NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Sound Transit’s Link light rail system turns ten today: Relive the magic of opening weekend

One. Decade.

That’s how long Sound Transit’s revolutionary, high capacity Link light rail system has been in operation and carrying riders, as of today.

It was a beautiful, sunny summer morning on July 18th, 2009, when then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and then Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton cut the ribbon to inaugurate service between Westlake Center and Tukwila International Boulevard at the Mount Baker Station. Flanked by elected leaders from across the region, they declared that a transportation revolution in Puget Sound had begun.

And indeed, it had.

Wikipedia features Link light rail

Central Link is, fittingly, today’s featured article on the English language Wikipedia

In ten years, Link has seen over 134 million boardings. Ridership has increased  from an average of just over 15,000 weekday boardings to about 77,000 now.

“In the past ten years, more and more riders in the region have learned that Link is a dependable option to arrive at their destination,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Redmond Mayor John Marchione in a Sound Transit press release.

“I want to thank the millions of riders who have made Link so successful and the voters in our region who continue to support the expansion of the system.”

“Because of Link, riders have been spared countless hours sitting in ever-worsening traffic,” said Sound Transit CEO and former FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, who succeeded Lynn Allen Award honoree Joni Earl as Sound Transit’s leader.

“Link’s tenth anniversary comes at a time when we are expanding the network to the North, South and East. By the time Link’s fifteenth anniversary comes around, we expect that more than twice as many riders as we have today will have discovered the advantages of fast, effective light rail.”

Here at NPI, the opening of Link light rail was a watershed event that was covered live at intervals over the course of forty-eight hours, beginning with the preview events on Friday and concluding with the end of free rides on Sunday.

Link light rail commemorative ORCA card

This special, limited edition ORCA card commemorates ten years of Sound Transit’s Link light rail system

NPI’s Permanent Defense was founded in 2002 with the aim of providing vigorous opposition to Tim Eyman’s initiative factory and defending Sound Transit, which at the time was trying to obtain federal funding to begin construction of Central Link. Despite the narrow passage of Eyman’s I-776 that autumn, the agency was able to break ground the following year, just a few weeks after NPI was founded.

Eyman had thought that I-776 would put the kibosh on Central Link.

When it didn’t — and when the then Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration approved the provision of federal funds for Central Link — Eyman was left utterly shocked and confused. He had failed, and Sound Transit had won.

Under the leadership of Joni Earl, Sound Transit deftly navigated around treacherous political and legal obstacles (Eyman included) to get Link light rail back on track and ready for construction during a critical two year period stretching from 2001 into 2003. This work culminated in a groundbreaking ceremony held in the Rainier Valley in November of 2003 with Sound Transit boardmembers.

Light rail construction has been continuously underway ever since.

At the time Central Link opened, Sound Transit contractors were already at work extending light rail into SeaTac Airport and the University of Washington.

Airport Link opened in December of 2009; U-Link opened in March of 2016. Angle Lake Link followed in September of 2016. By the time those newer stations opened, construction had begun on further extensions of the Link system.

The next stations to open will be U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate, all in 2021.

Sound Transit is now almost twenty-three years old, having been established when voters approved Sound Move in 1996. After spending a few years trying to find its way, the agency settled into a groove under Joni Earl and began rolling along.

The actual buildout of Link has now been going on for twice as long as the period that Sound Transit spent trying to get its act together.

When the Northgate stations open in 2021, the Sound Move vision of 1996 will have been realized… later than anticipated, but realized nonetheless.

Congratulations to Sound Transit and to everyone who uses Link on ten years of light rail. Here’s to another decade of strong ridership growth and the liberation of commuters from gridlocked highways and streets.

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