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Capitol Hill Station marks five years of service — Here’s hoping we’ll all be riding again soon

Five years ago, March 19th, 2016, “a monument to confidence” and a central hub to Capitol Hill welcomed its first passengers.

Capitol Hill Station is marking its five-year anniversary in the middle of COVID-19 restrictions that have quieted the busy transit station but not shut it down. Service continues but daily light rail boardings were down 75% at the end of 2020. There are signs of increased use of the system but it will be a long time before things are back to normal.


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Above the station, development more than 20 years in the making is filling with residents and plans remain for incoming businesses to take their place on Broadway. Retail planned for the project including grocer H-Mart and The Exploration Academy daycare have not announced opening dates. Lead developer Gerding Edlen of Portland has been quiet and provided little guidance of what to expect for opening of the retail spaces and plaza. Maybe they don’t know when it will open, either.

Sound Transit signed a 99-year lease with Gerding Edlen to develop the properties it had acquired surrounding the station. The Portland-based developer is leading the project with designs from Hewitt and Schemata WorkshopBerger Partnership is landscape architect for the entire site and part of the design super team working on the Capitol Hill Station development project. Community Roots Housing developed and operates the affordable housing component of the projects.

A key community art investment is taking shape. Art for the AIDS Memorial Pathway that will connect the plaza to Cal Anderson Park is being completed and put into place. But even the memorial is taking shape a year later than originally expected. Organizers hope for a June completion for the pathway.

Meanwhile inside the station, riders on the platform are greeted by the shiny pink, chrome-y goodness of the Mike Ross Jet Kiss sculpture. Up the escalator, you find Ellen Forney’s giant-paneled Crossed Pinkies and the sight of Broadway as it should be seen — from a subway exit.

In 2016, Gov. Jay Inslee had fewer things to worry about. “This is a statewide asset,” Inslee said at a VIP celebration and tour of the station and the 3.1-mile U-Link extension connecting to UW Station. “It is a monument to confidence.”

Located 65 feet underground, Capitol Hill Station’s train platform runs along the east side of Broadway between E John and E Barbara Bailey Way. The station is accessed through three street level entrances.

While a Capitol Hill light rail station near Broadway and Denny Way was part of the earliest Link light rail plans, Sound Transit did explore other options. The primary alternative to the current Capitol Hill station design would have placed the station on the west side of the same block of Broadway, with the main entrance at the southwest corner of Broadway and E John. That station location was part of a handful of alternative route alignments, including a route running under 10th Ave E to connect to abandoned station locations on the west side of the UW. Another route option would have skipped Capitol Hill altogether with a station at the edge of South Lake Union at Eastlake and Harrison.

Sound Transit also ended up scrapping a proposed First Hill station on Madison, citing high risk and expenses.

Construction ended a handful of percentage points under a planned $1.9 billion budget boosted by around $800 million in federal transportation grants.

The work began seven years earlier with the first demolitions on Broadway. CHS took a look back at the two months of carnage in 2009 that cleared the path for U-Link’s arrival.

Around 18 trucks per day were used to haul dirt away from the Capitol Hill Station site during construction. Sound Transit officials said some 19,900 trucks plied the streets of Capitol Hill hauling muck churned up by the boring machines as 21-foot-diameter boring machines Brenda, Balto, and Togo did the nearly flawless work.

As it runs up the Hill, and to Husky Stadium, the tunnel route passes beneath around 250 apartment buildings, homes, and municipal buildings between downtown and Montlake. The twin tunnels run 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.

Capitol Hill Station, alas, is not flawless. CHS may have invited doom early last year when we declared 2020 off to a good start with the opening of a new stair route inside the station to provide an alternative when the cranky escalator breaks down.

Capitol Hill Station continues to serve thousands of riders — around 1,400 a day in December. The totals have been a shadow of the past’s busy days at the station — 83% below the previous year’s daily ridership.

The dip in passengers also comes as cost fears have forced a reevaluation of the plans and timing for light rail to Ballard and West Seattle.

But ridership totals will continue to climb back to normal. And there will be new reasons to ride.

Judkins Park Station — and its Hendrix inspired design —  is slated to open in 2023 along with the rest of the 10-stop, voter initiative-funded East Link light rail line that will dramatically expand Sound Transit rail service in the region. The Central District station, tucked into I-90 between Rainier Ave and 23rd Ave, will be the first stop on the line that will connect Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle across the I-90 bridge.


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Seattle Neighbor
Seattle Neighbor
7 months ago

Five years! Long awaited. Can’t imagine life without it now.