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.
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.