With Northgate and the Eastside only now on the horizon, it's hard to believe that Seattleites have been paying Sound Transit taxes (for myriad projects, including Link light rail) since 1997. Yes, you read that right. But the transit agency has been hard at work planning, designing, and constructing the greater Seattle area's train infrastructure. With new developments continually trickling in, we've assembled this overarching guide to all things light rail. Hopefully, it'll tide you over until the final development wraps up in, um, 2041. And hey, if you want to see it all at a glance, have a look at our timeline or this map of current and future lines.
Northgate Link Extension
With the downfall of the beige beauty that is Northgate Mall comes the rise of NHL practice facilities, offices, residential apartments, retail shops, and a new light rail station. Opening in 2021, the extension links Northgate to the University of Washington station with stops in Roosevelt and the U District.
In 2024, the existing light rail line will make way for yet another extension all the way to Lynnwood. After 11 years in waiting, Sound Transit finally broke ground on the project in early September. In 2036, the light rail will further extend to Everett, with travel time between the Snohomish County suburb and downtown Seattle cut down to a mere hour.
First thing's first: Sound Transit will rechristen University Street station to (hopefully) minimize confusion with the University of Washington station and upcoming University District stop. The Sound Transit Board took suggestions last month (we're team Symphony station) and expects to announce the new name in early 2020—though the University Street moniker will stick around until Northgate officially opens.
East Link Extension
The upcoming Blue Line, slated to open in 2023, will bring the land of Bezos even closer to that of Gates, with 10 new light rail stations from the International District to Mercer Island, Bellevue, Overlake, and Redmond. Engineers even developed an innovative “track bridge,” allowing the new line to travel across the I-90 floating bridge, a first for any light rail.
As the final pieces come together, riders will be hit with a mini Seattle Squeeze. It all starts in mid-October when the light rail closes for three weekends between the Westlake and Stadium stations to make way for a central platform in Pioneer Square. Then, beginning in January 2020, rail service downtown will be interrupted for 10 weeks as Sound Transit works to connect the East Link Extension to the International District/Chinatown station—an initiative the transit agency has dubbed Connect 2020.
Expect four-car trains to run at a reduced frequency of 12 minutes, even during peak hours. Riders heading both northbound or southbound will need to exit their train at Pioneer Square station to cross the newly built central platform to continue their journey. And with bikes prohibited on the temporary platform, bikers will be required to exit the train beforehand. To make up for the inconvenience, Sound Transit will provide bike maps. (Sure guys, it's totally the same thing.)
Why now? Decreased traffic, says Sound Transit public information officer Rachelle Cunningham. Seattle tourism in the wintertime is (unsurprisingly) low and there are no major sporting events scheduled. “It was kind of this golden window,” says Cunningham. “We have an opportunity to impact fewer people with this disruption.”
Ballard and West Seattle Link Extension
Although much has yet to be decided concerning Ballard and West Seattle, safe to say it is happening. Voters approved the funding for the expansion in 2016 as part of the Sound Transit 3 package. For now, the route is still in its planning stages.
In West Seattle, Sound Transit is mulling over whether to dig a $700 million tunnel beneath the neighborhood or construct an elevated line similar to Sea-Tac's station. The agency faces the same decision in Ballard, and is struggling to determine where exactly to put the station.
The planning stage for both stations is expected to last through 2023, with construction beginning on the West Seattle station in 2025 and on the Ballard station in 2027. Which is to say we've got a whopping 11 and 16 years until they open, respectively.
Just how long has the Link been in the making—and how long until it's finally wrapped? Try 45 years from approval to the final station opening.
► Nov 5, 1996: King, Pierce, and Snohomish County voters approve ST 1 to build the Link light rail.
► Mar 25, 1999: Sound Transit begins operating its first express bus lines and commuter trains between Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett.
► Aug 22, 2003: Tacoma Link opens.
► Nov 4, 2008: Seattle voters approve ST 2 to expand the light rail to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Bellevue.
► July 18, 2009: Link light rail opens for service between downtown Seattle and Tukwila.
► Dec 19, 2009: SeaTac/Airport station opens.
► Mar 19, 2016: Capitol Hill and the University of Washington stations open.
► Nov 8, 2016: King, Pierce, and Snohomish County voters approve ST 3 to expand the light rail to the suburbs of Tacoma, Federal Way, Everett, and Issaquah.
► Oct 12 & 13, 26 & 27, Nov 9 & 10, 2019: Five downtown stations close while a center platform is built in Pioneer Square in preparation for Connect 2020.
► Jan–Mar 2020: Connect 2020 comes into play, with transit interruptions as workers link the International District station to the Eastside line.
► 2021: Northgate Link Extension opens.
► 2022: Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension opens.
► 2023: East Link Extension opens.
► 2024: Lynnwood Link Extension, Downtown Redmond Link Extension, and Federal Way Link Extension open.
► 2030: Tacoma Dome Link Extension and West Seattle Link Extension open.
► 2031: South Boeing Access Road Infill Station and South Graham Street Infill Station open.
► 2035: Ballard Link Extension opens.
► 2036: Everett Link Extension opens.
► 2039: TCC Tacoma Link Extension opens.
► 2041: Issaquah–South Kirkland Link opens.