Sound Transit’s long-anticipated Northgate Link light rail extension is nearing completion and will be ready to accept riders in a little less than six months, agency leaders announced during a brief ceremony this morning.
“With Northgate’s completion, Sound Transit will enter an exciting period of opening major light extensions every year through 2024, nearly tripling the region’s light rail system from twenty-two miles to sixty-two miles,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and University Place Mayor Kent Keel.
“This drumbeat of progress will extend service to Tacoma’s Hilltop in 2022, East King County in 2023 and Lynnwood and Federal Way in 2024. It will position us to keep building to complete voter-approved extensions to Tacoma, Everett, West Seattle, Ballard, DuPont and other destinations across the region.”
Sound Transit has set October 2nd as the target date for inauguration of service. In keeping with agency tradition, that’s a Saturday. Every previous Link light rail station grand opening has also been on a Saturday. There are currently sixteen stations in the system; when Northgate Link debuts, there will be nineteen.
The existing stations opened in 2009 and 2016:
- July 18th, 2009: Tukwila/International Boulevard, Rainier Beach, Othello, Columbia City, Mount Baker, Beacon Hill, SoDo, Stadium, International District/Chinatown, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake (12 total)
- December 19th, 2009: SeaTac/Airport
- March 19th, 2016: Capitol Hill, University of Washington
- September 24th, 2016: Angle Lake
The three forthcoming Northgate Link stations are:
- U District (at NE 45th Street and Brooklyn Avenue NE)
- Roosevelt (at NE 65th Street and 12th Avenue NE)
- Northgate (1st Avenue NE and NE 103rd Street)
U District and Roosevelt are underground stations that feel like subway stops. Both have wide sets of non-emergency stairs that go all the way down to the platform, unlike Capitol Hill and University of Washington, plus heavier duty “transit grade” escalators that tolerate wear and tear more gracefully.
Northgate, on the other hand, is an elevated station built over the streetscape alongside Interstate 5, as you can see from this aerial photo taken today:
“This milestone will transform commutes and communities, and further demonstrate the power of light rail to whisk riders to their destinations quickly, sustainably, and absolutely reliably,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine. “King County Metro Transit will expand Northgate Link’s benefits by tying local bus routes with stations, so thousands of commuters can simply skip the daily Ship Canal Bridge bottleneck.”
Liberating people from I‑5 congestion was a key objective of the 1996 Sound Move plan that supplied Sound Transit its initial funding and project mandate.
The Sound Move plan called for a light rail line that would run from Northgate to SeaTac. As noted above, Sound Transit was able to complete the southern segments of the system over a decade ago, and even opened a new southern terminus several years ahead of schedule (Angle Lake).
Neighborhoods located to the north of the Ship Canal have waited nearly a quarter of a century for light rail to reach them and begin service.
But their extraordinary patience is about to be rewarded at last.
Construction on Northgate Link has gone smoothly, and Sound Transit is in now a position to deliver the new stations on the revised 2021 timeline it committed to back when the Northgate Link extension moved out of the design phase.
Just as importantly, Sound Transit contractors are hard at work constructing more stations in three different directions, which means we won’t have to wait half a decade for additional neighborhoods to land their service.
In 2023, the system will undergo a massive expansion as crews finish the build-outs of the Sound Transit 2 extensions. It won’t be long before light rail will begin crossing Lake Washington and the Snohomish County line. Light rail will also soon extend significantly further south, almost to the Pierce County line.
An additional set of light rail extensions approved by voters as a part of Sound Transit 3 (2016) remain in the design phase. Rising real estate costs, coupled with the pandemic, have thrown serious wrenches into the projects’ finances.
I asked Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff whether the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan (also known more colloquially as the infrastructure bill) could help those Sound Transit 3 projects. Rogoff (formerly the Obama administration’s Federal Transit Administrator) is hopeful, as are ST boardmembers.
The Northgate Link extension cost nearly $2 billion to construct, and was made possible in part with a $615 million TIFIA line of credit. The project is expected to wrap up under budget, Sound Transit says.
As Executive Constantine mentioned, King County Metro will make significant route changes in tandem with Northgate Link’s opening. Community Transit will do likewise, under the leadership of its new CEO, ST alum Ric Ilgenfritz. This will allow bus service in many neighborhoods to be further optimized.
The Northgate Station is a great example of a fully multimodal facility.
It is adjacent to Metro’s existing Northgate bus hub, which has plenty of bus bays. It has a brand new parking garage steps away from the light rail platform and mezzanine. It will also have a beautiful pedestrian and bike bridge that crosses over Interstate 5, linking the station to North Seattle College.
The bridge is under construction now and should be finished by October 2nd.
NPI has covered every single light rail station opening in Sound Transit’s history, and we look forward to reporting on the opening of Northgate Link this fall.