University Link GroundbreakingPhoto by flickr user acencini

How’s that for “shovel ready”? Sound Transit broke ground today for University Link, the extension of light rail from Downtown Seattle through Capitol Hill to the University of Washington at Husky Stadium. Initial work involves utility relocation, making way for station and tunnel excavation scheduled to begin late this year and last approximately three years.

The groundbreaking marked the beginning of the end of the 1996 Sound Move plan, and was a day many who worked on this original plan thought would never come. Today’s milestone is certainly something to celebrate.

When completed, U-Link will offer a seven minute ride between Downtown Seattle and the University, and Sound Transit estimates the U-Link line alone will add an incredible 70,000 daily boardings to the system by 2030. Martin also mentioned yesterday that bringing light rail further north offers many opportunities to improve bus service for the area.

In the shorter term, University Link will generate an estimated much-needed 2,900 direct construction jobs and 22,800 other direct and indirect jobs as result of economic activity generated by the project.

Even though I’m extremely excited for July when Central Link opens, I already can’t wait for 2016!

36 Replies to “University Link Construction Begins”

    1. Please notice that the UW grads in the picture (if any) are mature enough not to wear silly memorabilia from their alma-mater’s semi-professional sports club to an event that is being paid for by taxpayers of all levels and sources of education.

  1. Half the people there had fancy cameras.
    The other half worked for Sound Transit or were politicians participating in the ceremony.

    1. Well I was there with no fancy camera, but I did bring my two kids. We arrived too late for the most of the speeches but in time for the shoveling which my 3yr old loved. She asked, “Are those people Presidents?” In their dreams, I’m sure they all are.

      The surrounding parking lot was mostly full even on Friday afternoon which was a really nice backdrop for groundbreaking on a mass transit station. Unfortunately my family saw firsthand that the 2 miles from Husky Stadium home is really quite a long walk. Oh well, it’ll be one transfer away in 2016.

      1. Hopefully once North link opens you’ll have a station a bit closer to your house.

        Also I hope ST gets the money it needs to open North link as quickly after U-link as possible.

  2. I’m sorry, but as much as I love light rail, 2016 is just too long from now. This project should take half the amount of time it will.


    1. Tunnel boring machines can only go so fast. There is also a cash flow issue with both U-link and North Link. Sound Transit can only issue contracts as it has the money to do so.

      Even so I suspect if Sound Transit had all of the money in hand it needed to build U-link today at most you’d be able to push the opening date up by only a year or so.

      1. Huh? Surely you understand that an extremely complex engineering and construction project takes time to build. Especially one involving extensive underground tunneling.

      2. Chris – Sure, but you’re suggesting this necessarily has to take 6 years for a few miles. Explain why it can’t be done by 2013. We continue to accept that these projects take 7, 10 or 15 years. You can’t tell me that they can’t be constructed faster.

      3. Just the tunneling goes until 2013, that’s just the tunneling. Only after the tunneling is finished can you lay tracks, put up the eletric overhead wire and build the stations.

        Even after that, it needs to be tested a whole bunch before it can open to the public.

      4. Remember, they can’t start building the stations until tunneling is complete, since both the Capitol Hill and UW stations are being used to remove dirt from the tunnels. Let’s say tunneling takes 3 years, station-building takes 2 years, and testing/driver training takes another year—that’s a perfectly reasonable schedule which takes 6 years total. ST might be able to slice off a year, but only with a lot of money for the post-tunneling parts.

      5. Why should it take 2 years to build a station? I’m always wondering why we turn these projects into bigger things than they have to be, and often that starts with the stations.

        Drivers should now be able to get trained on Central Link, so that shouldn’t have to wait. I mean come on, they’re on rails, on their own right of way on U-Link, so how hard can it be to drive it that it would require a year?

      6. The station itself probably takes a year or so. But there’s laying the tracks and running the wires, and that takes a long time.

        Plus, they have to test more than just the drivers!

      7. We’re talking 3 miles of track!

        I think we’re all becoming apologists for the pace of work on these projects when we should be railing against such extended timelines. Other countries can build faster than we can, and we shouldn’t settle for that.

      8. Please provide an example of a similar project that was finished sooner elsewhere.

        With Sound Transit, you also have to remember there are some cash-flow issues. ST doesn’t get the FTA grant all at once, and ST has to wait for tax revenue to come in before they can pay for some things.

        Still I don’t believe that even if Sound Transit had all of the money needed to build U-link right now that much more than 12-18 months could be squeezed out of the schedule.

      9. That’s still 18 months faster.

        Hey, but if you guys like waiting a decade for a project to complete, knock your socks off. At some point you too will figure your life will have slipped away waiting.

      10. Well the hell does that mean? Do you have a plan to speed it up or you just want to complain about it?

        I’d rather have had it 10 years ago, 50 years ago. Of course I’d rather have had it in two years compared to seven, but not much can be done about it.

      11. I don’t want to just complain about it, but we should all be doing that much. My point is we don’t complain about it enough, and accept financing solutions that provide trickle funding that slows down the construction of these projects.

        Nothing gets done one anything unless enough people start complaining about it, and this is no different. We’ll continue to build these projects at a snail’s pace, with insufficient funding approaches, as long as we continue to accept that’s just the way it is.

        Take the East Link line, where we’re going to have to wait until 2021. That’s forever and it still doesn’t get beyond Overlake. We should be able to do better than that and we should be complaining at every opportunity that the development plan is too slow.

      12. In the case of U-link complaining about the construction time line is mostly a waste of time. Any slack in the schedule will be needed if there are any unexpected problems.

      13. Daniel, my friend, you ask why does a station take two years? Simple. These are essentially eight-story buildings constucted underground. Name me a 6+-story condo/office building anywhere in the region that is built ABOVE ground and opened in less than two years. It doesn’t exist. Underground construction adds a whole different level of complexity. So to recap:

        tunnel boring: 3 years
        station blds: 2 years
        systems &
        testing: 2 years
        total: 7 years

        There it is. U-Link in operation: priceless

    1. Yes it is largely symbolic. But these things often are.

      Nonetheless many of us had been waiting for this day for a long time.

  3. Daniel K.: Yes, 2016 is 20 years after Sound Move was adopted. A major factor in the pace of north Link LRT implementation is the 2001 ST Board decision to build south first. They had a fiscal crisis and learned that the Portage Bay tunnel was more than could be afforded. Later, soil testing confirmed that the Montlake Cut alignment was feasible. If the initial line had been Capitol Hill to South McClellan Street, there may have been enough North King County funds to reach NE 45th Street in Sound Move. Of course, the south King County Link LRT funds would have been redeployed on other projects and the three-county board did not want to do that.

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