took officials and media on a tour of the facility. In the meantime, the installation of the station’s large, paneled art work from Capitol Hill artist Ellen Forney has been providing passersby with some exciting views of what is to come as Seattle’s subway reaches Capitol Hill. Sound Transit has also selected the Pride flag as its official Capitol Hill Station icon.
Above ground, the process to develop the sites around Capitol Hill Station 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 is leading 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.” The development of housing and retail buildings — some reaching 85 feet along Broadway — that will fill in the land above and around the station is expected to begin in 2017 following planning and design review.
The March launch for U-Link will also come as Sound Transit continues work to expand its system. U-District Station digging is underway and planned for a 2021 opening, Lynwood by 2023. It is also time for the region to decide on what comes next for Sound Transit under new CEO Peter Rogoff as the package of projects and investments that will represent ST3 is prepared for the November ballot.