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.

Friday, April 9th, 2021

The wait is almost over: Northgate Link will make its debut on October 2nd, 2021

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.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan at a Sound Transit media event

Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan address­es the media at the cer­e­mo­ny announc­ing the open­ing date of the North­gate Link exten­sion (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“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:

Northgate Link Station from the air

The brand new North­gate Link light rail sta­tion, as seen from sev­er­al dozen meters above the ground (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“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.

A test train at the new Northgate Link light rail station

A test train at Sound Tran­sit’s North­gate Link light rail sta­tion (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

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