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.

Saturday, October 16th, 2021

East Link from the air: Get a bird’s eye view of Sound Transit’s new Line 2 light rail stations

When Sound Tran­sit’s beau­ti­ful new North­gate, Roo­sevelt, and U Dis­trict Sta­tions opened to rid­ers two weeks ago, the SeaT­ac-to-North­gate high capac­i­ty tran­sit spine orig­i­nal­ly envi­sioned back in the 1990s final­ly became a reality.

It was, with­out a doubt, a huge mile­stone for mobil­i­ty in our region, but these three new sta­tions are actu­al­ly just the begin­ning of our Phase II build-out.

The sum­mer after next, assum­ing con­struc­tion con­tin­ues to go well and test­ing is unevent­ful, there will be a whole new light rail line join­ing the sys­tem, with three times as many sta­tions as the North­gate Link exten­sion: East Link/Line 2.

The core of Line 2 con­sists of ten new sta­tions in Seat­tle and the East­side: Jud­kins Park, Mer­cer Island, South Belle­vue, East Main, Down­town Belle­vue, Wilbur­ton, Spring Dis­trict, Bel-Red, Over­lake Vil­lage, and Red­mond Tech­nol­o­gy. Each of these sta­tions is active­ly under con­struc­tion and get­ting clos­er to be being ready to wel­come rid­ers in mid-2023 when Line 2 is set to open.

With all of the sta­tions hav­ing reached the point where they look like light rail sta­tions, as opposed to sim­ply large con­struc­tion zones, NPI launched a project to visu­al­ly doc­u­ment them from the air using unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles (UAVs).

Today, we’re delight­ed to be able to share with you a col­lec­tion of pho­tos from those flights, which offer a bird’s eye view of Line 2.

If you’ve caught glimpses of the con­struc­tion sites from the ground and are won­der­ing what these new sta­tions are like, then you’re in for a treat.

This new light rail line rep­re­sents the future of trans­porta­tion on the East­side. It will direct­ly con­nect the Microsoft cam­pus, Over­lake Hos­pi­tal, Belle­vue’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict, and res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods on the East­side with Seat­tle, pro­vid­ing a quick way to cross Lake Wash­ing­ton that’s immune from traf­fic jams. Line 2 will indi­rect­ly serve an even longer list of East­side neigh­bor­hoods thanks to forth­com­ing bus and para­tran­sit ser­vice reconfigurations.

Approved by vot­ers in 2008, East Link/Line 2 will be the first light rail line any­where to uti­lize a float­ing bridge for part of its align­ment. It con­sists of under­ground, aer­i­al, and at-grade + trench segments.

Let’s begin our tour of East Link’s ten sta­tions in Seat­tle, where the west­ern­most of the new light rail access points is being built.

Judkins Park Station

Fol­low­ing the old I‑90 express lanes, Jud­kins Park Sta­tion is nes­tled between lanes of busy traf­fic. Touch­ing the south end of Seat­tle’s his­tor­i­cal­ly diverse Cen­tral Dis­trict, the sta­tion is eas­i­ly acces­si­ble to the sur­round­ing community.

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The sta­tion will have three entrances. To the east of the plat­forms, esca­la­tors and ele­va­tors bring pas­sen­gers up to the 23rd Avenue S por­tal. 23rd is the main thor­ough­fare run­ning through the Cen­tral Dis­trict; pedes­tri­ans can walk north and access the Jud­kins Park neigh­bor­hood, as well as the park itself.

An exist­ing sig­nal­ized cross­walk cur­rent­ly part of the I‑90 bike and pedes­tri­an trail will pro­vide easy access to more urban green space in Jimi Hen­drix Park, as well as the Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Way South cor­ri­dor fur­ther east.

To the west, the sta­tion will also con­nect direct­ly to Rainier Ave South with two entrances on both sides of the busy street. Local bus­es, such as the 7, will be able to stop direct­ly under the free­way, tracks, and pedes­tri­an bridge. This con­nec­tion will be sim­i­lar to the old express­way bus sta­tion on the I‑90 express lanes — but a lot nicer, going off the con­trac­tor’s design con­cept.

Mercer Island Station

After pass­ing through the Mount Bak­er Tun­nel and across tracks rest­ing on the mile-long Homer M. Hadley Memo­r­i­al Bridge — which was no small engi­neer­ing feat — rid­ers will arrive at Mer­cer Island Station.

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The sta­tion will be at high­way lev­el, with esca­la­tors and ele­va­tors con­nect­ing rid­ers up to sta­tion por­tals at either end of the island platforms.

Sit­u­at­ed between 77th Avenue SE and 80th Avenue SE, it is near both Mer­cer Island’s main com­mer­cial dis­trict and the exist­ing island park & ride lot.

Cyclists will also have easy access from the I‑90 trail.

The sta­tion’s future bus con­nec­tion infra­struc­ture is still up in the air. The City of Mer­cer Island sued Sound Tran­sit again in fall 2020, alleg­ing that the 2017 set­tle­ment to a pri­or law­suit is being vio­lat­ed. While light rail con­struc­tion con­tin­ues, road alter­ations to accom­mo­date ter­mi­nat­ing bus­es from the East­side that would fun­nel rid­ers to Link on the at this sta­tion is on hold.

Seat­tle Tran­sit Blog has more back­ground about the dispute.

South Bellevue Station

Just after leav­ing Mer­cer Island, East Link’s tracks rise above the start of the messy I‑405/I‑90 inter­change, fol­low­ing Belle­vue Way. South Belle­vue is the first of six stops that the new light rail line makes through the city.

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The sta­tion is ele­vat­ed, on the site of the for­mer South Belle­vue Park & Ride. Giv­en that the sta­tion area lacks good pedes­tri­an con­nec­tions (it is between a steep hill and a wet­land), and since there is no sig­nif­i­cant den­si­ty with­in walk­ing dis­tance, the sta­tion is designed to be a trans­fer hub, much like East­gate Park & Ride. Bus bays and a new mul­ti-lev­el park­ing facil­i­ty with 1,500 stalls are being built next to the sta­tion to allow it to con­tin­ue to func­tion as a park and ride.

Inspired by the native habi­tat of adja­cent Mer­cer Slough, local artists will be promi­nent­ly fea­tured at the sta­tion. Vic­ki Scuri’s acoustic leaves cov­er up the con­crete pil­lars sup­port­ing the sta­tion. Katy Stone’s sculp­tures inspired by native species will line the garage, pro­vid­ing for good view­ing by passengers.

East Main Station

Wind­ing north along 112th Avenue NE most­ly at street lev­el, East Link then heads straight for down­town Belle­vue. East Main Sta­tion is locat­ed just south of E Main Street and west of 112th. Vis­i­ble from the island plat­forms is the south por­tal to the Down­town Belle­vue Tun­nel, which is promi­nent­ly imprint­ed into the concrete.

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There is no pedes­tri­an over­pass here, mean­ing that south­bound pas­sen­gers have to look both ways and walk across the tracks to reach the far-side platform.

At open­ing, Sound Tran­sit projects that just 2,500 of the 50,000 dai­ly pas­sen­gers to use East Link will be stop­ping at East Main Sta­tion, which would make it one of the least used sta­tions in the entire network.

Cur­rent­ly, the sta­tion is bound­ed by sin­gle-fam­i­ly res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods to the west and hotels to the east, with some more medi­um-den­si­ty offices north of E Main Street. The area might not be rede­vel­oped by the time the sta­tion opens, but it is a safe bet that this area will be trans­formed in some form over the decades as down­town Belle­vue con­tin­ues to grow.

Bellevue Downtown Station

Pass­ing under the por­tal, the tracks enter the Down­town Belle­vue Tun­nel, fol­low­ing E Main Street until 110th Ave NE, when the rails turn north under the pub­lic right-of-way. Turn­ing east onto NE 6th Street, trains exit the por­tal and imme­di­ate­ly pull into Belle­vue Down­town Station.

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Locat­ed on a mod­er­ate grade next to City Hall, stairs, ele­va­tors, and esca­la­tors take pas­sen­gers from the side plat­forms up to NE 110th Street and down to NE 112th Street. The NE 110th con­nec­tion is much more sig­nif­i­cant, as right across the street are the busy bus bays of Belle­vue Tran­sit Cen­ter along 6th Avenue NE.

Cur­rent­ly already one of the East­side’s most sig­nif­i­cant trans­fer hubs and tran­sit des­ti­na­tions, in the future Stride Bus Rapid Tran­sit lines will deliv­er pas­sen­gers from all along the I‑405 cor­ri­dor to con­nect with Link light rail at this location.

Rid­er­ship is expect­ed to be very strong here in Belle­vue’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict, with more than 7,500 rid­ers expect­ed at launch.

Wilburton Station

Due to the topog­ra­phy, the tracks become ele­vat­ed while stay­ing lev­el as they cross Inter­state 405. Peo­ple in the 156,000 cars that trav­el through this busy stretch of inter­state will have a great view of the trains whizzing by while stuck in rush-hour traf­fic, hope­ful­ly inspir­ing com­muters to give light rail a chance.

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Wilbur­ton Sta­tion comes up just after I‑405 after the tracks curve north, not very far from Belle­vue Down­town Sta­tion. With­out any sort of lid or pedes­tri­an bridge, it is daunt­ing to walk across I‑405 here, which makes this sta­tion much needed.

The ele­vat­ed sta­tion is right next to Lake Belle­vue, and around a mile away on foot to the Belle­vue Botan­i­cal Gardens.

It was dubbed the “Hos­pi­tal Sta­tion” in ear­ly plan­ning doc­u­ments due to its prox­im­i­ty to Over­lake Med­ical Cen­ter and Kaiser Per­ma­nente. Many major busi­ness­es are also locat­ed with­in walk­ing dis­tance of this station.

Spring District/120th Station

Dip­ping down to street lev­el and under NE 12th Street, East Link turns east and stops just after 120th Avenue NE to serve the Spring Dis­trict Sta­tion. The open-air sta­tion is locat­ed beneath the ground in a sunken con­fig­u­ra­tion, with pas­sen­gers descend­ing to the side plat­forms by esca­la­tor or elevator.

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The Spring Dis­trict is an excit­ing tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment that has been under con­struc­tion since 2013. Con­ceived to replace light indus­tri­al build­ings that were right next to the planned light rail route to Red­mond dur­ing Sound Tran­sit 2, the six­teen-block devel­op­ment hosts offices, apart­ments, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton research facil­i­ty, and store­fronts. Brand-new, most of it has yet to be com­plete­ly built, but it should open right along­side when light rail arrives in 2023.

REI, one of the largest com­pa­nies plan­ning to relo­cate to the Spring Dis­trict, made head­lines when it announced last year that it would not move here after all after pan­dem­ic-induced remote-working.

How­ev­er, Face­book has tak­en over most of the office space that REI was plan­ning to devel­op, mean­ing that the Spring Dis­trict con­tin­ues to hold appeal as a new tran­sit-ori­ent­ed neigh­bor­hood in Bellevue.

Bonus virtual tour pictures: OMF East

Look­ing west from the Spring District/120th Sta­tion, tracks branch west to the new Oper­a­tions and Main­te­nance Facil­i­ty East (OMF‑E). This rail yard is nec­es­sary to serve as a base for light rail trains on the East­side. It is imprac­ti­cal to ser­vice East Link vehi­cles from Sound Tran­sit’s cur­rent facil­i­ty in Seat­tle’s SoDo neigh­bor­hood (vis­i­ble from Link trains exit­ing the Bea­con Hill portal).

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After the Lyn­nwood, Fed­er­al Way, and Red­mond exten­sions are com­plete in 2024, Sound Tran­sit will oper­ate a total of 214 light rail vehi­cles across the region.

OMF‑E will inte­grate into the Spring Dis­trict neigh­bor­hood as part of the tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment con­cept, with “afford­able hous­ing, mar­ket-rate apart­ments, office, retail and pub­lic space,” accord­ing to Sound Tran­sit’s web­site.

Bel-Red/130th Station

Start­ing again from the Spring District/120th Sta­tion, the light rail tracks cut through the Bel-Red neigh­bor­hood in between major cur­rent thor­ough­fares such as Northup Way and Bel-Red Road.

A new Spring Boule­vard is shown on plan­ning doc­u­ments along­side the light rail tracks, how­ev­er as the tracks mean­der in an above-ground sec­tion they cur­rent­ly fit nar­row­ly between exist­ing light indus­tri­al buildings.

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Bel-Red Sta­tion is at grade, with side plat­forms and pedes­tri­an cross­ing loca­tions at the end of the plat­forms (sim­i­lar to Colum­bia City Sta­tion on Line 1).

The sta­tion is just south of a minor clus­ter of busi­ness­es based at the inter­sec­tion of Northup Way and and NE 130th Street.

While it might not be ready when the sta­tion opens in two years, more tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment is on the hori­zon in this part of Bellevue.

The ware­hous­es and strip malls of Bel-Red today are some­what sim­i­lar to what South Lake Union was like before Ama­zon moved in. With the right kind of invest­ment, a bit of luck, and a coop­er­a­tive city hall, a new light rail sta­tion can be the foun­da­tion for sim­i­lar den­si­ty in Bel-Red.

Overlake Village Station

Leav­ing Bel-Red, the Link light rail tracks turn north to cross NE 20th Street at a sig­nal­ized at-grade junc­tion. The rail line then turns to fol­low to State Route 520’s right-of-way, ris­ing above the busy 148th Avenue NE inter­change before arriv­ing at Over­lake Vil­lage Sta­tion in Redmond.

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Over­lake Vil­lage already exists as a node of den­si­ty pri­mar­i­ly designed to serve Microsoft employ­ees and oth­er tech work­ers. The Link sta­tion is locat­ed where the tech­nol­o­gy giant’s quar­ters meets the com­mer­cial dis­trict, mean­ing it can serve both com­muters and busi­ness customers.

The sta­tion façade opens nice­ly to an open plaza where a pas­sen­ger drop-off loop is locat­ed. Sim­i­lar to East Main Sta­tion, there is no pedes­tri­an walk­way above or below the tracks at Over­lake Vil­lage. Instead, Seat­tle-bound rid­ers will be expect­ed to walk across the tracks to access the island platform.

A pedes­tri­an bridge across SR 520 has already been built, pro­vid­ing easy con­nec­tiv­i­ty to the Microsoft build­ings west of the high­way, as well as a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of con­do­mini­ums and apart­ments along 148th Ave NE.

Redmond Technology Station

After a short sprint along the side of the high­way, East Link trains will ter­mi­nate at Red­mond Tech­nol­o­gy Sta­tion in the heart of Microsoft­’s Red­mond head­quar­ters cam­pus, before being extend­ed to down­town Red­mond in 2024.

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Microsoft is fund­ing the con­struc­tion of anoth­er pedes­tri­an bridge, improv­ing the walk­ing expe­ri­ence across State Route 520 that is cur­rent­ly a rather unpleas­ant trek beside traf­fic along NE 40th Street.

Bus bays will pro­vide rid­ers plen­ty of space to wait for their con­nec­tions. A 320-car garage will sup­ply some park­ing (although much less than the 1,400 spots that will be avail­able in South­east Redmond).

And mul­ti­ple com­mis­sioned art pieces will be fea­tured mark the end of one of the most tech­ni­cal­ly chal­leng­ing Link exten­sions con­struct­ed to date.

There you have it!

East Link includes ten new sta­tions, four­teen miles of track, anoth­er main­te­nance and oper­a­tions base, and a lot of incred­i­ble pub­lic art. After over a decade of design, plan­ning, and con­struc­tion, it will soon be open­ing to the pub­lic, rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing trav­el on the East­side and beyond.

Project safety information

All our flights were con­duct­ed in accor­dance with FAA reg­u­la­tions using reg­is­tered air­craft at times when con­struc­tion work­ers were not present. When fly­ing in con­trolled air­space, flight plans were filed and LAANC autho­riza­tions obtained.

We hope you enjoyed the tour!

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