Date set for opening of Capitol Hill Station, start of U-Link service — UPDATE: 3/19/16

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In 2014, CHS took a walk through the tunnels (Image: CHS)

In 2014, CHS took a walk through the tunnels (Image: CHS)

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.

Via ulink2016.org/station-tour

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.

The new sign was up for Tuesday's announcement

The new sign was up for Tuesday’s announcement

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.

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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.

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44 thoughts on “Date set for opening of Capitol Hill Station, start of U-Link service — UPDATE: 3/19/16

  1. I can’t wait for this to open! I just started taking the street car to work, but happily will switch to the light rail come March. My only suggestion would be to extend the hours, especially on the weekends. Now I’m not a fan of what has become of the nightlife scene on the Hill, but it seems logical to give people another safe alternative to driving. Especially since so many of the “Bros’ and “Woo Girls” seem to come from the U-District.

  2. What timing have Sound Transit and Metro given for phasing out buses in the tunnel? That will make massive difference in timing of Light Rail. I’ve been hoping that would happen, but is it years or months?

    • Undecided. The Seattle Transit Blog wrote…

      Although Sound Transit has been planning for a 2019 date, the King County and Sound Transit spokesmen did not deny that joint operations might continue until Northgate Link opens in 2021, and perhaps as late as East Link opening in 2023.

    • $15 to park your car removes the incentive many people would have for leaving the car at home. Capitol Hill has lots of $15 parking too. So what’s the point? Hopefully there will be frequent-loop bus service between, say, University Ave and this station. It makes sense.

    • Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium stations are urban stations. They are not designed to be driven to. More suburban focused stations with large parking capacity come with Northgate Link in 2021 and Lynwood Link in 2023.

      Metro is going to have frequent bus service between Husky Stadium station and the Ave but the transfer is going to be unpleasant.

    • The Ave is connected to UW/Husky Stadium Station by routes 71 and 73, which will run with a combined frequency of 15 minutes.

      There’s also the 44 and 48 on 15th Avenue, which run even more often to UW/Husky Stadium Station.

  3. To me, the lack of free parking is an oversight. Why not create a free park-n-ride/garage with the $120M surplus? The reality that any commuter can secure a downtown Seattle parking spot for $240/Mo which is almost exactly what it would cost to park @ the Ulink lot E1 ($6/day) and take the rail into downtown ($5.50/day roundtrip). Why is Ulink considered an urban station when it’s ultra suburban.

    • Where would you build a parking lot not controlled by UW near Husky Stadium? There is no way UW would allow free parking. Parking is a significant revenue stream for UW Facilities.

      If you think the UW area is “ultra suburban” I have to ask if you have ever been to the actual suburbs?

    • Seems to me that UW’s student and employee population profoundly benefits from having the Ulink shuttling it back & forth from downtown/airport etc. One could even argue that Sound Transit is delivering more customers and more revenue straight to UW at the local taxpayer’s expense. However, by UW leveraging the ULink transit resource to simply squeeze out more parking revenue is selfish; the University is giving the middle finger to the community of nearby residents that would like to use the Ulink themselves but will need to find a way to get there sans car. I live about 1-mile from Husky Stadium and it’s impractical for me to walk and I also wear a suit to work so riding a bike to Ulink doesn’t make any sense either. And yes the stadium is ultra suburban because UW is literally surrounded by a litany of neighborhoods and homes that all have garages and most of those houses have more than one car. What are the actual suburbs you refer to? Factoria? Issaquah? Renton?

    • But were talking about Husky stadium that already has acres of parking lots that aren’t ever going to be “transit oriented development”. The Northgate station will have significant space for park-n-ride and that’s much closer-in than Columbia City. Regardless, it’s a futile argument. Let’s just hope ST can provide quality bus service for transferring to the Ulink from nearby neighborhoods.

    • I suppose it depends on where you define “in” to be, but Columbia City Station is 4.9 miles from Westlake Center. Nortgate Transit Center is 7.4 miles from Westlake Center.

    • Hahahaha “Free” as in subsidized by all tax payers to add on to the massive list of driver subsidies. No thanks. That’s probably the worst idea anyone has suggested for what to do with the surplus. Let’s tax downtown parking garages more and use that to fund transit instead.

    • Driving subsidies? Are you on crack? WA drivers are taxed well-above the national average for transportation projects. Frankly speaking, transit riders (and I’m one of them) are freeloading on the backs of drivers who are double-taxed so that you can take the bus to work. And having a park & ride simply provides more incentive for people to use transit.

  4. Are there bathrooms at the CAP Hill station?
    And why is there no Transit station to make the transfers between the light rail and the local bus service easier?

    Mt. Baker station has a nice area where buses can pull in and wait. Northgate has a transit area. Where is the CAP Hill transit area? 8, 60, 9, 43, 49, 47(not really), 10, and 11 would all benefit from a transit station.

    • The Mt. Baker transit area is kind of bogus. It’s ACROSS A BUSY STREET (with crosswalks only at the corners) from the light rail. The # 8 pulls through the transit area going south but then stops right outside the light rail station.
      Going North the #8 stops on the street, NOT in the transit area.
      Given that the Mount Baker Light rail is elevated, the transit area should have been under the light rail, not across a busy street.
      (BTW if you’re meeting someone coming from the airport by light rail, Mt. Baker will probably continue to be a good place to collect them: easy car hovering area and about 2 passengers emerging per train).

  5. This is a good thing for sure …but our transit system is still piecemeal. Compared to Portland’s Tri-Met, we are 20-30 years behind…

    • Neo-Seattle is a city of followers, not innovators. Seattle stopped being a city of leaders decades ago. Our transit, like every other aspect of our urban development, will never be anything but outdated compared to other cities. Get used to it.

  6. I’m so excited to take this from Capitol Hill to the airport. When I flew out before Christmas, the drop off lane for SeaTac was all the way onto I-5. Thankfully my Uber driver was about to skirt around.

    Its safe to say this will keep at least 1 car off I-5 between Capitol Hill and the airport – hopefully many many more.

    • I don’t like transfers. Especially when I have luggage, don’t have all day or want to risk being late. I prefer a clean shot door to door.

    • I prefer the 8 to Columbia City since there is level boarding and the street to cross is less busy. According to Google Maps it is slightly slower than going downtown but if I have luggage, the time penalty is worth not having to deal with nasty elevators or dragging luggage down stairs at Westlake.

    • Me neither! This will significantly affect Shuttle Express’s business, which they deserve as they have been ripping Seattleites off for years. I remember when they charged $8 from Capitol Hill to the airport…..now it’s something like $35. Yes, prices go up, but not to that extent.

  7. According to the map, when this connects to the transit tunnel, we lose the convention hall stop. Not good if you’re headed to the Paramount.

    • i don’t think the light rail ever stopped at the “convention hall” stop (i’m assuming you mean the bus terminal down the stairs by the paramount?). the end of the line for the past few years has been westlake; under nordstrom.

      i’m assuming this was because it was known that the bus hub would be going away so why make a long-term temporary stop right there.

      that said, it’s a simple 2.5 block walk from westlake station to the paramount. so, i can’t see much to be concerned about.

    • You’re right, I forgot only the buses go there. So when buses stop using the transit tunnel, I presume the convention station will no longer exist.