View of the Bellevue Downtown Station, looking east, with the platform in the foreground and the bridge over I-405 in the distance. The next station to the east is Wilburton. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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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