NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting 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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