VIPs on the Mezzanine Level, from left to right: County Executive-Elect Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Sen. Patty Murray, County Executive Kurt Triplett, and Port Commissioner John Creighton (photo by the author)
VIPs on the Mezzanine Level, from left to right: County Executive-Elect Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Sen. Patty Murray, County Executive Kurt Triplett, and Port Commissioner John Creighton (all photos by the author)

As Brian noted, Senator Murray had the honor of announcing Seatac Station’s opening date as Saturday, December 19 at 10am, just in time for the holidays.  The real star of the morning, however, was one of the system’s more beautiful stations.  I’m probably the least of the STB team’s photographers, but since I was the one there you’ll have to peruse my photos in the STB Flickr Pool.  Some select photos and additional comments below the jump.

The International Blvd. Pedestrian Bridge
click to enlarge

Access to the station from the City will come via the pedestrian bridge above.  Most buses will stop here, and there’s a nice plaza taking shape behind that fence.

The Stations Levels, from the East
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I’m no architecture critic but I believe the structure on top of the station itself is meant to be suggestive of flight.  In the photo below you can clearly see the International Blvd. pedestrian bridge, mezzanine, and train platform level.

I’m told that the original design actually enclosed most of this, but budget cuts forced an change of heart.  I think it’s pretty successful.

I don’t believe there’s any ground access on the West Side of the street except some emergency stairwells, at the extreme right edge of the picture.

The elevator shaft is evident, and you can just make out a TVM to the right of the bridge.

The presence of the train triggered a rumor we were to get a ride, but that was not to be.

Mezzanine, looking South
Click to enlarge

Above is a photo of the Mezzanine, looking South.  The bridge to the airport parking garage is just off camera to the right.  It was sealed off today.  The benches at left will be an obvious place to meet people you’re picking up.

Each of the two escalators had one of the pieces below.  Mayor Greg Nickels told me that they were originally to have been spun by the wind from passing trains, but thanks to the open design they’ll simply be driven by natural wind.  This one has names of various Northwest tribes, and the other has names of various cities around the world at the same latitude as Seatac.

The art installation
click to enlarge

Lastly, the other pedestrian bridge.  The photo below is taken from the train platform and shows how the station connects to the parking garage and ultimately the terminal.  Port Commissioner John Creighton told me that the walkway will be separated from traffic and follow the outer rim of the garage.  He said a moving walkway was ruled out due to both expense and because the machinery would have required a few feet of machinery between the walkway and the concrete floor of the garage.

The Parking Garage and Airport Terminal
Click to enlarge

I got some other, unrelated tidbits from the officials there, but I’ll save those for another post.

101 Replies to “A Sneak Peak at Seatac Station”

    1. Excellent question. Looks like quite a trek. Seems rather disappointing when compared to other recent systems like Sydney or Honk Kong where the station is actually in the terminal seperated by only an escalator.

      1. Maybe because every time there was a high level security alert the FAA wouldn’t allow the train into the terminal and that would cut off everybody south of the airport. It would also have cost way more money and made the extension south that much harder. I’d take SeaTac over Denver even with their people movers. I’d take anything over Heathrow; talk about airport done badly!

      2. Are they concerned about someone flying the train into something? I could just as easily take my car an…hmm, I should stop, Homeland Security would probably come find me and torture me for more info about illogical things. Oops, gotta take my shoes off, brb.

        Make a spur line into the airport and have a switch to go south. Easily done. But its a moot point.

      3. I you’ve ever driven to the airport during a security alert you’d understand the level of search and limited access. Every car is stopped. No cars or SUVs with tinted windows are allowed. No trucks are allowed. Mass transit becomes a terrorist target because of the concentration of people. Remember Spain? Too easy for a dozen people to board, leave a packpack and get off the stop before the station. Could they do the same thing at the parking garage, sure. But it doesn’t have the high visibility of doing it at the terminal and it doesn’t shut down the airport. In short, it pushes it way down on the most desirable target list.

      4. this was too bad … would have been awesome if it was built above the departure level roadway with connections right to ticketing (much like SFO and the monorail at EWR)

      5. “would have been awesome if it was built above the departure level roadway”

        That was one option, but the Port of Seattle rejected it. They don’t even like buses taking up space on the terminal drives let alone giving up room for constructing a station.

      6. Brian, there are a ton of comparable airports that are far removed from the nearest respective rail lines.

      7. I am darn close to trying to get the other admins to agree with me and just moderate the whining about distance.

        Narita. Frankfurt. Schiphol. Big airports have you walking twice this far.

      8. It’s 400 meters. We can deal.

        I’ll never cease to marvel at the strength of the “it’s not perfect, we shouldn’t even try” mentality in Seattle.

        The NY subway certainly didn’t start out as a complete system… perhaps they should have given up as well?

      9. Yes, this is what is everyone loves to hate about our great city! Everyone has the chance not just to have a say, but even to revise their opinion if they feel like it – there is plenty of time for both. This is what really got to me over the viaduct discussion that ripped us apart before the election. Interestingly enough, Mike McGinn proved both of my points above but in a remarkably short time frame. He started off hating the tunnel and then in a relatively short space of time, revised his own opinion. We are very generous with our opinion and deciding makers here with how much time they get to finally make a commitment – if indeed they get that far.

        Yes, I am sure New York didn’t have one vote on its subway extensions – London almost certainly to my knowledge did not.

      10. McGinn didn’t change his opinion – he simply admitted that it was no longer his role to try and block it.

    2. A quick takeoff using Google Maps tells me it’s around 1100 feet. Of course the real treck is after you get your tickets. That’s as much as 3600 feet if you’re unlucky enough to board out at the end of Concourse A. But that’s just the layout of the airport, not Link.

      Speaking of which, why aren’t there people movers inside our airport?

      1. You’re using ‘people movers’ pretty generically… do you mean a tram? Or a moving sidewalk? Because SeaTac has both.

      2. Moving sidewalk. Ah, I see that Concourse A actually a few – nice. I guess I hadn’t seen them.

      3. There’s a couple in Concourse B–last seen when we flew AA to DFW. There’s a voice that says something like “Caution, the moving walkway is ending” and my older daughter always wants to ride the “movie walk”.

      4. AA used to be in B at Sea-Tac before the “new”, and now a white elephant, Concourse A opened (thanks again Pat Davis!)

        In the early nineties American had gates at the end of the C concourse which they then swapped with Continental to get to B.

        At DFW, American has gates in Terminals A, B, C and D.

  1. Yes, my understanding was that the floor-to-ceiling height of the parking structure leaves you too little headroom if they install people movers. Though I suppose they can install one only for short people and children, since tall people are faster at walking anyway.

    1. The problem is that the garage floors are too thin. Putting in moving sidewalks would make the level below too low for vehicles to pass.

    2. When the Port sees that convenient light rail connectivity improves their competitiveness, they will remodel the walkway to the station.

      It seems they had to cut a lot of costs to get this station built.

      But in the future, whenever that is, when the Port needs to promote rail, they will upgrade the experience of finding the train station. From what I’ve read a proper passageway with moving sidewalks will require two floors of the garage along its path. Demolish the floor slab in between, raise the level of the lower floor several feet to accomodate the mechanical equipment for the moving walkway, and you will still have plenty of headroom left.

  2. Nice series of pics. A little more than a month away!

    I’m a little saddened by all the non-weather proof stations in Seattle. For a city that is as damp as we are, one would think stations would have more cover and wind protection.

  3. What about the black vertical v-dip polls on the pedestrian bridge that connects Link Airport Station to the new kiss and ride. Will they install that later? I hope they didn’t cut this desgin element due to cost issues. Without it, the bridge looks rather bland. However,I must say the station looks rather pale compared to the original design

    original desgin
    http://www.soundtransit.org/Projects-and-Plans/Projects-By-Service/Link-Light-Rail/Airport-LinkSeaTac/SeaTacAirport-Station.xml

  4. If I understand the walkway location correctly, it will become more convenient to fly Alaska or United, who are currently have ticketing/baggage areas farthest from the Metro bus stop.

  5. It’s going to be awfully sad on December 20th to know that we won’t get any more new light-rail for 7 more years.

      1. That is a possibility, but even then I can’t see myself getting too excited about being able to go to S 200th Street. Now, if the First Hill Streetcar gets done by 2012, that would fill my rail fix a little better.

    1. from the airport south … the ROW will be elevated above rt. 99. This kind of ROW is pretty quick to construct as it is mostly prefab concrete ergo if the money is available the line will be built quickly.

    2. It took 15 to get what we have now… Of course we HAD the waterfront streetcar to help tide us over, but thats now gone. How quickly people seem to forget about that.

  6. So … are all the buses that now stop outside concourse A on the arrivals level going to move to the station at ground level? or will they stay where they are?

    1. Currently the airport drive stop is served by routes 140, 180, 194, 560 and 574.

      In the February 2010 service change that will change. Only routes 560 and 574 remain.

      The 140 will be revised “to serve Tukwila International Boulevard Station and S 154th Street, and no longer serve Air Cargo Road, the Sea-Tac Airport drives, or McMicken Heights.” The 180 will be revised to “to serve Air Cargo Road, International Boulevard, and the Airport Link Station instead of the Airport drives”. The 194 will be discontinued. The 560 service to the airport won’t change but Burien-West Seattle service will be reduced. From the draft 2010 SIP: “A minor route change, also scheduled for February 2010 implementation, will allow Route 574 to serve both the Sea-Tac Airport terminal and the new SeaTac/Airport light rail station.”

  7. any idea if the “Next Train” signage system at each station will be up and running for the 19th?

  8. Funny that Martin referenced this as one of the more beautiful stations on Link. A friend and I were just kinda bemoaning the Link station architecture. They have a certain integrity, to be sure, but they seem dominated by a fairly austere modernist aesthetic, giant concrete and glass monoliths rising above and disconnected from their surroundings. And what does a brother have to do for some foliage?

    1. It takes a while for the foliage to grow in. Mature trees don’t transplant well. And compare what we got now to what was there before!

      1. Oh, no doubt. I didn’t mean to sound too critical. As I mentioned, there is definitely an integrity of form to the elevated stations. I’m not even anti-brutalist, when it’s a thoughtful critique on the form itself or an irreducible expression of the idea at its best.

        But is stripped-down 1960s austerity the only answer when the budget is tight? Is there a frugal way to express a local, PNW ethic without descending into the cliche or the kitsch? Not saying I know. Maybe it’s just lightning in a bottle to catch the right architect at the right (read: affordable) time.

        Again, wasn’t trying to be negative. I just can’t help feeling the stations (Beacon Hill platform obviously excepted) are a little cold and lonely. To rephrase from above, Can a brother get a row of baby douglas firs or Western red cedars at Beacon Hill? An official Central Link Evergreen (No snarky comments about root balls and sidewalks, please, I’m—mostly—joking)?

    2. Also, if you’ve seen, the Rainier Valley stations have green walls along the platforms with ivy starting to grow in

    1. Yes, they haven’t done a lot with it down the years. I have a list of ugly concrete structures in the area. The Kingdome has gone, Macy’s Garage in Downtown Seattle has had a makeover, the Post Office on 3rd Avenue has sort of been improved but I got overly excited that they might do more than they have done – nothing inside and the rest of its hideous block remains – and the Viaduct remains…… We’re getting there – one ugly building at a time. Oh, lets not forget the ugly sinking ship garage in Pioneer Square – still way overdue for a make over, but then so are most downtown parking structures – they are all as ugly as sin!

      1. Parking structures are inherently ugly. I was gonna mention sinking ship, but you got it. It doesn’t need a makeover…it needs to get demolished.

      2. The “Hotel Seattle” also previously known as the “Occidental Hotel” building. Huge parts of the district were going to be demolished in the 60s and replaced with parking garages. The sinking ship is what led to the preservation of Pioneer Square after people saw the destruction.

      3. Yes, the Hotel Seattle was quite a gem! I have the Pioneer Square Pictures of Old America, and we lost a lot but fortunately have also finally saved a lot of gems from the past. The sinking ship garage has served one important purpose to keep heritage alive in Seattle as nearly every one is appalled by its jarring nose into Pioneer Square.

      4. Yes, quite – it should have been demolished and dare I say would have been if the Monorail had gotten built. I was all for groundbreaking at this one!

      5. Yep, Kane Hall is ugly. So is the UnderGraduate LibrarY. Maybe it’s meant as a teaching experience when contrast to Suzzallo Library. This we knew three decades ago when I was at UW. Have any lessons been learned?

      6. Why they built so many ugly buildings in the 50s through the 80s on the UW campus is a puzzle. There are so many beautiful buildings on the campus that it remains jarring whenever I come across the ugly concrete monstrosities that have filled in the architectural gaps in the years since the days of the Beautiful City movement in the first part of the last century. Mr Olmstead would be appalled quite frankly at seeing the hideous libraries and dorms and other buildings that have jarred his vision of places of beauty and learning. Yes, I know concrete is cheap, but please……

      7. Yeah, it was the architectural fad at the time. The concrete brutalist stuff of that era actually fills me with nothing but humility. It shows how badly the people “who know better” can get it wrong.

      8. It’s hard for us to understand, but people in the 1940s-1960s saw the old architecture as backward; it reminded them of a past they wanted to get away from. So Art Deco in the 20s and 30s gave way to Brutalism and modernism (monorail, SCCC/NSCC/SSCC, kingdome, Kane/Schmitz/Sieg/McMahon/Hagget halls, 60s downtown library and Ballard library, etc). In the 90s came a new respect for classical styles, but materials and construction had become too expensive to mimic the ornate detail, so modernism was modified to accommodate the spirit of older styles (Benaroya, Washington Mutual/Chase tower, 90s UW library).

        Car travel also played a role in simplifying the styles. When you walk right next to a building, you can see every detail. When you’re viewing it from an arterial or highway, you can’t see the details, so developers can get away with much cheaper/simpler styling.

      9. I hear the Downtown Post Office is on the proposed closure list, so we might get that knocked down. And I would add that creepy, imposing, almost windowless building at 3rd & Seneca to that list.

      10. Yes, that too – it is just an invite to taggers etc. It is all part of the same hideous block as the Post Office – I hadn’t heard that was to be closed though – they have just done a sort of upgrade to it but not as extensively as one would have liked.

      11. That building happens to be a Qwest telephone exchange. Now there is a chance Qwest might be willing to put something a little more pedestrian friendly at street level but I wouldn’t bet on it. Phone companies like to keep their core infrastructure secure and they don’t like other non-telecom tenants in their buildings.

        There is some hope though, modern exchanges take up far less space than the old crossbar switches or first-generation electronic switching systems. However there still is the problem of needing to terminate the wire plant somewhere. Moving that is a bit of a challenge. It can be done though. The old Qwest building which is now the Bellevue City Hall also housed a phone exchange. As far as I know this was moved elsewhere when Qwest vacated the building. So it is conceivable Qwest might at some point consolidate it’s downtown Seattle facilities further. Unfortunately I suspect the building would likely become a co-lo facility rather than being converted to conventional office space or torn down. At least this is what has happened to many other former large downtown telephone exchange buildings across the US.

  9. Yes, the ubiquitous use of concrete is a pain, but I don’t think for the money we can expand the grand old station facades of old. On the whole I think we have done OK with the stations – certainly a lot nicer than the ones in Portland. We should be grateful I guess that we mostly have the funds to restore King Street Station in Seattle to its former glories. We can console ourselves with this.

    You’re probably not looking at the new Airport Link in the best possible light as the weather wasn’t that good today but when the wraps come down, I think it will look OK. Perhaps the lighting will improve it at night?

      1. Ooh near the Rental Car Center there’s a thing that says “Possible Rental Car APM.” Does that stand for Automated People Mover? If so, sweet.

  10. Is there some overhead map showing the route one will take from the platform to the terminal(s)?

    Is the walkway that is “separated from traffic and follow the outer rim of the garage” totally separated from the pedestrian traffic of garage users?

    It may seem minor, but I like being able to currently hop off the 194 and enter the airport with just seeing a few seconds of car traffic. Am I now going to have to see a garage filled with cars? How annoying. And when initially leaving the terminal (and heading to the platform) will it be obvious to others that I’m headed to Link? I like to be a walking ad for public transportation. But will I just be seen as a user of the garage that Link users are forced to go through?

    1. I hope we won’t have to see cars to preserve the sense of already being in the aiport but we’ll all see in December I guess. I am sure the Port will guage everyone’s reactions and make adjustments as needed based on how users feel about the walk and the overall aesthetics of the experience. Airports offer continually shifting experiences and changes in center of gravity and they are rarely fixed structures, responding in both short and long term ways to changing needs. SeaTac in the last decade has built a new concourse A, a new central terminal, a third runway, remade an existing one, added more parking spaces and now has a new station to link itself to Seattle. Oh, and lets not forget tinkering with the cellphone lot and in the process of adding a new rental car lot.

      The new walkway will chiefly be of benefit to Alaska and United travelers as they occupy the now prime real estate area of the north end of the airport. I fancy that you won’t get either airline to budge from this new prime position!

      The international traveler folks who lets face it have the longest of the journeys ahead of them anyway, will have the longest walk to the Airport Link Station and I will be measuring this later on once it has opened.

      I also hope that the Port and Sound Transit concentrate some resources on signage to and from the new station.

  11. “He said a moving walkway was ruled out due to both expense…”

    What a ridiculous statement when you consider this is a multi-billion dollar project.

    1. It was probably also dropped because of the time factor. Sound Transit has been under pressure for years to bring Light Rail on budget and on time and any additional time delay would have infuriated critics such as yourself perhaps.

      I am sure that the Port will do something in the fulness of time to make it a more engaging experience for travelers. The new walkway I understand will be sheltered and protected/covered from the rest of the car park. I hope so at any rate – at least make people believe they are in the airport once they leave the station.

  12. I don’t believe there’s any ground access on the West Side of the street except some emergency stairwells, at the extreme right edge of the picture.

    That is correct. In fact, there isn’t a sidewalk on this stretch of International Boulevard, save for the few hundred feet right by the bus zone.

    1. Too bad they couldn’t put in an extra stairwell so people don’t have to use the crosswalk but we would need a lift for wheelchair users as well.

  13. The proposed parking garage expansion just north of the current garage and nearby terminal expansion would seem an excellent opportunity to upgrade and optimize the airport-to-station pedestrian connection beyond what is initially provided.

    Moving walkways, common in airports around the world for traversing such distances while carrying luggage, children, etc., could be added at that time.

    On the subject of long walks from stations:

    In my advocacy role in the SR 520 planning process I have long sought ways to bring bus service adjacent to the University of Washington rail station, instead of a 1200 foot walk away that involves two big street crossings. This could be done by routing both local and regional transit service around the north end of the Triangle Parking Garage, via Pacific Place, directly serving both the light rail station on the east, and the medical center at the west end of the triangle, as was once suggested in SDOT’s University Area Transportation Study. This is only a desire at this time, not a plan. This would be done in a way that supports and leverages other plans in the area, including the new Rainier Vista plan, and neither the UW nor Sound Transit nor Metro would be asked to pay for the required improvements. More on this later…

    1. The triangle transit center concept is a major part of the SR 520 HCT Plan because the Montlake flyer stop won’t be rebuilt.

  14. Just took Link home from SeaTac today. It was a nice trip! I can’t wait for the airport station to be complete so that I don’t have to wait for the shuttle bus.

  15. As a King County Metro Bus driver (and now a KC/ST light rail operator), I never understood the rationale behind the decision by a bus patron to wait at a bus stop for up to 30 min to ride a bus to a bus stop 2-6 blocks away, when they could have easily walked that distance in far less time. Not only is it good exercise, but gives one the opportunity to discover things about your city that you may not previously have known.
    I may be biased, but I think the SeaTac Light Rail Station turned out to be the best looking one of the bunch, even despite the scaled back architecture.
    What I’m looking forward to most is eliminating the confusion by light rail passengers as to which platform to they need to be on to catch THE NEXT train to Seattle (as is the case with Tukwila Int’l Blvd Station with its platforms on either side, serving as a temporary terminal)… the platform at SeaTac is in the center.
    We start qualifications training on the airport segment of the track today (Mon 11-16-09), and quite soon passengers will deboard at Tukwila (as they do now) while the train continues on to the SeaTac Station empty. This gives operators the opportunity to become completely familiar with the airport link segment of the track, so things run smoothly come opening day.

    1. Does it really take a month before trains can be operated safely on a new extention? It seems like revenue service could be provided Thanksgiving weekend. I admit I have no clue as to all that’s involved so your insight would be appreciated. I’m sure a lot of the general public is going to wonder why they have to catch a shuttle bus to the airport when the train they were just on is going there empty.

      1. I’d assume that the tracks are ready for trains now, but the station/pedestrian bridges won’t be ready until December.

  16. Bernie and Eric, the tracks have been done and in place for quite some time, and testing of the impedence bonds and signal system has been ongoing. Both are critical for rail safety. Our signal system ensures proper separation of trains.
    Lines to power the trains have been energized for the same amount of time. I’m not familiar with the certification process by the Feds, but everything has to be inspected and signed off… government agencies obviously move at their own pace, SLOW! : )
    What we’ve been waiting for is for the completion of the SeaTac Station itself. I haven’t seen the actual cost figures, but I imagine completion will come on or under budget, and opening date as announced is almost two weeks earlier than the planned Dec 31st opening.
    Initial training of light rail operators is a 6-8 week process. Once that training is complete, each operator had to qualify on the different track segments (Downtown Transit Tunnel, Beacon Hill Tunnel, Martin Luther King Jr Way where we are at grade level with traffic and pedestrians, and the elevated section between Rainier Beach and Tukwila), as each one is a unique operating environment. The airport extension is no different. The ratio of training staff to the 61 or so light rail operators we now have is what determines the time factor. Our previous qualifications occured during pre-revenue service, so training the 53 operators at that time took less time. Now we have to rotate operators from their duties during regular service, to go qualify on the airport segment, a process that will obviously take more time. We can’t shut down the railroad to qualify people faster.
    I’m as anxious to get the airport extension opened as everyone else! I’m also anxious to have the University Link segment in operation, but that’s almost 7 years away.
    I hope I’ve helped everyone in understanding some of the behind-the-scenes processes going on, so perhaps the appreciation of the finished project will be greater.

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