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First look: inside Capitol Hill Station

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

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.”

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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.

You can get a sneak peek here of the UW station and a look here at what it’s like inside the 3.1 mile tunnels.

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.


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51 thoughts on “First look: inside Capitol Hill Station” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I walk downtown from the Hill every day to catch the light rail at Westlake. This will make my commute so much quicker.

    Can’t. Wait.

  2. LYING twice doesn’t make it the truth… The station is beautiful, and I cannot wait to ride Link all the way to Husky Stadium. HOWEVER, we voted in 1996 for a light rail system that would run to the UW. It is most certainly not on time, nor is it under budget. But, thank goodness, it is almost here.

    • Thank you, Micky. It’s 2 billion dollars over budget and somewhere around 8 years late. The exact opening date wasn’t specified in 1996. I’ll admit the second try is going well, but facts are facts.

    • The ULink station wasn’t funded in ST1, it was funded in ST2: thus, it is ahead of schedule and under budget with respect to the funded plan.

      Otherwise, you’d have to say that the 2nd Avenue subway in New York is a century behind schedule :)

      • None of the money for U-link came from ST2. It was all money held over from ST1, in the hopes of a really big matching grant from the feds. This was going to happen regardless of the ST2 vote. Which is why it was well underway with planning and property buying and so on before we voted on ST2.

    • The project is early and under budget by any reasonable measure. You’re just into measuring unreasonably in order to manufacture something to complain about. You do it all the time.

      • well… actually for those of you who weren’t here in the mid-90’s, Sound Transit had to cut it’s scope of work and increase its budget and timelines from the ST1 that passed. It was supposed to be Northgate to the Airport to start. Then they cut stops and decided to break off the North section. So, from their original vision, they are definitely late and over budget. But yes, they did cut distance and revise timelines in the interim.

      • Back in 1996, the “ST1” referendum that established Sound Transit called for a light rail system, costing $1.8 billion, that would run from the airport to the U-district in 2006.

        Instead, we got a light rail system costing $2.3 billion that ran from the airport to Westlake Station in 2009.

        Now we are spending an additional $1.8 billion to connect Westlake to the U-district, in 2016.

        The original plan was abandoned a long time ago, but it is not unreasonable to compare the plan Seattle voters originally signed up for against the project they actually got and observe that there is nothing “on time” or “under budget” about it.

      • The plan that people voted for in 1996 was completed. Like most things Seattle voted on more than 10 years ago, it failed miserably. It is over. Your money is gone. Move on.

        This current plan is ahead of schedule and under budget.

        Stop obsessing about the past. We know that Old Seattleites messed up. New Seattleites are correcting the mistakes of generations past. Stand aside and let us finish improving our city.

      • Thank you. Damn–will the incessant bitching never stop? It’s so typically the Seattle way. What would the whiners have we do now, shut the whole thing down before it opens? It’s almost done, can we just enjoy the anticipation of using it soon, instead of re-hashing every tortured event that’s happened ever since when? Same goes for the streetcar. It’s going to be great–however late (or not) it is; however over budget (or not) it is. I’m excited it’s almost here, and looking FORWARD.

    • It was also delayed by people voting for a stupid monorail in 2002. So the delay was caused by govt and voters.

      Also, the 1996 vote included $1.7bil for rail, and this cost $1.8bil, so while not under budget, not over by much.

      • We voted for the monorail in part because ST did not appear to be capable of producing a useful citywide transit system. They’ve cleaned up their act quite a bit, but I still wish we’d built the monorail.

  3. My happy dance over the opening of this station, and over Seattle’s commitment to rail in general, knows no bounds.

    Except for “Jet Kiss, the massive sculpture crafted from A-4 Skyhawk fighter jets by artist Mike Ross…” Weapons fetishism is disgusting. I hope it’s defaced the day the station opens.

    • Their fleshy shade of pink and purple led me to believe they were about to perform some sort of mid air docking maneuver. Regarding the need to deface it, is that truly necessary? Is their phallic appearance a metaphor for our gun fetishism? It’s as if we are brandishing them proudly in a proverbial “dick measuring contest” completely oblivious to how childish it actually is. Or maybe that’s a little on the nose (pun intended).

    • I’m glad the art offended you, or rather, caught your attention enough to be offensive. The sex-toy comments hint that maybe the artist isn’t simply promoting guns and bombs. If not this what? A life-size fiberglass replica of another fucking Orca?

    • I, also, don’t like the artwork. What the hell do fighter jets have to do with Capitol Hill? Or even Seattle, at all? They’re a Douglas Aircraft Company airplane… which, while its descendant was purchased by Boeing later, was never designed, engineered, or built in Seattle. These stations should be representing their neighborhoods. We could do something *so much* cooler.

      • Has anyone seen any public art at a Sound Transit station that is really good? I have not. I have seen lots of ugly stuff though. (I do give a pass to Ellen Forney’s work, she is awesome.)

      • The “public art” welfare program needs to end, and that money directed to art education in the schools. It’s sad that the city and developers buy just about any garbage that somebody is touting as “art” to meet that requirement, and our children have to go begging for any kind of art supplies.

  4. I live in the International District and work in Capitol Hill. I cannot wait to be able to just get on the light rail and not have to worry about transferring. It’ll make my hour commute a maximum of 25 minutes. Seriously. Can’t. Wait.

      • Actually, for those of us who live in areas poorly served by public transit, it can take an hour to go a short distance. Think about it. If you have to transfer, any trip is easily an hour when you include the very long wait time between buses. Sometimes the bus never even shows up. It is massively inconvenient and frustrating.

      • This is exactly why we need better, safer bike infrastructure. Short commutes like you’re taking about are perfect for biking. I’d be curious to hear if/why biking is not an option for you.

      • Not everybody feels like biking in Seattle–dealing with traffic and the plentiful hills, and feeling like you need to take a shower when you get to work. I don’t think convincing people who take the bus to switch to biking needs to be a priority. Why not concentrate on getting people out of cars?

      • Used e-bikes are $600-$700 and eliminate the hills.

        Dealing with traffic is a temporary artifact of Seattle not yet having implemented more comfortable bike infrastructure (e.g. protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways).

        ‘pragmatic’ is correct, but it’s hard to sell people on an idea until they have a chance to see it in action.

        I suspect that once we have the 2016 protected bike lane connection between Cap Hill and Amazon/Facebook/etc built out, we’ll have an amazing case study that thousands of people will use every day.

  5. That upper section is straight from the 1979 Battlestar Gallactica Viper launch deck. And the pink things must be parts of a disabled or destroyed Viper, hopefully not Apollo’s.

  6. I am so pleased with the look of this station, can’t wait for it to open. However. Does anyone else think the art installation looks kinda like a deconstructed dildo? I’m not saying that’s necessarily inappropriate for the hill, but still.

  7. Let’s see, “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.”. Today, the first train from Westlake leaves at 5:06 and gets to the airport at 5:44. Which is not early enough to be able to catch many early morning flights. Sounds like that is not going to change soon.

  8. I can understand the need for an entrance on the west side of Broadway, to mainly serve SCCC students and prevent large numbers of people from having to cross the street, but I question the need for an entrance on the south side. The main entrance is just one block north of there….why is that not adequate? I wonder how much money was spent for the south side entrance.

    • Yeah I was wondering the same thing. Especially for being in a relatively low density (<6 stories) neighborhood. I've seen cities with much taller buildings and denser areas that do fine with 2 entrances.

  9. The link to UW will be completed and opened just in time for no students to be able to afford to live in Capitol Hill and be students.

  10. It baffles me how much we spend on a station here. I really don’t understand it. I grew up in Switzerland, which is basically a big (working) train set. Stations are generally a simple affair with a basic platform and cover from the weather. If they are more elaborate, they started out in a simple way and were remodeled. In Seattle, we have to create some incredibly expensive monument/art piece for just one station. Further, no one considers the maintenance of the property over time. The people planning and carrying out these ridiculous measures obviously have no respect for our money, the longevity of the system or even the culture of Seattle, which is much more lowkey than this metal and glass structure that looks completely out of place in Capitol Hill. It’s all a big joke, and the joke is on us.

    • …and here’s a basic lesson in finance, since in America we don’t seem to understand these basic principles anymore. If someone gives you $8 billion, you put it away, get your 2-3% annual return, and the interest is your budget. You don’t just spend the 8 billion like the uneducated and reckless average Joe who just won the lottery.

    • Here’s how it works: We hold a series of “outreach” meeting, where retired people, the unemployable and other misfits show up to voice what they think the project needs (dog parks, stained glass, titanium tracks, farmer’s markets, etc). This is duly recorded as “community input” and taken back to the architects, who add the doodads and goo-gaws as needed, in response to that “community input”. Another series of meetings is held, with the same oddballs, and the project is refined further until no one is really happy with it.

      Then, once the total price has been calculated, 1% is set aside to be spent on “art”. Solicitations are held, and a clique of people who make their money off this program present “art” that is bought for an extravagant sum, since there is all this money to be spent.

      That is how you end up with stations like these. And it’s all dictated by ordinance. The art fund was voted on by the citizens back in the 70’s. You can thank the baby boomers.

      • Wait…you forgot the part where the people who don’t agree with the basic solution or infrastructure keep bitching and whining and filing lawsuits to stop it. Then initiatives get placed on ballots (at least two back-and-forth iterations), and we keep arguing about it ad-nauseum for a couple of years. If you don’t get your way you keep throwing roadblocks and lawsuits in the way, until a final solution is eventually arrived at that’s lawsuit-proof. Then, finally, the building begins (naturally at a higher cost than before, because it was delayed). Then, when the project is nearing completion, the whiners break out in one more final bitch-fest of Monday-Morning Quarterbacking and complaining about everything that went wrong for the whole lifespan of the project (don’t forget to bitch about the artwork). Then– MAYBE–service can begin. Maybe.

  11. It’s delightful that it’s nearing completion and will soon be operating but I doubt this system or this station will ever enter the annals of great transportation systems or great station designs, or even great art. But it is what it is.

  12. Link going to Capitol Hill and UW completely changes the usefulness and impact of almost the entire line.

    While this is only a two stop expansion, it’s two incredibly important stops. Can’t wait for it to be open!

    • Don’t worry, we’ll manage to screw it up.

      Seattle doesn’t want to recognize is a city, and it’s becoming a larger city. Nobody cares about fixing things, only about their hood not changing. And their rent not going up.

      Subway is only efficient if you build a network (read, reliable transfers). Buses are cheaper, but unreliable; bus lanes are unthinkable and people think of it as low class transportation.

      Next Link line (whatever it is, Eastside, Ballard, Belltown) will not be completed until 2030. And you can’t dig tunnels everywhere in Seattle, any line on surface will be opposed with the same passion they complain a 6-story building.