Photo from Sound Transit
Photo from Sound Transit

We first reported back in September that Sound Transit was evaluating strategies to expedite the opening of University Link. At today’s ULink Project Update at the ST Board Meeting, Sound Transit Executive Director of Design, Engineering, and Construction Management  Ahmad Fazel expanded on Sound Transit’s hopes for an earlier date, with very exciting news.

The current opening date of September 24, 2016 has been calculated based upon the finishing of major construction (September 2015), 180 days of systems testing (September 2015-March 2016), plus 169 days of schedule float (September 24, 2016). Mr. Fazel presented 3 scenarios for an earlier opening:

  • Q2 2016: Adhering to the current schedule but using the scheduled float.
  • Q1 2016: Adhering to the current construction schedule but compressing systems testing and using the scheduled float.
  • Q4 2015: Compressing the remaining construction schedule, compressing systems testing, and using the float.

The earliest option, a Q4 2015 opening, would incur additional costs of $10-12m, while the other two options incur no additional costs. Accordingly, staff recommended the middle option to the board: that the construction schedule be left intact, that systems testing be shortened from 180 to 90 days, and that the 169 days of float be used.  Doing the back-of-the-napkin math, ULink could open as early as January 8, 2016.

Sound Transit isn’t ready to actually pull the trigger and change the official opening date at this time, but staff will come back with a recommendation to the board within 12-14 months to set a firm opening date that falls within Q1 2016.

Beyond up to 9 months of better mobility for thousands of residents across the region, the timing will be fortuitous for many other reasons:

  • A January opening would allow Metro’s February 2016 service change to take full advantage of the new service
  • ULink would be online in time for the full summer tourist season
  • ULink would be open for the winter and spring quarters of the ’15-’16 academic year
  • Nearly a year of rider impressions would be made ahead of a possible ST3 vote in November 2016

Congratulations to Sound Transit and their contractors on a very successful construction project thus far. Let’s all hope that ST can keep to this expedited schedule.

51 Replies to “A January 2016 Opening for ULink?”

  1. I just hope that they coordinate this with Metro to prevent duplicative service. Also gives people (like myself) chance to adjust to new routes to places

    1. Temporary duplication is OK; it allows a fallback in case the opening isn’t smooth. It also gives Metro time to see if actual ridership follows predictions. In some cases Metro may intend to kick riders off (71/72/73X when North Link opens). In other cases spontaneous rider attrition may allow routes to be scaled back (71/72/73X with University Link, 49 with North Link, and 43 with both). But if actual attrition doesn’t match expected, it could lead to overcrowding on Link or less attrition on the buses, and the overlap period would allow Metro to adjust smoothly.

  2. Angle Lake opening later that same year could also boost a 2016 ST3 vote.

    I’m excited about this because this lets me start biking to the station for the whole summer of ’16 – and I will probably bike more often in the winter with this.

    The stretch between the Burke and downtown is my least favorite part of the ride to work, naturally.

  3. Getting this going a full year ahead of an ST3 vote would be huge, especially if ST3 includes what I hope it will include (DT-BALLARD; BALLARD-UW). Constituents in Seattle would probably overwhelmingly vote for it after they’ve been able to use the UW Link expansion.

    I hope this schedule compression is being used on other Link projects. I think a big challenge to the average voter (thinking ahead to ST3) is that it takes so long to build a light rail that it seems fruitless to vote for it. There are people that I work with that are old enough that they will probably never use light rail because by the time it opens, they will be dead and gone :(

    1. +1

      This sentiment “I will be dead/retired by the time this thing can help me” is something that t I often hear when I talk to people about transit in this region.

      Any reasonable acceleration we can give to these projects will help get around the perception that “these projects are not going to help us”.

      1. Why so late? 1996, 2008, 2016, we could see another in 2024, after Lynnwood Link opens. Don’t perpetuate that attitude.

      2. Just my faith in our local “process” and the howls of sticker shock from the natives which tends to have the effect of pushing off much needed improvements in the transit infrastructure way beyond the time needed to start on them.

      3. Won’t ST3 be the last vote with a big sticker shock? Basically by ST4 if any increase in funds are required, it would only be the small amount necessary to get ‘shovel ready’, construction funds could come from simply keeping in place Sound Move taxes (and then ST2 taxes to fund ST5, etc etc).

        Yeah, technically an increase, but ‘You won’t pay any more than you do now, and you’ll get X, Y, Z in return!’ is a pretty easy lift.

      4. Sticker shock isn’t the only factor on people’s minds. People are also fed up with congestion and slow/infrequent buses. As time goes on people get more and more convinced that we need a better transit system now, and young people without cars and elderly people who aren’t confident driving anymore become a greater percentage of the population.

        The biggest collision I see is people in Tacoma impatient about Central Link coming to them (from the last News Roundup) and wondering if ST is worth it if CLink doesn’t come soon, and anti-sprawlites like DP who don’t want it to go further than Des Moines.

        If ST3 does extend Link to Tacoma and Everett, it seems like the most expensive projects will be done… except that second Lake Washington crossing. Ballard-UW is underground but short, Ballard-Burien needn’t be underground except near downtown/Queen Anne, Bothell would be along an existing highway, and Aurora-to-Everett could be done in multiple phases.

        My understanding is that, as soon as the construction projects are paid off, the ST1 and ST2 taxes will automatically roll back to operation and maintenance levels (a small fraction of the current level), and won’t need another vote to keep them running.

    2. There will be no “ST3” vote; you watch. Now that the suburbs have their needs met, the legislature will shut down SoundTransit’s authority to incur new bonded indebtedness.

      Yes,they ARE that craven and anti-urban. Seattle has the distinct disadvantage of having the genuine potential of becoming a leading world city by its physical location and beauty while being at the political mercy of a bunch of envious hayseeds.

      1. And “yes”, I do understand that current ST2 funding only carries South Link to Angle Lake. But truth to tell, that’s all the Federal Way really wants; their actions to date are a fluent expression of scorn for the future Link line.

        They likes them some express buses and that’s what they’ll have. Tacoma may want Link (although I can’t image why; it’ll be slower than Sounder or the existing express buses and with a considerably higher likelihood of standing, at least for a good portion of southbound trips) but Federal Way stands directly athwart their ambitions.

      2. Another amendment (PLEASE GIVE US AN EDIT FUNCTION, STB. Thank you!)

        About the “hayseeds” reference. I know them well, since I live among them here in Vancouver, USA!!!!!

        (The hayseeds actually are contemplating renaming the city “Vancouver USA, WA” because they’re tired of saying “No, not that Vancouver”…..)

      3. Now that the suburbs have their needs met, the legislature will shut down SoundTransit’s authority to incur new bonded indebtedness.

        People living in downtown Redmond might disagree that their needs have been met.

  4. I’m actually a little disappointed they didn’t go for the even earlier open option in 2015.

    I understand the free earlier option saves money for future stations, but there are a lot of people in the region I have talked to who want this open as soon as humanly possible.

    1. In a world of limited budgets, there are always tradeoffs. Is getting U-link open 3 months earlier worth not having a 130th St. Station at all, ever? Probably not.

      I am anxious for U-link to open as soon as absolutely possible, but I can totally understand how, if you’re thinking in the long term, spending the money elsewhere would be better.

      1. Completion of the station itself is very unlikely to have any effect on the North Link construction. The stub tunnels sticking out north of the station box are part of the tunneling for ULink; they have to be there for the turnbacks on day 1.

        So the machines coming from Roosevelt will run into the wall when they run into the wall, regardless whether the station is completed or not. The only effect might be if ULink is already operation when they break through, and I can’t imagine that they planners haven’t allowed for that eventuality by leaving an extra 100 feet or whatnot beyond what is required to reverse the trains.

      2. The crossover at UW station is at the south of the station box, so I don’t see why the stub tunnels would need to extend to the north to allow for turnbacks. I imagine they would handle turnbacks like they do at Airport station, with the operator just getting out on the platform and walking to the other end of the train.

  5. How likely is it that Metro shortens the 71/72/73 (or if cuts happen, the 73 and 372) buses to UW Station? Seems like a smart move that could save a lot of service hours. It wouldn’t be too painful, especially if each bus is timed to connect to LINK trains and if the bus stop is placed directly in front of UW Station.

    1. We’ve talked about that a lot. My own assumption is that the 71/72/73X will be reduced but not rerouted. Pacific Street is already congested without adding several more large buses to it. And buses would have to make a major turn onto a state highway to stop in front of the station, and that highway is even more congested.

      But presumably half the riders on the 71/72/73X will switch to Link: everyone going to south campus and half the people going to north campus. That would leave people going to the Ave or further north, which is still a considerable number, and some going to north campus.

      1. There’s an interesting (temporary?) road that appears to access the construction trailers and the UW parking lot behind the station that–if maintained and coordinated with the Pacific/Montlake intersection–would make for a decent bus terminus at the Husky Stadium station. There would even be the potential for layover space here for routes terminating.

    2. The big question is whether Metro will adjust service levels to Northeast Seattle to support connections to Link, over a connection to the 71/72/73 or an extremely slow, but single-seat ride on the 71/72/73.

      At a bare minimum, the 74 should be truncated to Link as soon as the Husky Stadium Station opens. With the 30, there is still a one-seat ride to the U-district proper, but it would get everybody east of 25th Ave. downtown much faster. And, as an added bonus, the truncation could buy greater frequency and, perhaps, span, on a route that currently does just a handful of peak trips.

      You could also run reverse-direction 74 trips, under the principle of putting deadheads into service, under a modified route that would go Sand Point Way all the way. These trips would be extremely useful to people who work at the Children’s Hospital or the NOAA buildings in Magnesun Park that currently represent the 74’s tail.

      1. I hadn’t thought of rerouting the 74. It’s a strange route, seemingly minor, but it runs until 9:30pm when other peak expresses have stopped. And it has survived this long, so Metro must think it’s important.

        In order to get it rerouted down 25th, there will need to be a strong show of support from the residents on 55th and 25th, to overcome Metro’s perennial presumption that existing riders might be disadvantaged.

    3. Four years after Link’s opening, Metro has not made any adjustments to the 101 or the 150, despite the following being true:

      – The 101 is a middling performer, that doesn’t even qualify as a frequent route by Metro’s standards.
      – The most logical place to truncate these buses (Rainier Beach) already exists. (A hypothetical better-placed station is not even at the planning stage.)
      – A service change would make it possible to double all-day frequency on the 101/169.
      – The worst-case time penalty — a rider going from Renton TC to downtown Seattle, when I-5 is completely clear — would be 13 minutes on a 48 minute trip (8 minutes on the train and a 5-minute average wait), or about 21%. For riders going to anywhere other than downtown, or coming from anywhere other than an existing 101 stop, or if I-5 is gridlocked, the time penalty would be much smaller, or possibly even a time savings.

      Now, let’s compare the situation with the 71/72/73:

      – This is one of the top two highest-ridership corridors in Metro’s entire network (the other being downtown-Harborview).
      – Any change in 2016 would be very short-lived, since the opening of North Link will make it obsolete.
      – This corridor is already one of the most frequent corridors in Metro’s network; it would be difficult to provide more frequency without causing platooning.
      – The worst-case time penalty, as a percentage of the trip length, is much worse. Pacific St is an exceptionally congested corridor. The 73 can get downtown from 45th in about 16 minutes by taking the express lanes. In contrast, the 43 is scheduled to take 7-10 minutes just to get from 45th to 520; anecdotally, I can say that it’s frequently late, and it often seems to take much more than that. Even going by the scheduled time, that means a reliable 16-minute trip turns into a less reliable 21-minute one (10 minutes on 15th/Pacific, 5 minutes waiting, 6 minutes on the train).
      – Because of how U-Link is laid out, there aren’t any other trips that would become faster with this approach. If you want to get to Capitol Hill, the 49 will be faster. If you want to take Link southward, it’s just as easy to transfer downtown.

      Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that Metro *shouldn’t* change the 71/72/73 when U-Link opens. It would save a lot of service hours without reducing frequency or span of service, and it would improve reliability for the trips that aren’t able to use the express lanes. I’m just saying that it’s unlikely that Metro would make such a change, when they’ve repeatedly passed on the much more compelling opportunity to change the 101.

      1. Well said. The big change for the 7X buses is when the U-District (Roosevelt) station is added, not this one.

      2. Wow, you’ve sugar coated to ‘transfer pill’ from the south end so much, I would even look forward to the change.
        Now for a dose of reality.
        Getting to the freeway from Renton is the biggest unknown. Once on the HOV lane, it’s generally quick to Spokane St (4 miles running). If you stay on MLK, it’s only a mile to RBS, but have slower runing speed and must get off your bus and walk to the Link platform – so essentially the race starts at the same time for Link riders starting to wait for a train against bus riders just arriving at Spokane St.
        It’s 24 minutes to Univ Stn on the train, and only 14 on the bus, so your down 10 minutes in the best case.
        If you just missed your train, your down another 10 waiting for the next one.
        So, my choice is a 10-20 minute extra wait every day, standing on a cold platform in the wind and rain sometimes, or finishing my novel or nap in the seat I have made quite comfy with my own body heat.
        Hummm…. I’ll have to think about that one some more!

      3. The 150 and 101 aren’t “low-hanging fruit”. Their neighborhoods are far enough east of Link that it would be like truncating the 120 and expecting Burienites to transfer at TIB. That’s why Metro has been reluctant to do it. There are good arguments for doing so, namely that trading travel time for frequency would be a net benefit, but it’s not a slam-dunk-Metro-is-incompetent-for-not-doing-it like some people say. It’s a tradeoff and a judgment call, and Metro is the appropriate one to make the judgment, so I don’t think it’s right to berate them for it.

      4. Mic, who has frequently questioned Link’s costworthiness, is now defending a redundant parallel service.

        (Note: I did not defend the service itself; I defended Metro’s right to make the judgment. And I do have concerns about whether a truncated 101 and 150 would have acceptable travel time, especially for trips beyond downtown. But again these are tradeoffs, and there are reasonable arguments both ways.)

      5. Thank you for noticing. I merely point out the obvious that so often get overlooked in our zeal to defend that ‘more and bigger is always better’ argument. Truncating the 101/102/150 is not redundant parallel service. Nearly doubling the trip time for many riders on a service, and decreasing the quality of ride is hardly redundant. Now if you could show some real tradeoffs, like faster trip times overall, lower fare cost, more travel options, that counter the negatives, then transfers work. Mostly pain and little gain will cost you customers.
        I keep harping on efficiency for transit because it has barely changed in 20 years, despite major capital improvements, service hour increases and tripling of transit taxes overall. Mode share for all trips is still bouncing around 4% of all trips. Re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic had little effect as to the ships final destination.
        I fear that ULink will suffer from many of the problems facing C-Link. Poor bus integration to the point riders will vote with their feet and demand the old route stay, or switch modes if forced to make a shittly transfer.

      6. The problem with U-Link is the 5-year gap until 45th station opens. After that, you underestimate how far people are willing to walk in the U-District, or how much a one-seat ride to the airport will benefit them, or faster transit to Northgate, Shoreline, and Lynnwood. Or rapid transit from Rainier Valley to the U-District. (The 48 takes 40 minutes and terminates at Mt Baker Station.)

        Several times over the past twenty years I have worked around Northgate or that latitide and had colleagues commuting from Snohomish County. I want to tell them to take the bus, but no Snohomish express that I know of stops at Northgate, and it would take them two hours each way on the locals.

      7. Mike Orr,

        While you know that I’ve been a consistent advocate of truncating the 101 and 150, I do want to emphasize that I have complete faith in the competence of Metro’s planners. They do this for a living; I don’t. If they haven’t proposed to change the 101 and 150, then they probably have a pretty good reason.

        The purpose of my comment was to draw a comparison between the 101 restructure, particularly the 101/169 combination, and the proposed 73 restructure. If Metro has decided that the 101/169 restructure isn’t worthwhile, then it seems extremely unlikely that Metro would decide that rerouting the 73 to UW Station is worthwhile. Both of them are diversions that would inconvenience riders heading downtown, by about the same amount (20-25% of trip length). The 73 is also a time-limited change, and Metro doesn’t like restructuring the same area twice in a short amount of time. It seems much more likely that Metro will wait until North Link opens, and then simply cancel the express buses between the U-District and downtown.

        Now, if Metro does decide to reroute the 73 when U-Link opens and leave the 101 intact, I certainly won’t complain. I think it would be justified for the same reason that I think the 101 change would be justified. But I would be surprised.

      8. mic,

        What exactly do you mean by efficiency? It strikes me that a change which saves service hours without sacrificing frequency or span of service is a change that makes the network more efficient, even if it also makes some trips slower.

        Consider that airlines almost universally use the hub-and-spoke model. Even Southwest has its “focus cities”. There is no airline that runs scheduled service between Spokane and Bozeman, MT; you would have to fly through Denver to get there. Clearly, this is not a fast trip, and passengers would much prefer a direct flight, but it’s a lot more efficient from the airlines’ perspective than running point-to-point service between any two places that a passenger might want to go.

        You say that the change would “double the trip time”. I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Folks on this blog calculated the time penalty at about 8 minutes on a 48-minute trip; add in 5 minutes of waiting, and you’re at a 20% penalty, not 100%.

        In fact, there are some trips that would be strictly better. The 169 (which is one of the most productive routes in Kent/Renton) currently comes every half hour. Someone who takes the 169 to downtown will transfer to the 101 at Renton TC, which also comes every half hour. Suppose that the 169 were extended to Rainier Beach TC, and upgraded to 15-minute frequency. Then, instead of going from an infrequent bus to another infrequent bus, riders would go from a frequent bus to a frequent train. They would have a faster, easier trip, and they would have direct access to all of the destinations served by Link, including Rainier Valley, and (pretty soon) the U-District and Northgate.

        Again, I’m not saying that Metro is incompetent for not proposing this change. There are people who would be worse off, for sure. I don’t doubt that Metro has thought about this change, and that they have good reasons for not proposing it. But I don’t think “efficiency” is one of those reasons.

      9. One thing that bothers me a bit about the premise of doubling frequency in exchange for a Link transfer is that Link’s 10-minute headways would become out of sync with the bus’s 15-minute headways. A timed connection (and, in the southbound direction, the connection would absolutely have to be timed to be viable) between a 10-minute route and a 15-minute route just doesn’t work. You’d be better off just operating the truncated 101 with 20-minute headways and offering a true timed connection to every other Link train.

        It is also absolutely critical that southbound 101 buses wait for the actual arrival of a southbound Link train before departing Ranier Beach, rather than departing at some fixed, but arbitrary time on the clock and forcing everyone to get cold and wet for 20 minutes while they wait for the next bus. The guarantee that the bus will wait needs to be promised in writing in the schedule. In other words, the first train that leaves Westlake Station at or after :00, :20, or :40 minutes past the hour would be the one with the timed connection.

        The same timed-connection principle would work at many other transfer points. For example, the 40 or 75 leaving Northgate, or the truncated 522 at 130th St.

      10. Alex: You see the difference between “Nearly doubling the trip time for many riders”, which is what I said, and your quoted statement of “double the trip time”, don’t you.
        The many riders I was talking about board the 101/102 along MLK as it winds up the hill after leaving the TC and P&R. There are a ton of them! Adding 10-20 minutes to their trip is a huge time penalty, and all you have to offer in exchange are more buses doing the same crappy transfer.
        The nearly double was an exaggeration, so I call a truce.

      11. I think one can make a good case that the long-term 101 should be truncated. The arguments go something like this:

        1) There are a good number of trips where the proposed truncation of the 101 wouldn’t actually add a transfer – it would merely move the transfer point to Ranier Beach from somewhere else. With the truncated 101 thru-routed with the 169, the transfer at Ranier Beach would replace the transfer in Renton. For people headed beyond downtown to the UW or Northgate, the transfer at Ranier Beach would replace the transfer downtown. For people headed from somewhere along route 169 to the UW, the truncation would actually reduce the number of transfers – converting what is current a 3-seat ride into a 2-seat ride.

        2) Once the tunnel becomes train-only, the 101 will take considerably longer to traverse downtown than it does today. Meanwhile, Link will traverse downtown faster since it won’t get stuck in the tunnel behind buses anymore. The time spent within downtown is far from trivial, and the time saved by taking Link through the tunnel, rather than go through congested surface streets could easily be enough to compensate for the time difference between taking MLK vs. the freeway through the Ranier Valley.

        3) Assuming that Link’s quicker travel time within downtown and the 101’s quicker travel time through the Ranier Valley cancel each other out, the actual travel time difference becomes only the actual wait time, plus a minute or so to walk between the bus and train platforms. Northbound, the wait time would average to 5 minutes most of the day, 3.75 minutes peak, or 7.5 minutes after 10 PM. Absolute worst case would be a 15 minute wait, but you have to be both headed into downtown after 10 PM and have the worst possible luck and just miss a train for that to happen.

        It’s the train->bus connection in the southbound direction, however, that makes or breaks it. Ideally, we would have a bus for every train so you get a timed connection whenever you arrive. In practice, given that current all-day headways are 10-minutes for the train, but 30 minutes for the bus, the math simply doesn’t add up to allow the bus to run this frequently, even if each trip consumes half the service hours it does today. Running the bus at 15 minute headways to match 10-minute headways Link trains is for sure uncoordinated connections. Better would be to run the bus with the goal of connecting with every train during the peak, while connecting with every other train the rest of the day. At a minimum, this would require published Link schedules, but it would also require some sort of a written promise in the schedule that if you catch the train leaving Westlake at x minutes past the hour, you have a bus waiting for you on the other end.

        In conclusion, I think that a 101 truncation can work if it is done right. However, considering the number of poorly implemented connections in Metro’s existing network,
        I don’t have a huge amount of confidence in Metro to do it right. The way I envision it working in practice would be something like this:
        – Southbound buses leaving Ranier Beach at arbitrary times on the clock, even if it means leaving empty right before a train arrives, forcing everyone to wait the full headway for the next bus.
        – Headways of 15 minutes during the day to provide a completely erratic connection with Link’s 10-minute headways
        – Headways dropping back to 30 minutes on evenings, possibly as early as 7 PM, possibly 30 minute headways all day Sunday as well.
        – Metro forcing all inbound riders to remain on the bus at Ranier Beach while the driver does a loop to turn the bus around to prepare for the corresponding outbound trip. Extra delay of about 5 minutes or so in order to save a few bucks on a metal pole with a “bus stop” sign.
        – Sound Transit continuing to refuse to publish Link schedules, forcing everybody to add extra padding into their schedules (leaving one train earlier) to make sure they don’t miss their bus that drops to half-hourly in the evening.

        Given all this and that much of the advantages of the truncation don’t really start to materialize until Link get further built out, I don’t think truncating the 101 now would be a good idea. In fact, I would argue that if Metro is going to do anything now, they should keep the 101 on I-5 longer, and take the Seneca Street exit into downtown, rather than slogging through the SODO busway to serve stops that almost nobody uses.

        Although, if Metro can get their act together and learn how to properly implement a timed connection, a route truncation could be an interesting thing to consider for 2021. Especially if new development happens at Ranier Beach between now and then that would turn it into a destination worth going to in its own right, rather than merely a place to pass through to get somewhere else.

    4. There is going to have to be serious shuttle transport between UW Station and the Ave. People are not going to want to walk across campus just to catch a train.

      1. “People are not going to want to walk across campus just to catch a train.”

        Us engineering students walk from our corner near the station to the Ave for lunch all the time. I don’t bother with buses on Stevens Way because they’re so slow and unpredictable.

      2. The Ave will presumably keep some variation of the 71/72/73 until U-District Station is done.

        As for students on campus, sure they’ll walk. They already walk very long distances to catch existing service.

  6. Not impressed…. Construction started in 2009, and 3.5 miles is all we will have nearly seven years later. This is what you expect from a second rate city.

      1. New York City has hundreds of miles of track, millions of people, around the clock rail and bus service, with thousands of rail cars and buses. It’s an alpha plus city, according to the international classification cities. Seattle is a beta city. Not my words, but those of the United Nations Demographers.

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