Since early this year, we’ve noticed that Sound Transit’s quarterly Link progress reports (pdf) show University Link with a lot of padding in the schedule – 169 days of what they call “float” (see page 13).

At today’s Sound Transit board meeting, staff presented a plan (pdf) to study how early University Link can open, and work with contractors and Metro to implement it! While we’ve noticed this float for a long time, this is the first time Sound Transit has officially confirmed the possibility, even tweeting it.

If University Link does open five months earlier than the currently expected September 24th, 2016 date, as early as mid-April by my count, it could mean a lot for a 2016 Sound Transit 3 measure. The early open could boost ridership, impacting living choices for students and employees starting at UW for the 16-17 school year, as U-Link would already be in operation when students make their living arrangements. A great September ridership number would be a great news item during a campaign. And, of course, the more people ride grade separated rail, the more they want.

This is no small feat – the other similarly sized projects in our region, WSDOT’s SR-520 bridge replacement and SR-99 tunnel, are both plagued with overruns and delay. Sound Transit is reaffirming today that under Joni Earl, they’re the most capable construction management outfit in the region.

68 Replies to “University Link Will Likely Open Early”

  1. This is wonderful news. There was a part of me that wondered if Sound Transit would refuse to open the line early, even if everything is ready, because the money to operate the trains for the extra few months had not been budgeted. I am glad to find out that this is not the case. Knock on wood and hope that the early opening is actually able to happen!

  2. Given that the tunnels are complete, I think an early open is a lot more likely now than it was before that point. Its still possible that there could be a major problem when laying track or building the stations, but these are much better known quantities than the potential problems we had facing with the excavation work.

    Part of me wishes that extra money will materialize somewhere in the pipeline (federal?) and buy extra construction hours to speed things up. I know that’s more than a bit unrealistic though. I do wish they could have had some federal funds for Northlink… opening 3 years earlier would have been good for the region.

    Is it safe to assume that the Angel Lake extension (South 200th) will still be late 2016 rather than significantly earlier because the risks were more predictable and there is less float?

    1. Well, they’re also running about $100 million under budget so some money might be available too.

      1. Thanks for the document link!

        It doesn’t say anything about what they plan to do with the 100 million though, maybe they plan on using it to pay for extra work hours to accelerate the project?

        It takes about 400 million to build a new elevated station according to the documents on south link, so its not likely that they could add extra stations early in the north sub area (where I think this money has to stay?).

        Correct me if I’m wrong though.

      2. The extra 100 million will go to another link line to help pay for it. Or extra trains could be brought with that money.

    2. Maybe it would be easiest to just rename the lake “200 St. Lake”, to match the station, since we can’t seem to spell the lake’s name correctly.

    3. I do believe the rail is already completed or nearly completed. It IS completed for sure, Pine Street to Cap Hill. If Cap Hill to UW is indeed finished, the next step would be signals and overhead contact system, along with other punch list items.

      To be perfectly honest, I saw this coming though I was thinking a Xmas 2014 opening at the way things are going currently. Of course, I didn’t take the station construction into consideration, which is most likely why it will only open 5-months early.

  3. I doubt they would end up opening U-Link in April, in the middle of a ST Express and Metro shakeup. I think a more likely goal is for it to open one shakeup early, or about 14 weeks, likely in late June 2016. That would still be wonderful news for a 2016 ST3 campaign.

    1. Why would they need to wait until June? They would be training operators and doing systems testing prior to opening the line. Those operators that might transition to Link operations probably wouldn’t be available for other work in the Feb. 2016 shakeup anyway.

    2. Central Link didn’t wait for next Metro/ST express shakeup to open, so I don’t see why U-Link would need to. And if the construction is under budget, there’s no excuse for not being able to pay for a couple more months worth of operations cost.

      1. Metro would just keep the buses running as-is until the next service change. That also gives them a bit of time to see how ridership does change, rather than just guessing beforehand. But one issue is congestion in the DSTT. If University Link merely causes ST to switch from 2-car trains to 4-car trains it may not impact capacity, but if it adds runs it would impact it and some buses would have to be kicked out.

    3. Lindblom repeateldy wrote “early 2016,” for what it’s worth. And the fuller article now posted mentions that ST’s light-rail director is working toward an even earlier date.

  4. In case one of the stations is available for an early opening and the other is not, I wonder if they would consider opening with one station while skipping the other. In such a scenario, the systems work would presumably need to be complete for both stations; and trains would procede to UW station (even if it wasn’t open for revenue service) to turnaround.

    1. On all of the past updates I have seen, UW station is always listed as closer to done (aside from the track itself) than the Capitol Hill station, so I doubt that would happen, you would have to pass through an incomplete station on the way to a complete one…

      1. Why would that be a problem? In the last 6 months they’d just be doing finish work, possibly on other levels than platform level.

        If they were installing the tactile edge of the platform or working on signals, I could see a concern, but there are lots of other things they could be doing that wouldn’t impact the safety of workers or riders.

      2. @aw I see your point, but I still would be surprised if they allowed the UW station to open first.

  5. Great detail in the linked pdf…quick question: would someone get me smart on how ST is doing the tunnel from one side of campus to the next? Was it already dug as part of U-link, or are the two boring machines coming down from Roosevelt going to stop near Hec Ed, or is that cross-campus segment being done by traditional machinery?

    1. They’re digging from Roosevelt. The station is designed with a stub from which to extract them.

    1. Agreed, that would be awesome. Its too early to talk about that until at least the tunnels are constructed. The tunnels are the main reason the float exists I suspect.

  6. Awesome!

    If the money is there, can they brave whatever lawsuit threat is stopping that one last ventilation shaft from being built, that may become a headway limiter down the road?

    1. When we have some idea whether the system will have to get its head chopped off or not…

      I think the Capitol Hill restructure will happen with U-Link, but I expect the North Seattle restructure will wait for North Link. Only a couple of routes from north of the U-District would make sense as connecting routes to UW Station.

      1. At least some of them, yes. It also could be a possibility to do a quick and dirty “80” restructure, but I don’t know that Metro would want to do two restructures of the same service five years apart.

        I don’t think taking slow Pacific Street service and transferring to Link at UW Station is adequate for the enormous volume of passengers traveling between the northern/western U-District and downtown. (As currently structured it would also overwhelm capacity on 15th NE.)

      2. I predict about half the 71-73 riders will switch to Link, so they can cut about half the runs, but the others will still be needed for people working in the U-District, shopping in the U-District, or transferring to other buses to other parts of north Seattle.

      3. I think it would probably work in the short term to keep the 71, full 73, and 74 as is, truncate the 72, and kill the turnback 73 trips. Easy minimal-muss solution that would match service to likely demand and enable a big restructure in 2021.

      4. I’d love it if we could keep the 72 as well but delete the express routing and maybe truncate at SLU. The people who want to go to downtown or beyond could depart at University Link and riders to SLU, Eastlake, and the street car lines stay on local 72.

        Do I have any idea what I’m talking about? Not in the slightest. :) I just know that the 72 is most useful to me on the weekends and it seems well-traveled so I’d like to see it hang around past the U District.

      5. At least some of them, yes. It also could be a possibility to do a quick and dirty “80″ restructure, but I don’t know that Metro would want to do two restructures of the same service five years apart.

        I do think that this restructure will happen. I think it will happen as a result of the 17% cuts, even before U-Link opens. The existing service is actually pretty expensive to run, because of the nature of disparate, infrequent routes. Consolidating on a single express route, with just 1 terminus at each end, will yield meaningful operational efficiencies.

        Also, the 80 will probably have RapidRide frequency, rather than the current 10-minute all-day frequency; that’s a huge loss, but it’s also the nature of budget cuts. (Past precedent with the 15/18 suggests that Metro will take this path.)

        Finally, the 80 isn’t a doomed bus, since it will continue to exist as a Link shadow for times when Link is out of service or closed for the night.

      6. lakecityrider, the 72 is the most duplicative of other existing service once U-Link opens, particularly if the 372 begins running on weekends. If you have to shorten one of the routes to right-size the express service, I think it should be the 72.

        The 72/70 through route idea you suggest is interesting but runs up against the fact that the 72 will never be a trolley route

        Aleks, I think the 80 would end up being shortened after U-District Station opens… which would turn it right back into the 67. That might not be a bad outcome at all.

      7. Fair point, David, but I’d really hate to lose the connection to Eastlake and SLU that 72-Local provides. I’d be all in favor of dumping the 72X since that’s all it does is Lake City to U District to Downtown. Right now, 72 to Eastlake is the only southern direct connection Lake City has besides downtown. Thinking about it more (since I inadvertently fell into the one-seat-ride trap), an effective transfer from 72-to-ULink to 70 would be just as good, especially if some of the hours chopped from 72 could be split between more 72s (or timing 72 and 372 to mesh with each other) and a few more 70s (like, say, taking the “H” off of the schedule for some trips on 70).

      8. Truncating the 74 to Link should be a no-brainer. Most of the riders aren’t even getting on in the western part of the U-district (and those that are will have tons of other options), but are rather forced to take a grand tour of the U-district to get to downtown, even though it will be totally out of the way. With a truncation, the 74 could provide twice as many trips every day and get people from northeast Seattle to downtown considerably faster. The 30 will still be there for people traveling between northeast Seattle and the U-district.

      9. Totally agree that the 74 should be truncated. I refuse to ride that that slow boat, opting instead to drive to the green lake P&R. The NE south of 65th lacks good commuter routes to downtown.

  7. When they start construction of the line out to Lynnwood, will it be an all-or-nothing opening? Meaning, will we have to wait for the whole to be built or will they start at Northgate and complete each segment between stations? Would it be possible to have 130th complete and running or do we have to wait until Lynnwood is built, too?

    1. They don’t want to open partially early, for fear of the traffic impacts at a station with far-from-adequate automobile parking. It’s not so much that they want to accommodate all the cars, but that they don’t want to annoy the neighbors who would have to compete for on-street parking.

    2. As currently scheduled, expect the line to open as far as Northgate in 2021 and Lynnwood in 2023. I haven’t heard of any plans to open any intermediate stations between Northgate and Lynnwood early.

    3. I asked them that on the webcast they recently did on North Link extension. Basically it would be too complicated from facilities & infrastructure limitations to construction limitations to open the line one station at a time

  8. Let’s say I’m an auto mechanic, and you bring your car in to be fixed. I say it will be ready on Tuesday. Later I call you and say no, instead it will be ready on Friday. I call you again, and say great news, your car will be ready the day before, on Thursday. Question. Did I get your car done early?

    Don’t forget your history, people. What were you promised in the mid-90’s?

    1. Not an apt metaphor. We fired the first mechanic last Friday and brought it to a different one who gave a more realistic estimate and is exceeding expectations.

      1. DBH, that’s all well and good, but you didn’t answer my question. If I promise your car will be ready Tuesday, then switch it to Friday, then finally Thursday, did you get your car back early? The answer is, of course, no. Only an fool would think getting your car back two days late is getting it back early.

  9. When North LINK opens, will people have to change trains in the tunnel like Sounder?

    Or can they ride south to north continuously?

    1. It will be continuous.

      East Link, however, will terminate at International District, and it is there that you will change to travel along the Central Link line.

      1. Where in the world did you get that idea?

        East Link trains will run through to a station North of town. To get to Northgate stay on the train. Passengers will have to change to go South to East or East to South.

      2. The current working schedule has East Link trains going to Lynnwood peak hours and Northgate off-peak.

        Going from the Eastside to the airport, however, will require transferring at Intl Dist to an opposite-direction train, which means going up to the surface and back down. That would also be true for going from the Eastside to Rainier Valley, but that’s where it may become more popular to get off at Rainier Station and take the 7 or 48 the rest of the way.

      3. Ah, mea culpa.

        It might be interesting to consider revenue service that would actually a turnback to route trains between the east line and the south line, but it didn’t look like the turnback at ID was being designed with that contingency.

        (And I like the plug for the bus connections at Rainier Station.)

      4. No, East Link does not terminate at International District. All of the trains coming from Bellevue will continue north to at least Northgate.

      5. Aaaahhh…That is good. I remember reading a long time ago that trains from East Link would continue up to Northgate, but all this talk about switching at International District Station made me fear that I would have to switch there. It’s good to see that if I want to go to the East side, then I can ride from 145th and then switch as soon as Northgate if I want to. I know it is years away, but I look forward to being able to sit and relax for a nice ride to Bellevue Square…and by then, I’ll be old enough to not have to give up my seat!

      6. asdf,

        LEGO Store, better movie theatre, Holiday Parade…but all that is beside the point. I just want to get to the East Side as easily as possible whenever I want to and transfering at Northgate or Roosevelt will be a lot nicer than at IDS.

  10. A large pile of extra money could go to a lot of other, smaller projects too. Wish List stuff.

    – Instead of moaning and groaning about a lack of real-time arrival signs, well, here’s some resources. Get it done, already.
    – You can do a LOT of public outreach with even a itsy-bitsy fraction of this. Subsidized ORCA card program for low-income ridership? Implementing ridership programs for tourism purposes (single-use and multi-day)? New (better!) wayfinding signs at places like Mt. Baker and ID, and better overall signage throughout? Mmmmmm, dollars….
    – Remember that Boeing Access Road station idea? Here’s money to commission a feasibility study.

    1. I’m pretty sure real time arrival is already coming before U-Link opens. There has been a budget item already. ;)

    2. I don’t like the Boeing Access Road station idea. Slow the trains down all day for connections with Sounder Trains that run only a few times a day? Slow down Sounder trains so that 3 people can get off and switch to Link? No thank you.

      1. First time I have seen workers on the webcam on a Saturday. I wonder if the money is already flowing.

      2. there would be a park and ride lot facility there too at the Boeing Access Road Station, which would serve both Sounder and LINK. The problem I can see, is that some Southeast Seattle (Rainier View) patrons could use this station, and North King County/Seattle subarea monies do not pay for any Sounder service. I would not mind if a feasibility study done for a S. 133rd St LINK station instead, which would service Tukwila.

  11. Re University Link:

    According to the procurement status report out today at Sound Transit has not yet issued the Notice to Proceed to their pending contractor for EMI, Vibration and Wheel Flat Detection and Monitoring. EMI = electromagnetic interference, which can be generated by an electric train, along with vibration.

    Management of these physical phenomena in the subway tunnel to keep them below “vibration or magnetic field exceedance” limits are very important contractual issues for the University of Washington, as I testified to the Board in 2007, per . For example, ST pays substantial cash penalties to U of W if the trains make the ground shake too much on the campus.

    Apparently Sound Transit management believes the resolution of these issues is sufficiently under control to allow some optimism about moving up U-Link’s opening day. But until the measurement is in place, I don’t understand the reason for management to show optimism, beyond the usual habit of ST always being optimistic … about lawsuits, ridership, landslides, CESURA, etc.

    I do realize that there are still some years to go after the Husky Stadium terminus station opening in 2016 for the Link trains to go north beyond the edge of the campus. Still, the procurement noted above tells me that the issue is alive already for University Link in the U of W Station area.

      1. Coeliac Disease is indeed a real thing. It involves an adverse reaction to even infinitesimal amounts of gluten, by which the intestinal lining becomes so inflamed that it is unable to absorb any other nutrients. It afflicts a tiny (but gradually increasing) percentage of the population.

        “Mild gluten intolerance”, by which yuppies “mostly” avoid gluten because it “makes them feel sprightlier”, is a bullshit fad and a monument to the power of the internet to spread health misinformation.

        Guess which concept is analogous to the UW or to Denver’s University Hospital bullshitting about the “electromagnetic interference” of distant rail lines, when subways pass through New York, Boston, and Paris hospital basements daily?

  12. 96 to 2016 to get a train to the university and you call this a great feat, smh, settling for less, by 2060 we’ll probably have a semi-decent network at this rate

    1. And northgate is marked under design and projected to open in 2021… major neighborhoods like west seattle, queen anne and magnolia are not even in design phase, meaning may open around… 2050???

      i guess the 21st century will be known as the century of the great feat to build 2-3 train lines in seattle. Sad.

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