Map of NE 130th infill station
A map showing the location of the planned new station (Courtesy of Sound Transit)

Sound Tran­sit, Puget Sound’s provider of high capac­i­ty tran­sit ser­vice, is on the verge of accel­er­at­ing the open­ing of a planned new light rail sta­tion by six years.

This Thurs­day, the Sound Tran­sit Board of Direc­tors will vote on whether to give the go-ahead to advance con­struc­tion for the NE 130th St sta­tion either incre­men­tal­ly or ful­ly, or to stick to the slow­er, orig­i­nal con­struc­tion sched­ule that was envi­sioned when ST3 was pre­sent­ed to vot­ers in 2016.

This fol­lows a unan­i­mous vote by the Sys­tem Expan­sion Com­mit­tee to adopt a motion urg­ing a faster sched­ule for sta­tion con­struc­tion. Cur­rent­ly, the sta­tion is slat­ed to open in 2031. The sta­tion site is locat­ed at the inter­sec­tion of NE 130th St and Inter­state 5 in North Seat­tle, between Lake City and Bit­ter Lake.

The sta­tion would pro­vide access light rail to rid­ers north of North­gate but south of NE 145th St in Shore­line (where bus rapid tran­sit from Both­ell will terminate).

Con­struc­tion is cur­rent­ly in progress on both North­gate Link and Lyn­nwood Link. The lat­ter project will bring light rail ser­vice into Sno­homish Coun­ty for the first time. The three-sta­tion exten­sion ter­mi­nat­ing in North­gate will open next year.  The four-sta­tion exten­sion north of North­gate, past the NE 130th site and beyond to Lyn­nwood City Cen­ter, has a tar­get­ed com­ple­tion date in 2024.

Map of NE 130th infill station
A map show­ing the loca­tion of the planned new sta­tion (Cour­tesy of Sound Transit)

There are a few ben­e­fits to mov­ing up the timetable for con­struc­tion of this infill sta­tion. First, two impor­tant North Seat­tle neigh­bor­hoods would be con­nect­ed to light rail more than half a decade ear­li­er than planned.

Lake City and Bit­ter Lake, both a short bus trip away along NE 130th St, could be bet­ter inte­grat­ed into the region­al tran­sit net­work soon­er under the new plan.

These are also some of the most diverse and under­served neigh­bor­hoods in Seat­tle, with the area around the sta­tion 34% minor­i­ty and 11% low-income.

Sec­ond, the pro­pos­als are cost-effec­tive. An ear­ly par­tial build will only add $7 mil­lion to the sta­tion con­struc­tion bud­get, while an ear­ly full build would add only $33 mil­lion — a bar­gain to open a sta­tion six years early.

Third, the advance­ment min­i­mizes future ser­vice dis­rup­tions along the entire light rail net­work. The pre­vi­ous plan called for con­struc­tion to begin the same year that the Lyn­nwood Link Exten­sion is sched­uled to open for rev­enue service.

Build­ing the foun­da­tion, guide­way, plat­form, and canopy by 2023 — before Lyn­nwood Link even enters ser­vice — will allow any fur­ther con­struc­tion to occur while min­i­miz­ing ser­vice dis­rup­tion for oth­er stations.

While rid­ers have dealt with the Con­nect 2020 clo­sures between SoDo and Capi­tol Hill sta­tions rea­son­ably well, ser­vice dis­rup­tions after 2024 will come after the open­ing of a num­ber of more than a dozen new Link stations.

By that point, trains will be run­ning south to Fed­er­al Way, east to Down­town Red­mond, and north to Lyn­nwood. (Also, take a moment to con­tem­plate that light rail will serve all these places in just four years. There’s a thought!)

While infill sta­tions like NE 130th unques­tion­ably add val­ue to a high capac­i­ty tran­sit sys­tem, build­ing them caus­es dis­rup­tions to exist­ing service.

Sound Tran­sit actu­al­ly has two oth­er infill sta­tions cur­rent­ly planned — one at South Gra­ham Street and anoth­er at Boe­ing Access Road. Both sta­tions would add stops to the Rainier Val­ley seg­ment of Cen­tral Link.

With the NE 130th Sta­tion, how­ev­er, Sound Tran­sit has a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to start build­ing what was going to be an infill sta­tion before sur­round­ing sta­tions open. Giv­en the obvi­ous upside, the pro­pos­al is like­ly to be approved by the Board.

The mea­sure has wide-rang­ing sup­port from local orga­ni­za­tions and politi­cians. The 32nd LD Democ­rats have issued a state­ment in support.

Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber Deb­o­ra Juarez and May­or Jen­ny Durkan are both on the Board of Direc­tors for Sound Tran­sit. Each has voiced sup­port for the motion.

There are two options for accel­er­a­tion cur­rent­ly being discussed.

Con­struc­tion of the sta­tion has been sep­a­rat­ed into three “pack­ages”: foun­da­tion & gate­way, plat­form & canopy, and plaza & fin­ish­es. Con­struc­tion of the first two pack­ages is being con­sid­ered in both options, as those are the ele­ments of con­struc­tion that would cause dis­rup­tion if left too late.

If the Board were to vote to “advance incre­men­tal­ly”, it would autho­rize con­struc­tion of the foun­da­tion & gate­way, while prepar­ing the plat­form & canopy­’s build to be autho­rized next year.

While this option does­n’t rule out a sta­tion open­ing by 2025, it gives the agency more flex­i­bil­i­ty to delay NE 130th St if eco­nom­ic con­di­tions change.

A vote to “advance ful­ly” would allow the Board to autho­rize both the plat­form & canopy and plaza & fin­ish­es dur­ing the first quar­ter of next year.

Such a vote would clear the sta­tion to be ready for use by 2025.

The finan­cial analy­sis pre­pared by agency staff shows what board­mem­bers are con­cerned about. There is a lim­it to how much debt Sound Tran­sit can incur, and the agency is keen to leave space in their bud­get to respond to any change in eco­nom­ic conditions.

If a reces­sion hap­pens in the near-term, Sound Tran­sit’s cost of bor­row­ing would go up, mak­ing projects like NE 130th St accel­er­a­tion more dif­fi­cult to execute.

It is impor­tant to note, how­ev­er, that the cost is minus­cule. In the motion that the Sys­tem Expan­sion Com­mit­tee passed last week, Sound Tran­sit itself agrees:

A deci­sion to advance incre­men­tal­ly or advance ful­ly con­struc­tion of the NE 130th Street Infill Sta­tion is afford­able with­in the ST 3 Finan­cial Plan and will not delay or ren­der oth­er projects unaf­ford­able.

A vote to “advance incre­men­tal­ly” gives the Board the option to pause progress in the future, despite the fact that this project only impacts over­all debt capac­i­ty by 0.2%. This option would put the fun­da­men­tal infra­struc­ture for NE 130th St in place by 2024, but poten­tial­ly keep the sta­tion inop­er­a­ble for anoth­er sev­en years — an inef­fi­cient sce­nario that could be eas­i­ly avoid­ed with a vote to advance fully.

The Sound Tran­sit Board of Direc­tors will meet on Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 27th, at 1:30 PM at Union Sta­tion in Seat­tle, in part to vote on these proposals.

NPI sup­ports a vote to advance ful­ly, and to open NE 130th St sta­tion by 2025.

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