Credit: Lizz Giordano

Change is quickly coming to Bellevue as Sound Transit ramps up construction on the East Link Extension. Most recently crews on Monday night began work on the first elevated section of the 14-mile light rail extension, placing two girders that span 112th Avenue Northwest near the future Bellevue Downtown Station.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

These 117-foot precast girders are the first in series that will form the base of the aerial guideway to support a concrete deck under the light rail tracks and power system. A timelapse video of the girder placement process was created by Sound Transit.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

Light rail Trains traveling from Seattle will enter the Bellevue Downtown Station through the downtown transit tunnel. Leaving the street-level station, located at Sixth Street with entrances on 110th Avenue Northeast and 112th Avenue Northeast, the track is elevated to cross Interstate 405.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

The track will remain elevated through the hospital district to the future Wilburton Station northeast of downtown. Two stations to the east, at the future Bel-Red Station, located between 130th and 132nd Avenues NE at NE Spring Boulevard, the track will return to street level.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

Sound Transit began construction on the East Link Extension in June 2017. 

Credit: Lizz Giordano

In that time crews excavating the future transit tunnel in downtown Bellevue passed the halfway mark. The 2,000-foot tunnel will connect the future East Main and Downtown Bellevue stations under 110th Ave. And along Interstate 90, a Sound Transit contractor began preparing the floating bridge for upcoming seismic work.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

The future site of the Bellevue Downtown Light Rail site was recently an empty lot adjacent to city hall.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

The 10 station East Link Extension stations, scheduled to open in 2023, expands light rail from downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue and on to the Overlake area of Redmond.

Credit: Lizz Giordano

40 Replies to “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Light Rail”

    1. Nobody wants to tell them the bad news, I guess (about it being late).

      For what it is worth, Northgate Link seems to be moving right along (so at least it is heading that way :)). You can some of the work on Google Maps — and even that is outdated. The picture was taken back in September, and they are farther along since then. It is still kind of fun to toggle between the satellite view (which doesn’t have the beams) and the street view (which does).

      1. There’s a history view on street view as well. Look for the little clock thing on the bottom section of the menu in the upper left on the desktop view.

    2. So true. Not a spadeful of dirt has been lifted on Lynnwood Link yet. There is certainly no reason not to build the NE 130th St station at the same time as the rest of the line.

      1. It’s time to have a serious conversation about the future of the 130th St Station. It’s a lot of money for a station that delivers essentially nothing on an already over budget project. Much better to flush the station and replace it with some sort of circulator/BRT traveling between the 145th and Northgate station. That is all that is needed, and it is much more cost effective.

      2. @Lazarus, as we have explained to you numerous times before, in the real world the 130th St Station adds a lot to the project. The projections saying otherwise were done in a fantasy world where King County Metro does not exist.

      3. @William C,

        I prefer to be data driven. The actual data shows that the station adds exactly zero net riders to the system. Those are the facts, and spending $75M on the station won’t change the reality on the ground.

        Ya, you can reroute buses to force people to transfer at the station and make the investment look better than it actually is, but if that is the approach than it would be a lot more cost effective to reroute buses to the 145th and Northgate Stations.

        Save the money and spend it where it actually does something useful. The 130th St Station is a political obination. Delete it.

      4. The actual data shows that the station adds exactly zero net riders to the system.

        That is false and you know it. They never studied the effect on the *system*. They only studied the number of riders for Link, using methodology that they refused to publish. The *system* includes bus riders, and they completely ignored bus riders.

        Even then, Sound Transit has a terrible record when it comes to estimates. They grossly underestimated the numbers for UW Link, and ridiculously overestimated the numbers for the original line.

        It is joke to say that any part of Sound Transit is data driven. There has never been a comprehensive assessment of any project. To make a meaningful assessment, you would have to look at more than ridership (on the system) but also time saved. It should be obvious to anyone who knows how to read a map that a station at NE 130th would save a considerable amount of time for lots of people, even if it didn’t add ridership. Although, chances are, it will add ridership.

      5. The addition of the 130th St Station to ST3 was a political decision and not a technical one. It was done to buy off the support of one particular council woman. And the data is all there.

        But hey, if you don’t believe it, then file a PDR. ST is a public agency and is legally bound to respond.

      6. “The actual data shows that the station adds exactly zero net riders to the system.”

        That data comes from a fantasy world where King County Metro does not exist. Sound Transit has already disclosed the assumptions behind that data long ago, as we keep repeating to you.

        In the real world, that data is worse than useless; it is actively misleading.

      7. ” you can reroute buses to force people to transfer at the station”

        You mean offering a transfer that’s closer than Northgate or 145th. There will still be a bus to Northgate if you want to take it.

        “That data comes from a fantasy world where King County Metro does not exist.”

        ST was not allowed to consider the effects of things not in official plans. This was before Metro’s long-range plan or the HALA upzones. If ST had included ridership from those, it would be invalid for federal grant proposals. But we know that a bus there was highly likely, and even if this administration didn’t upzone, a future administration might, and that would be additional riders. Because there are many people who want to live near Link in an urban village and can’t afford central Seattle or the U-District or Roosevelt so they’ll move to Lake city, and would be more likely to if there’s a station at 130th.

      8. The addition of the 130th St Station to ST3 was a political decision and not a technical one. It was done to buy off the support of one particular council woman. And the data is all there.

        All of ST3 was a political decision. How many times must we be over it. There was no comprehensive plan showing why ST3 is justified. The concept is pretty simple, really, and used to be required to get federal funding. Run the numbers and figure out how much time riders save and compare it to the cost of the project. Not ridership along, but time saved. If you have a lot of riders, and they each save a couple minutes, great. If you have fewer riders, but they save a lot of time, that is good also.

        But to do that, you need to look at the entire system. That means the buses. If you build a train system, and all it does is move people from the bus to the train (and is no faster) then you aren’t going to save those people any time. You might save other people time (when you reroute the buses) but that again is why you need to look at the entire system.

        From a systemic standpoint, NE 130th is obviously appropriate. it will save a considerable number of people a lot of time. Anyone who lives in Lake City or Bitter Lake will be able to get to Link much faster. This will also enable a better bus network (with good east-west options in the north end). All of that will result in a better system.

        But Sound Transit didn’t look at that. They used a flawed, very limited methodology, that ignored bus service. Saying “that data is all there” is like looking at a photograph of a broken leg and saying “it looks good to me”. You need to do an X-Ray, and ST didn’t bother.

    3. Given the money problem, I’d rather that ST just “defer” the pedestrian and traffic and bus unfriendly Shoreline South (148th) Station and let Seattle and ST3 and Seattle pay for 130th in advance. That would save so much money!

      Consider too that Lynnwood Link is delayed to 2025 and maybe later, while 130th St is scheduled for 2031 but hopefully earlier.

      What if the City of Seattle built and funded the station construction, and sold it to ST? Wouldn’t that avoid the messy Federal grant problem?

      1. What about ST re-routing the 512 to Brooklyn station when it opens? If SDOT actually decides that the 44 should get transit lanes on 45th, hopefully these will extend from I-5 to the station, and maybe even have a turnaround area close to the station or on Campus Parkway.

    4. What budget and what updates could there be while the project is undergoing “value engineering”?

      1. That’s exactly the point. We don’t know what we don’t know as long as the agency keeps us (taxpayers, transit users, SnoCo residents) in the dark.

        Lynnwood was promised a fall open house. Then Sound Transit said, nah, nevermind.

        Here’s what they listed for the Lynnwood Link project in their Sep 2017 quarterly progess report:

        Community Outreach
        • Continued sending out notification flyers to property owners about upcoming survey work or geotech bor-
        ings on properties.
        • Provided project briefing to members of the Echo Lake and Meridian Park neighborhood and around 40 members were on hand to review 60% station designs and get a project update.
        • Draft project banner completed for City of Lynnwood staff’s review and approval; banner to be placed on the perimeter fence of the recently ac-
        quired and former Black Angus property.

        Stop the presses.

    5. If Lynnwood Link is delayed, the 512 at least should be rerouted to Northgate Station, even if there’s no room for the peak-hour routes. That would give much better access between north Seattle and Snohomish County that has been waiting for Link. And for those coming from Lynnwood and Everett, the travel time will be the same, and the one little transfer is better than the random traffic around the Ship Canal bridge.

      1. It’s not just travel across the ship canal bridge (which can be bad at all hours, including weekends), it’s also travel time through the streets of downtown itself, which takes far longer on a the bus than it does on the train. At times, I’ve observed travel times of up to 30 minutes simply getting from one end of downtown to the other end – even with only moderate car traffic (this tends to happen after Mariners games, when you get a whole busload of change fumblers who don’t ride the bus often enough to justify getting an Orca card, all getting on at once).

        Also, truncating the route should allow for a huge boost in frequency. Including traffic padding, the 512 actually spends about as much time south of Northgate as it does north of Northgate, so a truncation could theoretically mean almost a doubling of frequency. (Although, the way Sound Transit operates, they’ll probably actually end up just keeping off-peak frequency the same, and using the saved money to buy more peak-hour trips, even though it means buying more buses that perform two trips per day and sit idle the rest of the time).

      2. If Lynnwood Link is delayed then the 512 will need to be significantly altered. The southbound route currently does nothing for Lynnwood until after the morning rush hours.

      3. I agree, the buses should be truncated at Northgate. Getting to Northgate isn’t ideal, but when traffic is light, it isn’t that bad. When traffic is heavy, it is much better than slogging your way to (and through) downtown. The worse traffic is heading southbound in the evening (when you don’t have the express lanes in your favor). This tends to be very slow, and very expensive, since a lot of buses are deadheading that direction.

        The savings would be enormous.With the money saved, it isn’t clear how to improve things, given the variation of routes there. Right now, Sound Transit runs a bunch of different buses.

        510 — Peak only bus that stops in Everett, South Everett and downtown. Runs about every ten minutes (with a few 15 minute gaps).

        511 — Peak only bus that serves Ash Way, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and downtown Seattle. Similar headways as the 510.

        512 — Serves Everett, South Everett, Ash Way, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, 145th, 45th and downtown Seattle. Runs every 15 minutes, but does not run during peak direction during rush hour.

        513 — Peak only bus that serves Eastmont, Mountlake Terrace and downtown Seattle. Runs about every 15 minutes.

        Then there are the Community Transit buses. For example, if I want to get from Everett to Lynnwood on a weekday morning, I will take the 202, which stops at Mariner and several places along Ash Way. Given all that, I would look into doing the following:

        1) Add some service to the 510, 511 and 513. This would be fairly cheap; if you just add a handful of runs, we would see headways drop below ten minutes, as opposed to having 15 minutes gaps. This strikes me as a big win for the folks involved. The bus routes serve relatively few walk-up passengers, which means everyone is trying to make a connection. Better headways during rush hour can make a big difference, as that is when it is toughest to time the connection. Even if you drive and park, heavy traffic makes it hard to get there before the bus leaves. Better headways can make up for transfer, which might not be popular.

        2) Run an Everett – Lynnwood — Northgate express during peak. Serving Ash Way from the north is problematic, especially during rush hour. Unlike Lynnwood, the HOV ramps don’t connect from both directions. So ST is doing the right thing in splitting these up during rush hour and not running the 512 during peak. But at the same time, it means that it is difficult to get from Everett to Lynnwood during rush hour, which is arguably the main reason that ST exists (city to city travel). There aren’t huge numbers of people who ride between Everett and Lynnwood on the 512 (only about 70) but that is outside of rush hour. This bus could also be timed to complement the Lynnwood express. That might be tricky in the southbound direction (since the bus could be delayed from Everett) but trivial in the northbound direction.

        3) Remove Ash way from the 512, and run the 511 all day. This is a far more expensive improvement, but the time savings for an Everett rider would be substantial. My guess is the bus spends about five minutes looping around and serving the stop. There are a small handful of people (about 30) who are going from Everett to Ash Way, but they have alternatives (the 202).

        4) Extend the buses into the neighborhoods. The 512 could be extended to run up Broadway and the 511 could run on 164th, over to SR 99. In both cases you could replace local runs (or part of them) which would mean the local transit agency (Community Transit and Everett Transit) could save some money, while riders make fewer transfers.

        I would probably start with the first one, and then pursue the fourth before looking into the other improvements.

      4. I think the ideal level of frequency for Northgate->Everett should be a bus for every train, which translates into a bus every 10 minutes most of the day. This way, you don’t have to bother looking at schedules, you just get the train and know that whenever you get there, there’s going to be a bus waiting for you without excessive waiting, or luck of the draw, depending on how individual train and bus trips happen to line up.

      5. Even now, It is faster for me(with my lynnwood seattle commute), to take the 512 to the 45th street station, then transfer to the train.

      6. @asdf2 — Good point. With Snohomish County buses acting as shuttles, you need to time them when the trains are running infrequently (outside of rush hour). Assuming the trains run every ten minutes, that means either you run every ten minutes, or see a degradation in service, since the buses run every 15 minutes right now. That would be unacceptable, as this is the one time of day when direct buses downtown would be faster (at least much of the time).

        Of course, if Link runs every 7 minutes in the middle of the day (which seems possible) you could run the buses every other time. I could see running the 512 and 511 in an alternate fashion. That way you can get to Lynnwood like you say (just time the train) but getting up to Everett would require timing it (or waiting an extra 7 minutes in Northgate). If they did that, I would have the 512 skip Ash Way, so that folks heading up to Everett get something out of the deal (a faster trip).

  1. Engineer says
    December 15, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    “I appreciate the article, and all of the work that transit advocates, planners, engineers, politicians, and construction workers have done to make this a reality. Thanks, all. I can’t believe it has been a decade!”

    Engineer, yesterday’s comment deserves first part of mine this morning. Starting about age 25, I saw the years seem to accelerate, with each one taking progressively less time to pass.

    I think that this is nature’s way of adjusting our outlook to the measure of a maximally effective human working life. For the work we think most important, how much time can we stand for it to take? At fifteen- completion date in five years is posthumous. By thirty- fifty is still far distance. Seventy?

    The more important the work is, the less I’ll live to see of it. And the less the past matters at all, except as a source of experience a small part of which might possibly be at least partly useful. In most previous civilizations, the natural process of becoming an elder, who’d soon be an ancestral spirit.

    Thanks so much, Lizz. I also had no idea that work to this particular part of our region would be pouring concrete this soon. This morning, best possible reminder for the state of mind we so badly need. Which I think the Viet Nam War left almost fatally injured for at least two generations.

    But from every morning’s first three year old cafe patron, no more visible scars. If that’s the real meaning of “Great”, I’ll live with the “Again”, and even get a red hat and put a propeller on it. That the future is where, and how, the problems of the past and the present get solved.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Love the pictures. Been taking my own as I walk by the construction site during my lunch breaks.

    Lots of dirt being moved along Bellevue Way and 112th. On Mercer Island, they’ve got the sound walls mostly up for the station.

    I believe in the next weekend or two they are going to shut down 405 overnight to start putting in the girders over 405.

  3. I have to say I’m very impressed with the speed of construction along the entire line. Honestly, considering that the tunnel is > half way done, I’m a bit confused how it managed to delay construction by a year – it’s seems like all parts are moving forward in parallel very efficiently.

    1. Outside of the I-90 bridge engineering issues and the more recent disagreements with Mercer Island, what were the other factors that caused ST to delay the opening service date on this Link extension by 2-3years?

      >>East Corridor
      ST2 expands light rail across Lake Washington via I-90 from Downtown Seattle to the Overlake
      Transit Center area of Redmond, with nine planned new stations serving Rainier Avenue/I-90, Mercer Island, South Bellevue, Downtown Bellevue, Overlake Hospital, the Bel-Red corridor,
      Overlake Village and Overlake Transit Center. The line is scheduled to be open to Bellevue by
      2020 and Overlake Transit Center by 2021. Funding is also provided to complete environmental documentation and preliminary engineering for light rail between Overlake Transit Center and Downtown Redmond.<<

      1. There were huge arguments about alignment through Bellevue. That process took a while (and ultimately made the line worse but what can you do).

      2. *Huge* arguments about alignment through Bellevue. And no one involved acted for the common good. I’m including business interests (Kemper Freeman, Bellevue Club), the city, Sound Transit, and NIMBY residents in this group.

        We ended up with a very bad compromise of an alignment: a tunnel that should probably run down 112th instead of making two turns to run along 110th.

        But despite all the trouble it’s caused and causing I’m glad the train is coming.

    1. Steven,

      Working definition for me: If it can ever run streetcar track- which it’s not a good idea to make it do- it’s light rail. Think of minimum degree of absolute lane reservation the car will tolerate. Though at 100 mph, variance allowed.

      Look up “Electroliner.” I rode on it, but don’t believe it existed either. Still think transit oriented regional development should have trains (restaurant car, all the Bistros were in France) like this, going through transit oriented developments with lots of tree and drug stores with soda fountains. Look that up too.

      Put a RESTAURANT car on LINK, and we’ll talk. Also- don’t you think “Electroliner” better name than “LINK”? Chicago and North Shore Board of Directors would never have named at train after a sausage, even if it did come out of Milwaukee.


  4. Any idea about the status of the NE 6th St extension across 405, forecast in Bellevue’s TMP? It’d be great to get RR-B out of the 8th St interchange mess, and maybe you could reroute the 234/235 there too.

    1. It would be great if this could get built. Not just for bus mobility, bus also for pedestrian mobility, connecting the light rail to the shopping center across the freeway. The 8th St. interchange is downright awful for pedestrians. The waiting at stoplights takes forever, and crossing the on-ramps is just plain dangerous.

      1. It’s too bad that no one arranged for the ST Link 405 crossing to include an adjacent pedestrian and bicycle path. The NE 6th extension is at least a decade away, and since there is also a freeway ramp crossing in the middle, it will be as dangerous for pedestrians at NE 4th or NE 8th today.

  5. As East Link gets built, I am increasingly excited about its opening:

    – The Judkins Park entrance on 23rd will be popular.
    – Mercer Island and South Bellevue will be well used for drop-off and pick-up.
    – The two stations in Downtown Bellevue will also be popular. I really am encouraged that the NE 6th Station is out in open air and it will be easy to cross to the BTC.
    – Bellevue’s stations east of 405 will hopefully emerge to be popular for many.
    – The new Microsoft campus plan puts the station in the middle of a straight-line pedestrian corridor.

    Except for the systemic avoidance of pick-up zone circulation issues at some stations, it’s pretty awesome!

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