Closeup of tunnel boring machine Pamela
Tunnel boring machine Pamela is pictured behind a pile of rubble created by the breakthrough to the Roosevelt Station shaft. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Near­ly six years to the day after Cen­tral Link opened to the pub­lic, crews work­ing on behalf of Sound Tran­sit have fin­ished two major phas­es of con­struc­tion on forth­com­ing bad­ly-need­ed exten­sions of our light rail system.

In SeaT­ac, Angle Lake Link got one step clos­er to com­ple­tion with the hoist­ing of the last thir­ty-five ton con­crete seg­ments for the ele­vat­ed guide­way, which extends the tracks south from the air­port and towards a new ter­mi­nus at South 200th Street. The sta­tion there will host a large park and ride with 1,050 park­ing stalls.

“Fin­ish­ing the guide­way moves us one step clos­er to extend­ing light rail to the Angle Lake com­mu­ni­ty,” said Sound Tran­sit Board Chair and King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine. “By next fall, Link rid­ers will be able to board one stop south of the air­port and ride con­ges­tion-free all the way to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington.”

Sound Tran­sit is cur­rent­ly test­ing trains on the Uni­ver­si­ty Link exten­sion, which will link West­lake Cen­ter with Husky Sta­di­um via Capi­tol Hill. U‑Link is all under­ground and will offer reli­able trans­porta­tion between two of the city’s dens­est neigh­bor­hoods no mat­ter what the weath­er or traf­fic. It opens next year.

Like Uni­ver­si­ty Link, Angle Lake Link is under bud­get (by $20 mil­lion) and ahead of sched­ule. The total price tag for the exten­sion is $383 mil­lion. Work has gone smooth­ly and the sta­tion should be open by the fall of 2016… just in time for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, when Puget Sound vot­ers will be like­ly be giv­en the chance to approve financ­ing for Link’s fur­ther expan­sion north, south, and east.

“When light rail reach­es South 200th Street next year, thou­sands of folks in South King Coun­ty will have access to job cen­ters and oth­er des­ti­na­tions,” said Sound Tran­sit Board­mem­ber and King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Dave Upthe­grove. “We appre­ci­ate the part­ner­ship of the Port of Seat­tle, the City of SeaT­ac, and the state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion as project con­struc­tion continues.”

Mean­while, north of the Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict, the tun­nel bor­ing machine Pamela broke through to the shaft that will even­tu­al­ly house the Roo­sevelt sta­tion. I was onsite ear­li­er today to watch crews at work, and it was a won­der­ful sight to see.

Tunnel boring machine Pamela gets a little help
Tun­nel bor­ing machine Pamela gets a lit­tle help from a back­hoe spe­cial­ly fit­ted to break up rock and tough soil (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Crews were clear­ly excit­ed about the big accom­plish­ment, as you can see here:

Crews celebrate Pamela's breakthrough
Con­struc­tion work­ers take in the sight of Pamela hav­ing punched through to the Roo­sevelt Sta­tion shaft. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Here’s a clos­er view of Pamela:

Closeup of tunnel boring machine Pamela
A close­up of tun­nel bor­ing machine Pamela (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“Our sec­ond North­gate Link tun­nel machine has reached the Roo­sevelt Sta­tion, halfway from the North Por­tal to the U Dis­trict,” said Constantine.

“This keeps Sound Tran­sit right on sched­ule to get the dig­ging done by mid-2016 and North­gate Link in oper­a­tion by 2021.”

Watch Pamela break though by play­ing the video above.

Pame­la’s com­pan­ion tun­nel bor­ing machine Bren­da already fin­ished dig­ging the oth­er North­gate-to-Roo­sevelt tun­nel (break­through was in March), and is present­ly head­ing towards the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington.

Pamela will do like­wise after it is refur­bished in the shaft.

By 2018, North Link tun­nel­ing should be com­plete, set­ting the stage for inau­gu­ra­tion of ser­vice to North­gate in 2021.

Some facts about the TBMs from Sound Transit:

  • Each tun­nel bor­ing machine weighs six hun­dred tons and is more than three hun­dred feet long with trail­ing gear
  • The cut­ter­heads (the rotat­ing faces of the machine that bore under­ground) are twen­ty one and half feet in diameter
  • By the time tun­nel­ing is fin­ished, more than 500,000 cubic yards of soil will have been exca­vat­ed and over 7,200 con­crete rings used to line the tunnels

The North­gate seg­ments have a total cost of $2.1 billion.

Traf­fic between North­gate and down­town Seat­tle tends to be bru­tal dur­ing rush hour, and slug­gish even dur­ing oth­er times of the day, so Link’s arrival there will be a huge bless­ing for the region, offer­ing a much-need­ed alter­na­tive to Inter­state 5.

It’s too bad it won’t open soon­er, but build­ing rail infra­struc­ture (par­tic­u­lar­ly under­ground rail infra­struc­ture) takes time.

We had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to start build­ing a rail spine for Puget Sound in the 1960s with For­ward Thrust, and we chose not to. We’re still liv­ing with the con­se­quences of that deci­sion today. Thank­ful­ly, we’ve learned from that mistake.

Tonight, the NPI team will raise glass­es in a toast to Sound Tran­sit’s most recent suc­cess­es. May there be many more in the months and years ahead. Our region needs Link light rail extend­ed in all direc­tions with­out delay. Every new seg­ment and sta­tion that Sound Tran­sit gets built will put reli­able rapid tran­sit with­in the reach of more Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, adding to the val­ue of the exist­ing system.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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