NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Sound Transit’s University Link light rail extension: An incredible experience

Yes­ter­day after­noon, as rays of sun­light broke through the cloudy skies above our region, Sound Tran­sit invit­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of region­al and local media out­lets to join agency lead­er­ship for a spe­cial Uni­ver­si­ty Link light rail pre­view ride and tour of the new Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and Capi­tol Hill stations.

Uni­ver­si­ty Link opens to the pub­lic this Sat­ur­day, March 19th, at 10 AM, six months ahead of sched­ule and two hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars under bud­get. It is a vital, much-antic­i­pat­ed north­ward expan­sion of Cen­tral Link, which cur­rent­ly con­nects West­lake Cen­ter to Seat­tle-Taco­ma Inter­na­tion­al Air­port in Seatac.

The entire seg­ment runs under­ground, like the sub­ways of New York, Boston, D.C., or Philadel­phia, and is there­fore not sus­cep­ti­ble to get­ting stuck in traffic.

Rid­ing Uni­ver­si­ty Link is an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence. The sta­tions are beau­ti­ful and thought­ful­ly designed, from the entrances to the mez­za­nines to the plat­forms. The pub­lic art you’ll see is mes­mer­iz­ing. But the best part of all is being able to step onto a train and zoom between neigh­bor­hoods in the span of just a few minutes.

Going from the UW to Capi­tol Hill in three hun­dred sec­onds, bypass­ing all the traf­fic con­ges­tion above ground, is quite the sen­sa­tion. It’s nev­er been pos­si­ble before now due to our lack of a sub­way. Above ground, you can walk, bike, take a bus, hail a taxi­cab, or sum­mon a rideshar­ing ser­vice to get between neighborhoods.

But you can’t get between Capi­tol Hill and the UW cam­pus in four min­utes on any of those modes. Espe­cial­ly not at rush hour, as writ­ing staff of The Stranger dis­cov­ered in Octo­ber of 2014 when eight of them com­pet­ed with each oth­er to go from the week­ly’s offices on Capi­tol Hill to the Col­lege Inn.

Link light rail train exiting tunnel

A Link light rail train exits a tun­nel, enter­ing the Capi­tol Hill Sta­tion (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Uni­ver­si­ty Link is going to fun­da­men­tal­ly reshape mobil­i­ty in Seat­tle and beyond. The addi­tion of these new sta­tions will like­ly result in a huge rid­er­ship boom. A week after open­ing day, Metro and Sound Tran­sit will intro­duce revised bus rout­ing to pro­vide bet­ter con­nec­tions with the new stations.

There will be new routes, too, like the 541, which will run between Red­mond’s Over­lake neigh­bor­hood and the new Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Station.

Uni­ver­si­ty Link is going to sim­pli­fy get­ting around for a lot of Seat­tleites and vis­i­tors to Seat­tle. It means more one seat rides for more peo­ple, and sim­pler trips for still oth­ers. For instance, a Rainier Val­ley res­i­dent who wants to get to a Huskies game at Hec Ed or Husky Sta­di­um can now get there using their own two feet and the train. A prospec­tive vis­i­tor to the UW cam­pus can use Link to get from the air­port or Amtrak to a hotel and to cam­pus, so as not to have to both­er with a car.

Get­ting this sys­tem built was­n’t easy. Sound Tran­sit had to over­come a lot of hos­til­i­ty and cyn­i­cism, as I explained to KING5’s Josh Green for his sto­ry on the pre­view ride. The agency dug itself into a hole in its ear­ly years due to project mis­man­age­ment and became a tar­get of Tim Eyman. For­tu­nate­ly, Sound Tran­sit’s board found the per­fect per­son to turn every­thing around: Joni Earl.

Joni has now been suc­ceed­ed as Sound Tran­sit CEO Peter Rogoff, but she remains involved as CEO Emer­i­tus. Rogoff pays trib­ute to her at pret­ty much every oppor­tu­ni­ty, which is appro­pri­ate, since it was her lead­er­ship that trans­formed Sound Tran­sit into the high per­form­ing agency it is today.

ST’s recent track record of suc­cess has most­ly silenced the naysay­ers of yes­ter­year, who used to con­stant­ly trash light rail as a bad investment.

Occa­sion­al­ly, a crit­ic will pop up and com­plain that the sys­tem should have already been built out to North­gate by now. These same anti-rail crit­ics are the ones who vocif­er­ous­ly argued that Link should be can­celed alto­geth­er back at the turn of the cen­tu­ry, when Sound Tran­sit con­ced­ed it need­ed to restart its plan­ning process.

It’s worth keep­ing in mind that had those crit­ics got­ten their way, light rail nev­er would have been built at all. Link would have suf­fered a sim­i­lar fate to that of For­ward Thrust. We’d still have an all “rub­ber tire” tran­sit sys­tem run­ning on roads, and we’d be lament­ing our fail­ure to invest in a rail spine to com­ple­ment our bus net­work and pro­vide reli­able trans­porta­tion through our con­gest­ed corridors.

Thank­ful­ly, wis­er heads pre­vailed and ensured that Cen­tral Link got built. That was fol­lowed by Air­port Link. Now we have Uni­ver­si­ty Link open­ing, which is a huge mile­stone, and that’ll be fol­lowed by Angle Lake Link lat­er this year.

Fed­er­al assis­tance secured by Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray was cru­cial in mak­ing Link a real­i­ty. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment stepped up to pro­vide most of the mon­ey for Uni­ver­si­ty Link, and is very hap­py with its invest­ment. (U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Antho­ny Foxx will be here Fri­day to help ded­i­cate the new extension.)

If you would like to try out Uni­ver­si­ty Link for your­self, you may do so begin­ning Sat­ur­day morn­ing, when the new exten­sion will be open to the pub­lic. Lead­ing up to that, Sound Tran­sit has spe­cial launch and com­mem­o­ra­tion events planned. We will bring you exten­sive cov­er­age of those events as we cel­e­brate the inau­gu­ra­tion of ser­vice to our region’s two newest light rail stations.

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