Aerial view of Mountlake Terrace Station, looking southwest (courtesy of Sound Transit)

On Thursday, Sound Transit announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has executed its $1.17 billion full funding grant agreement, which will cover one-third of the cost to construct Lynnwood Link and extend light rail service 8.5 miles from Northgate to Lynnwood.

The grant agreement and $300 million in other federal appropriations were sidelined by the FTA for several months until Washington’s congressional delegation lobbied for its inclusion in the federal budget. It is the largest appropriation in the Capital Investment Grant program for this fiscal year, which also includes funds for the nearly-complete Swift Green Line BRT.

The uncertainty of securing the federal grant under the new presidential administration was one factor that pushed the completion date of Lynnwood Link from 2023 to mid-2024, along with other design changes made due to cost increases.

At their regular board meeting on Thursday, Sound Transit also awarded a $88 million contract to Kiewit-Hoffman to begin construction work along the southern half of the route. Kiewit-Hoffman is one of several contractor teams working on East Link and are currently assigned to the Seattle, Mercer Island, and Bel-Red sections. Kiewit has been fined several times by the Department of Labor and Industries for fatal incidents at other project sites, including East Link.

Several staging areas for construction have already been cleared of existing buildings and homes, leaving sound wall and utility relocation as the main work in early 2019. Major construction is scheduled to begin next spring and wrap up by April 2024, with trains potentially in service in July 2024.

Lynnwood Link route and station map (Sound Transit)

The project includes 8.5 miles of track and four stations in Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood. Trips from Lynnwood to Westlake Station are expected to take 28 minutes, which roughly matches off-peak travel times for cars. Trains running every 4 minutes at peak (and 5 minutes off-peak) will then continue from Northgate to Downtown Seattle before splitting on the Red Line (née Central Link) to SeaTac and the Blue Line to Bellevue and Overlake. By 2035, Sound Transit estimates that the stations will serve 68,500 daily riders. Community Transit has already hinted at a massive restructure of its commuter routes, putting an end to rides in stop-and-go traffic for tens of thousands of commuters.

While the routing of Lynnwood Link along I-5 is an unfortunate consequence of the cost-savings approach taken by ST, each of the suburban stations have already been upzoned and are likely to see significant development as the opening day moves closer. Lynnwood is cultivating a city center near its transit center with dreams of emulating Bellevue; Mountlake Terrace is already building a massive apartment complex south of the station, and Shoreline has already passed subarea zoning to allow mixed-use buildings of up to 70 feet near stations.

A fifth station at NE 130th Street is tentatively planned to open in 2031, but Sound Transit has been encouraging accelerated work to have it open alongside the other stations in 2024.

Lynnwood Link is the last of the major ST2 projects to begin construction, following the groundbreaking of the Hilltop extension of Tacoma Link last month. The Federal Way Link Extension, which was originally part of ST2 but pushed into ST3 after post-recession funding issues, also has a full funding grant agreement that is awaiting approval from the FTA. The Federal Way project is planned to be completed in late 2024.

31 Replies to “Lynnwood Link is Ready to Begin Construction Next Year”

    1. I think contractors are getting harder to come by. Between the 10 Bellevue stations, the 3 Northgate stations, the 6 Hilltop Stations and now another 4-5 Lynnwood stations ST’s, choices are becomming slim pickins. I can hardly wait to see what their Federal Way choices will be.

      1. I’ve noticed a few residential projects around Seattle taking a long time to complete, which makes me wonder if construction is becoming supply-constrained in general.

        I wish I knew more about the contracting and construction industries- both residential and for major public works projects- are most of the companies working on light rail projects local to the Seattle area, or are they national/multinational companies with a branch here? How elastic is the labor supply? Are wages in the industry going up?

      2. I’m no building expert, but I see the construction as sequential. For example, Northgate is mostly finished with digging and structures already — so it’s stations, finishes, internal systems and testing that are most required in the next two years. East Link is two years behind that (and that project has the most length and stations as well as introduces a second line).

        In a two-year spacing cycle, I have to wonder if all three tails (Lynnwood, Redmond and Federal Way) should happen in 2025 rather than 2024. Still, the exact work required for the three tails may not take as long as the Northgate or East Link projects so 2024 may be fine.

      3. East Link may have started two years behind, but when the longevity of the tunneling is considered I think the head start gets diminished. I think the only thing keeping East Link behind is the fact that there are 10 stations as opposed to 3.

      4. The original service dates in the ST2 plan were:

        East Link – DT Bellevue – 2020
        East Link – Overlake – 2021
        Northgate Link – 2020
        Lynnwood Link – 2023

        All of these projects will be delivered late.

      5. A year of East Link was due to obstruction by the Bellevue city council, Surrey Downs neighborhood, Kemper Freeman, and activists against trains in Mercer Slough. Bellevue and Surrey Downs demanded dozens of alternatives and pushed for the most impractical ones, Kemper tried to sue East Link out of existence, and the slough activists objected to any train crossing the slough that wasn’t in a tunnel (never mind that I-90 has a far larger environmental impact, and that this was an alternative to widening the freeway).

  1. I am sure ST will find a way to spend every last dime of this plus a ton more. Cue the next delay announcement.

  2. Oh happy day!

    Now it’s time to go public with how crowded the trains north of Downtown Seattle are going to get. At least with two lines at 4 minutes apart at peak and 5 minutes most of the day, it shouldn’t be too bad.

    If not shifting beforehand, it won’t take long before anyone within 2-3 miles of the corridor will want a feeder bus to the nearest station. While bus operators are making advanced plans already, the refinement through a public process will get interesting. It’s just too powerful of a reliable time advantage to ignore.

  3. Three minor but important “corrections” to this piece:

    1. The contactor is actual a JV including Stacy & Witbeck and Kiewit-Hoffman:

    “F. Motion No. M2018-166: Authorizing the chief executive officer to execute a construction contract with Stacy and Witbeck – Kiewit-Hoffman, a Joint Venture, to provide Heavy Civil General Contractor/Construction Manager construction services for the Northgate Station to NE 200th Street segment within the Lynnwood Link Extension in the amount of $88,147,300, with a 7% contingency of $6,170,300, for a total authorized contract amount not to exceed $94,317,600.”

    2. “The grant agreement and $300 million in other federal appropriations were sidelined by the FTA for several months until Washington’s congressional delegation lobbied for its inclusion in the federal budget. It is the largest appropriation in the Capital Investment Grant program for this fiscal year, which also includes funds for the nearly-complete Swift Green Line BRT.”

    The Lynnwood Link FFGA authorization (a New Starts grant under the FAST Act) and the FY2019 appropriation are two separate processes. (The way you’ve worded things above you’re sort of muddling the two imho.) The THUD appropriation for FY2019 (often referred to as a “minibus bill”) is one of the pieces of funding legislation presently hung up in Congress. Each chamber has passed a version but it’s hung up with the conferees appointed to work out the differences.

    From the Senate report 115-268:

    “CAPITAL INVESTMENT GRANTS

    Appropriations, 2018……………………………… $2,644,960,000
    Budget estimate, 2019…………………………….. 1,000,000,000
    Committee recommendation………………………….. 2,552,687,000

    The Committee recommends $2,552,687,000 for capital investment grants, which is $92,273,000 less than the fiscal year 2018 enacted level, and $1,552,687,000 more than the request. The Committee recommendation includes $1,315,670,000 for new starts projects authorized under 49 U.S.C. 5309(d), $543,500,000 for core capacity projects authorized under 49 U.S.C. 5309(e), $568,000,000 for small starts projects authorized under 49 U.S.C. 5309(h) and $100,000,000 for expedited project delivery for capital projects authorized under section 3005(b) of the FAST Act.”

    https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/Appropriations+for+Fiscal+Year+2019

    Also a good source for general info:
    http://www.crfb.org/blogs/appropriations-watch-fy-2019

    3. The July 2024 revenue service date is questionable to me. The last quarterly Link progress report had some baffling contradictions between the “top level” light rail project schedules listed at the beginning of the report and the detailed schedule information contained under the Lynnwood Link-specific section. For example, under the latter it reads:

    “LLE Master Schedule –
    Rail Activation
    Start Mar 1, 2021
    Finish Aug 14, 2024”

    Additionally, the narrative simply states: “Revenue Service for Lynnwood Link remains 2024”.

    Finally, noticeably absent from the detail sections on “Civil Construction Management Overview”, “GC/CM Pre-Con Overview – L200 Northgate to NE 200th Street” and “GC/CM Pre-Con Overview – L300 NE 200th St. to Lynnwood Transit Center” are the respective schedule performance indices.

    My gut feeling at this point from all indicators is that this project has fallen another six months behind schedule.

    https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/documents-reports/agency-progress-reports

  4. Interestingly, the lines are not called the “blue line” and “red line” on the down a gram.

    Does that mean that branding of each line is still an open question?

    Maybe there’s still hope for adding numbers to the line colors. LA just picked adding letters. I’m still hoping for L1 and L2 even though it’s most hope.

    The more I read from the recent LA Metro research, the more stupid outcome appears to be to use only colors with possibly a single letter (“B” and “R”) — especially when Swift and RapidRide have almost the same branding. Of course, that’s what ST proposes to do.

  5. If 130th street station is an infill station it will likely be a side platform station. If it is pushed up to 2024 can it be an island station?

    1. It seems to me that the big advantage of an island platform is that you can change direction easily. I don’t anyone using this station for that. I think in general the key here is to have entrances on both sides of 130th (if possible). Beyond that, it seems like it wouldn’t matter.

      1. That’s a part of it Ross, but center platforms are a much better use of resources; most can be 20-30% larger than a side platform for the same station because demand is directional. With side platforms you typically have one that’s pretty empty during each rush hour. A center platform is always in use.

      2. I think the point is that if you can save money by building only one platform, and having to build fewer stairs/escalators/elevators because you only have to access that one platform – then that is the way to go.

        As long as there is room in the ROW to accommodate the split.

      3. Yeah, but I guess that is my point as well. From a usage standpoint, the main thing is to have access from both sides of 130th. Other than that, just build whatever is cheapest, but gets the job done. If that means a center platform, great. But if for some reason it is cheaper to build a couple side platforms, so be it.

        This makes it different than a station like I. D., where a center platform would be a really big advantage to riders (since it makes sense as a place to switch directions).

      4. To put it another way, I don’t know why we would wait several years to build it, only so we can have an island platform. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

      5. Center platforms are intrinsically better because you can transfer to more services without leaving the platform. It’s the same issue as down escalators, bus stops close to the platforms, frequent trains, “Next train in N minutes” displays, intermodal transfers, etc. The purpose of transit is to transport people as quickly and conveniently as feasible, so everything that can make trips shorter and more convenient should be done. Making people walk further or wait longer is an unproductive waste. So platforms should be center wherever feasible, especially at train-to-train transfer locations. In Lynnwood Link’s case there might be extenuated circumstances due to the two-phase development of the track and the station, or particulars about the right-of-way location. In that case ST should clearly articulate why a center platform would be infeasible or more expensive, and not just leave it as “it doesn’t matter” as the DSTT did and ST did in Rainier Valley and TIB. I have sometimes gone down the wrong side of Westlake and had to go to the other side, or started going somewhere and realized I wouldn’t have enough time for my errand so I turned around to go to a different destination instead. These kind of movements should be as easy as going to a platform and catching a train: there’s no reason to gratuitously make them more difficult because “people rarely do them”. People do them more than you think, or transfer to an opposite-direction train or bus.

  6. Does anybody know if the construction will force the closure of the I-5 overpass at N 117th St., and if so, what the timeline is?

    1. For some reason I think they will have to close that overpass, but I can’t find anything about it. I also think it will happen relatively soon (in the next six months or so). But that is just a vague recollection — the fact that I can’t find anything about it anywhere suggests I may be confusing it with something else.

  7. What about parking!! Those of us who already ride the buses are forced to arrive at the Transit Center up to an hour early to get parking. It’s full after 7:00 to 7:30, so with all the expected additional commuters, how are we supposed to get to the transit center at all? Jumping on the rails does make sense to avoid getting tangled in the I-5 mess, but we need more parking first. How about a multi level garage like the Mountlake Terrace freeway station? Enforcing the HOV lanes would help too. I see so many cheaters getting away with it during Peak hours.

    1. If the big parking lots are full, then you need satellite park and ride lots with good connecting bus service. Quite often, the parking on those connecting buses are just de-facto park and rides. This happens with several routes, and usually is a good way to spread out the parking, and enable a much shorter drive for people.

      I think everyone agrees with you about enforcing the HOV lanes. We really need to address that issue. Changing the law (to allow automatic ticketing) would help. I think one of the big flaws is that automatic ticketing is viewed from one extreme or the other. Automatic ticketing is usually done with a machine, with no human intervention (so far as I know). Regular ticketing involves pulling someone over. Something in between would make a lot of sense. If a cop sees someone that seems to be violating a bus lane (either by looking at video or with their own eye) they should be able to ticket that driver without pulling them over. They do that sort of thing all the time with parking tickets. The two types of tickets (a parking violation and an HOV violation) are very similar. Neither one is a danger to the public, so neither one should necessitate a check of the driver’s license, sobriety, proof of insurance or any of the things that come with a traffic check. You should just get a ticket in the mail. If you think there was an error, then you should be able to fight it.

      1. “The two types of tickets (a parking violation and an HOV violation) are very similar.”

        Yes and no. I get your larger point (about the level of seriousness involved with the infraction and how the enforcement could/should be handled), but the infractions are really quite different in nature. The former is a non-moving violation and is essentially a citation against the placement of the vehicle. Therefore the registered owner is ultimately the responsible party. With the latter, it involves a moving violation and the responsible party is the driver of the vehicle, which may or may not be the registered owner of the vehicle involved (obviously). This is one of the recognized issues with camera enforcement for HOV lane restriction violations under current Washington law.

  8. What ST needs is a good minimum station quality spec, with center platforms, down escalators, redundant escalators/elevators. It should write a justification for individual variances from it, and publish it with the station information, and include these things as scores in its alternatives analyses and station-design metrics. We shouldn’t have to just hope the stations will be good, or wonder how bad they’ll be.

    Department stores always have down escalators; otherwise customers would notice the low quality and shop elsewhere. Our transit stations should be at least as good as our department stores and shopping malls.

  9. Why are they going elevated along the golf course? Seems to to the laymen like that would be a good place to skimp on surface.

    1. There’s about a 100-foot elevation change from NE 130th down to the base of the Thornton Creek valley (which runs through the golf course); NE 130th station is about 70 feet higher than NE 148th station. Elevated is by far the most practical solution through that area.

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