Sound Transit officials and local elected leaders breaking ground at Lynnwood City Center Station (photo by author)

On Tuesday, Sound Transit and local elected officials broke ground on the first inter-county light rail project to be built in Washington state: Lynnwood Link. Although visible construction on Lynnwood Link has been underway for months, the final contracts and funding agreements were only recently approved by Sound Transit and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Lynnwood Link will extend light rail service on the Red and Blue lines by 8.5 miles along Interstate 5, passing through Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace before terminating at Lynnwood Transit Center, the main bus hub in South Snohomish County. Community Transit is planning a massive truncation of its commuter routes to feed into light rail trains, taking advantage of the more reliable travel times to reinvest service hours into expanded local routes. Several bus rapid transit routes, including the Stride network and the Swift Blue and Orange lines, will intersect with Link at stations built along the Lynnwood corridor.

The project was approved as part of ST2 in 2008 and is the final light rail project from the program, discounting projects that were absorbed into ST3 like the extensions to Federal Way and Downtown Redmond. It was originally anticipated to begin service in 2023, but was pushed back by six months into 2024 because of design changes and cost overruns brought on by the local construction boom. The current project budget is $2.9 billion, of which 40 percent will be paid through a $1.17 billion full funding grant agreement with the FTA that was signed late last year.

Lynnwood Link stations and route map (Sound Transit)

Within a few years of its opening, Sound Transit anticipates that Lynnwood Link will be carrying around 50,000 daily passengers, including the bulk of commuters from throughout Snohomish County. The individual stations are already being prepared for transit-oriented development, including Lynnwood’s vision of a dense city center at its station and Mountlake Terrace building a new town center within blocks of the transit center. Lynnwood is also going a step further by encouraging density around Alderwood Mall, which is slated to receive light rail service in 2036 as part of the Everett extension approved in ST3.

The projected travel time of 28 minutes between Lynnwood and Westlake is equal to current bus travel times in light to moderate traffic, but provides a great improvement over peak travel times. Train frequencies of 4–6 minutes during peak periods will also match those of current peak expresses (which combine to form a trunk along I-5), and the 10-minute off-peak frequency will be double that of the off-peak Route 512.

All four stations on Lynnwood Link will feature bus bays for connecting routes, parking garages (totaling 2,900 new stalls), and pathways towards major trails — including the Interurban Trail and a new “trail along the rail” in Shoreline. The three elevated stations will look similar to that of Northgate or South Bellevue, with a center platform and two entrances that anchor each end; Shoreline North/185th Station will be built with a below-grade center platform with two entrances and a large bus layover area for the Swift Blue Line.

A fifth station at Northeast 130th Street in north Seattle was approved in ST3 and is currently set to open in 2031, but has recently entered accelerated engineering. Sound Transit plans to determine whether a simultaneous opening with the rest of the extension is feasible in a non-disruptive manner, and the matter will be taken up by the agency’s board of directors sometime later this year. For now, the preliminary plan for Northeast 130th Station is an elevated center platform on the north side of its interchange with Interstate 5, which could serve as an alternative bus transfer for routes that will stop at Shoreline South/145th Station.

Site clearing at Shoreline South/145th Station

The construction of Lynnwood Link will be split into two projects on the north and south sides of the Snohomish–King county line at State Route 104. The $752 million southern contract from Northgate to Northeast 200th Street will be handled by a joint venture of Stacy and Witbeck, Kiewit, and Hoffman Construction, all familiar names who worked on previous Link projects. The contract covers two stations, 1.5 miles of elevated guideway, and 3 miles of grade-separated surface rail or retained cut sections. The $778 northern contract from Northeast 200th Street to Lynnwood was awarded to Skanska USA, whose largest transportation projects include New York City’s Second Avenue Subway and the roadway within the State Route 99 Tunnel.

For the remainder of the year, construction crews will continue clearing the eventual path for the light rail guideway, which involves the cutting of 5,300 trees (and eventual four-fold replacement). Utility lines and sound walls are also being relocated to prepare for guideway column drilling, which is set to begin later this year. During construction, there will be periodic closures of parking stalls at the park-and-rides, which will be replaced by satellite lots and small route modifications for buses. In total, over 4.4 million labor hours will be needed to complete the project, which is anticipated to wrap up major construction in mid-2023 ahead of a year-long systems testing process.

45 Replies to “Lynnwood Link officially breaks ground”

  1. Any word yet on when and how long the 195th St bike/ped I-5 overpass will be unavailable?

    How about the IUT segment(s) around the Lynnwood TC?

    1. I forwarded this question to ST and heard that the bridge is not being closed permanently, but will have two temporary closures (of up to 3 months each) that will be determined later.

  2. 11 minutes (28%) faster than getting to Westlake from Seatac on Link… which is about a half mile shorter of a trip.

    1. One less station (or two if you don’t count 130th) plus full grade separation on a direct route will do that.

      1. Lynnwood Link is also on the north side of the DSTT, meaning it doesn’t have to slog through the Third Avenue tunnel to get there. The stop spacing in the DSTT is way too small.

      2. The stop spacing in the DSTT is not too small… It’s by far the densest part of the entire region. Which station would you cut?

      3. University St is only 1000 ft away from the 3rd and Pike entrance of Westlake. This is smaller than even European *bus* stop spacing, and is way too short for a rapid transit service, which according to Jared Walker over at Human Transit should really be more like 1/2 – 3/5 of a mile.

        Close University St and Pioneer Square, and split the difference with a station at Madison/Columbia. This is the stop spacing that DSTT 2 is going for.

      4. The vast majority of trips are going to begin or end in downtown Seattle. None of those riders benefit from stop consolidation in the DSTT, and a lot of them will be worse off.

      5. The Connect 2020 project reveals a bigger problem: the lack of crossover tracks between north of a Westlake and south of International District. That means that any time there is a service disruption in the DSTT, there isn’t a practical work-around until late in the evening once both lines start operating in 2024.

        Possible fixes to this inevitable routine future nightmare are:

        – Close University Street temporally or permanently to install cross-over tracks. Inside or at one end of the station.

        – When ID Station is reconfigured, add a dead-end side platform for East Link to use in an emergency so that a DSTT short-term disruption won’t freeze the whole regional system.

        I really wish advocates would quit fantasizing about system maps and unfunded extensions and realize that the system that ST is currently designing has all sorts of inevitable periodic system failures as it operates from day to day.

      6. Yes. South of Stadium. Thanks for correctIng me.

        I think that ST is adding a track in the ID station median that may provide a future cross-over opportunity. Still that’s quite a few stations in the heaviest part of the system without cross-over tracks. If one track has to be shutdown and trains are coming every 3-5 minutes in one direction, it only takes a 20 minute disruption to really mess up things for tens of thousands of riders for a few hours.

        One other alternative could be to put a median siding track in Pioneer Square or University Street with a single-direction cross-over track connector at the ends to both tracks.

      7. Scissors cross-overs are not “turnbacks”. It requires a pocket track to turnback. Cross-overs allow a section of one track to be taken out of service temporarily during periods of relatively long headways. That extends the maintenance window for that track section.

      8. Al, the station boxes are too short to hold a full four-car train and the turnouts to access a center track.

      9. @Al: The ID station box drawings are on page 3 of that pdf.

        It looks like the track for East Link immediately diverges and slopes up quite steeply, so I don’t think there’s enough room for a crossover.

        Judkins Park is a bit far from ID (1.3 miles) but at least it’s a stop with good bus connections if you need to continue downtown.

      10. Al, apologies, you said “cross-over”, not “turnback”. The downtown stations in the original tunnel are certainly long enough to have cross-overs within the box. It would be a very good idea to add at least one pair — probably at University Street — during the coming shutdowns.

  3. It’s great news that the funding crisis has been been addressed and building has begun!

    I still rue over the reduced vertical circulation last-minute budget cuts with no public discussion. Inadequate numbers of up and down stairs, escalators and elevators will be a huge issue by 2028-2030.

    1. I agree. The “value-engineering” cuts ST put into place before finally baselining the budget for this project in 2018 were very shortsighted (and ultimately won’t prevent this project from being well over its original cost estimate).

      1. It’s particularly sad that ST did not ask Snohomish and North King officials to backfill the dropped vertical access with the Systems Access improvement funds now being considered.

      1. It’s pennywise and pound foolish. The agency just needed to admit that they seriously effed up on their cost estimates, own the mistake and stop trying to spin the narrative. The line will ultimately be way over the ST2 cost estimate even with the value engineering modifications. With that being said, sure, the agency should try to reduce costs on these extension projects where it makes sense; the vertical conveyances and egresses in general should not be at the top of that hit list.

        The T’s Green Line is a poor comparison. IIRC, the only section of that family of lines that is elevated is the part between North Station and Lechmere.

  4. 13 stations coming from the south, only 10 when coming from the north. That is a big part of it.

    But hey, think of it this way, the trip from the north will get slower when they add the 130th St Station. So the difference won’t be nearly as bad.

    Just sayin…..

      1. @asdf Seriously. It already takes forever, and every time I go down there I think about how much longer it will be after Graham and BAR. BAR seems so useless to me! Is there any chatter of a bypass, or express trains? Imagine commuting from Tacoma Dome to Westlake! Or even from the airport. Seattleites and visitors alike will have to suffer 40+ minute rides to the airport….forever?

      2. @Jared: IMO the smart thing to do would be

        – Build grade separated light rail bypass via Georgetown, with a transfer station at BAR.
        – Terminate the existing light rail line at Mount Baker station. This preserves access to Beacon Hill.
        – After CCC, connect the streetcar down Rainier to the existing MLK light rail segment to BAR. The new streetcar system becomes two lines, from BAR to either SLU via First Avenue, or First/Capitol Hill. This pretty much eliminates all grade separation on the western side of King County.

        Super long term, if you want to make the Mount Baker stub useful you could build grade separated light rail to Renton.

      3. @Jerad,

        Less than 6K riders board Link at the airport. ~14K riders board in the RV. So, ya, they could have bypassed the RV to give those 6K riders a faster trip, but at the expense of 14K riders?

        Na, Link went where the ridership is. That is important when you are trying to get a system started successfully.

      4. @Lazarus: That’s fine and dandy when Link ends at Angle Link, but not so fine when Link ends at Federal Way or Tacoma Dome.

        We are talking 70+ minutes to Tacoma Dome. If Link is to be truly regional that is unacceptable travel time.

      5. 40ish minutes from the airport to downtown isn’t that bad by the admittedly low standards of US cities.

        BOS to downtown Boston is about 30 minutes, but the SL1 bus isn’t real BRT so I think it can get stuck in traffic.
        JFK to Lower Manhattan is an hour on the A train.
        ORD to the Chicago Loop is about 40 minutes on the Blue Line.

      6. @Pat: King St is a hike to the rest of downtown, the hours and frequency are garbage, and the Sounder is only about ten minutes faster due to the indirect routing south and east of I-5.

      7. Pat: “If you’re at Tacoma Dome why wouldn’t you just take Sounder?”

        Have you looked at the Sounder Schedule from Tacoma Dome? Two times per day afternoon, 45 minutes apart. Sounder is completely useless if you aren’t traveling peak hours, peak directions. I’d love a later Sounder trip northbound, then I could take transit to and from work. Because of the lousy schedule, I literally can’t get in a full 8 hour work day if I take Sounder. I’ll just keep putting the miles on my 10-year-old commuter car.

      8. Subways are slow. They pick up and drop off lots of people at each stop. It is their nature. Commuter rail is fast. They go long distances between stops. Subways carry way more riders than commuter rail. Everywhere.

        Y’all got it backwards. The weakness of our system is that it is too much like commuter rail. We should have a stop at First Hill, as well as at least one more stop between downtown and the UW (e. g. 23rd and Madison). There should be a stop at 55th. You get the idea — it should be like a subway, which in turn would mean that we would have ridership like a subway.

        I encourage everyone who thinks otherwise to please research the hell out of various transit systems. Take a good hard look at the ones that are fast (e. g. BART, DART, Denver RTD) versus those that are slow, but thorough (NYC Subway, The El, DC Metro). I think you will find that my summary is correct, and that our biggest mistake is that we have too few stations, not that we have too many.

      9. @Ross: I think that both statements are true. We have stops too far close to each other downtown (1000 ft between entrances for Westlake and University St, a 3 min walk!) and stops too far apart (no Convention Center/West Capitol Hill stop, no North Capitol Hill stop, no Montlake/520 stop, not nearly enough stops between Northgate and BAR, the list goes on and on). To put this in perspective, the London Underground’s shortest exit-to-exit distance is 1600 ft.

        The problem with the DSTT station spacing is that everyone going past downtown has to slog through it. Want to get from Northgate to Seatac? Gotta slog through downtown. Want to get from the south to UW? Gotta slog through Downtown. A 70 minute ride from Tacoma Dome to Westlake would be a worse travel time than the current 586 express that makes it to UW in comparable time, which is going to be a problem if ST is going to turn ST Express into a massive feeder system.

        I don’t event think what I’m saying is an ideal for DSTT stop spacing is even that bad – after all, everyone is fine with DSTT2 having only one intermediate station between Westlake and ID.

      10. Each station adds 20 seconds. So three stations add one minute. No big deal for a 25-mile trip (145th-SeaTac). The problem is not three stations; the problem is ten stations for a 5-mile trip (e.g., downtown Manhattan to Morningside Heights,; the NYC subway has express trains for this reason).

        “Subways are slow. They pick up and drop off lots of people at each stop. It is their nature. Commuter rail is fast. They go long distances between stops.”

        All speeds have different market niches: they’re better for some trips but worse for others. (Except mixed-traffic streetcars, which have little advantage over walking or buses.) I’d refer to NYC’s locals as “Local”; NYC’s expresses — and Link — as “Limited-Stop”; and commuter rail as “Express”. Three different levels, all important.

        ST could have built something like New York with a close-stop city subway and a wide-stop metropolitan connector, but instead it chose to build a hybrid between the two. That works well between downtown, North Seattle, Lynnwood, and Bellevue/Redmond; but it breaks down for trips to intermediate Seattle urban villages (missing stations) and for longer distances like Federal Way.

        The south end is screwed for several reasons, only some of which are the Rainier Valley overhead and so many stations. The distances are just longer: KDM is as far from Westlake as Lynnwood, Federal Way is just short of Everett, and Tacoma is even further. A 55-mph train takes so long to travel those. That’s not an inherent limitation of light rail — they can go faster — but ST’s spec said 55 mph and had tighter curves so that’s what the contractors built.

        BAR is a questionable station that Tukwila really wants. It citied a future urban village at 144th, a rapidRide A extension, access to the Museum of Flight and Aviation High School, bus transfers, and a Sounder transfer (it also asked for a Sounder station there but didn’t get it). ST defers mostly to the cities’ priorities, and Tukwila is a city.

        “40ish minutes from the airport to downtown isn’t that bad by the admittedly low standards of US cities.”

        40 minutes to downtown is not bad for any airport. But the much bigger issue is 50 minutes from KDM, 55 minutes from Federal Way, and 65-70 minutes from Tacoma. Airport travelers ride Link only a few times a year, but Kent/FW/Tacoma riders may ride it ten times a week so it really adds up.

        Ultimately, ST should have built a two-level network. Sounder South is fine because it serves the middle of the population centers, but Sounder North is unusable because it’s along a coastal cliff far from the population centers. Sounder was built because it could be started quickly and cheaply because the tracks were already there, not because its stations are currently the largest pedestrian concentrations. That’s what we need to serve, the largest pedestrian concentrations, which equate to city centers, neighborhood centers, and large institutions (airport, university, stadium, mall, county hospital, etc).

        The Georgetown bypass and a Rainier streetcar may be an ideal, but the problem with a Georgetown bypass is the population there is so small the intermediate stations won’t get many riders. It’s not a North King priority. North King should be prioritizing central Seattle, 45th, Lake City, etc not Georgetown. The real beneficiaries are South King and Pierce. They could fund it but chose not to. ST’s long-range plan had a Georgetown line but it was deleted in the 2014 revision with not one word of objection from the South King or Pierce boardmembers that I heard.

        And such a bypass and streetcar can’t be built before 2060, which is far too far out to help the current needs.

    1. “Less than 6K riders board Link at the airport”

      But they come in batches of hundreds at a time, several flights an hour, and they don’t have a car in their suitcase so they don’t have that default and are looking for another way. Trains can move large batches of pedestrians more efficiently than any other mode — much better than vans or taxis or rental cars. If we had a robust transit network like we have a robust flight network, the bulk of people would take transit, or at least we could aim for a 50% goal. The fact that we don’t have a complete robust transit network is not Link’s fault. So we shouldn’t be dismissing Link to the airport; we should be building up the rest of the transit network. Europe has a variety of commuter trains to their airports. Conventions and ballgames come with a transit day pass bundled in the ticket, so most people take transit to them. Large job centers and industrial centers have high-capacity transit to them so that most people don’t have to drive, and they don’t. We need to do more of that.

  5. My real estate agent, J.J. McCubbins, says many of the homes near Mountlake Terrace Station are in the 300-500k range. Many are shack-like homes under or around 1000 sf in size. Good area to speculate?

  6. A couple of clarifications….

    The two major construction contracts listed in the article are actually $779.4M for the southern portion and $817M for the northern portion when including the 5% contingency amounts. Additionally, the vendors had existing contracts for pre-construction services that included an “early work package of schedule-critical work elements”. Thus the southern portion contract has a maximum value of $883.8M and the northern portion contract has a maximum value of $877.9M.

    Secondly, the baseline budget for the Lynnwood Link project was set at $2.772B with the board’s adoption of Resolution 2018-16 back in May of last year. This figure does not include the additional costs of each subarea’s contribution toward the OMF East project as well as the necessary fleet expansion, both of which were segregated into distinct projects after ST2 was passed. However, the original ST2 cost estimates for Lynnwood Link INCLUDED these components, as does the FFGA with the FTA. Thus the total project cost is actually $3.12B and the FTA grant constitutes about 36%, not 40% as stated above. (Originally, the FFGA contribution was going to be the max of 50% in the project’s initial funding plan and that’s clearly illustrated in the older FTA rating assignment documents.)

  7. It’s great, although I’m still wondering when they’ll start groundbreaking for the Fed Way Extension

  8. @Jared from what I understand BAR was sorta intended to be a multimodal stop for Sounder, Link, and KCM as there’s plans (although I don’t know if there still plans to do so) for consideration to add a Sounder stop there, which would make for another connection to the south end of Seattle for various commuters. It would also connect with KC Airport and surrounding area which is a major job center for a variety of industries (logistics, aerospace, aviation, transportation, etc.).

    1. I’m imagining BAR station as somewhere you take Uber to from *north* Seattle, so as to bypass the Rainier Valley, while still avoiding congestion and surcharges associated with going all the way to the actual airport. Of course, this only really works if you’re traveling at an off hour when I-5 through downtown is not congested.

    2. The run-up to ST3 had an update to the long-range plan (December 2014) and a list of potential projects (Fall-Winter 2016-2017). Four of those were BAR Link Station, BAR Sounder Station, WSJ-Burien-Renton Link, Federal Way Link, and Sounder frequency improvements. (And a third was upgrading the DSTT for 90-second service, which is what ST would have done if it hadn’t chosen the second tunnel and SLU.) Only BAR Link Station, the Federal Way Link extension, and Sounder frequency improvements were chosen and written into the ballot measure.

      Metro has a complementary long-range plan with buses terminating at or passing through BAR Link station for transfers. Tukwila plans an urban village at 144th and a RapidRide A extension to BAR that would serve it.

      The next time a BAR Sounder station can be considered is ST4. That is unscheduled at this point, and ST probably won’t start thinking about it until the late 2020s or 2030s at the earliest.

    3. “(Fall-Winter 2016-2017)”

      I’m getting my years off. The vote was November 2016. The options list was published December 2015 if I remember, and the projects were chosen around April 2016.

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