Link service to Everett remains 17 years away from its estimated completion date, but the narrowing of station options is already progressing at the county level. Snohomish County is soliciting another round of public comments for its light rail station subarea plans, which cover the two stations in unincorporated area between Lynnwood and Everett: Ash Way (164th Street Southwest) and Mariner (128th Street Southwest). These two stations mark the end of the “easy” section of Everett Link, with an opportunity to open early if the stars align.
The second open house, which we reported on in November, drew 3,000 online visitors and narrowed down the set of options per station from three to two. Respondents to surveys about both stations also ranked their priorities in choosing station options, placing Swift and bus connections above the likes of sidewalk/trail access, TOD opportunities, and bike access. The responses from this third open house will be used to shape the subarea plan that will be presented by the county to Sound Transit for further consideration, which will likely involve a good deal being lost to the Seattle process.
The draft ST3 plan in March 2016 extended rail beyond Lynnwood in two steps. The first, in 2036, would bring service to North Lynnwood, serving stations at West Alderwood Mall, Ash Way, and Mariner. The second, in 2041, extended around the SW Everett Industrial Center (Paine Field) and north to Everett Station.
When the plan was finalized two months later, the extensions were combined so the Paine Field and Everett stations would open five years earlier. It was a telling decision that all the extra financial resources of the final plan were put into the northern segment. This looks like an error. While all parts of Everett Link have their value, the immediate rider needs are mostly between Lynnwood and Mariner.
Rearranging the Snohomish subarea resources could still open those stations by about 2030. The trade-off is that accelerating some capital spending generally means delays elsewhere. This may mean a later opening of service to Paine Field and Everett where the need for light rail is less urgent.
Famously, Snohomish County has bad traffic, the worst in the nation by some measures. A significant part of this stems from the booming bedroom communities from which thousands commute daily to Seattle. Almost as many Snohomish residents work in King County (145,000) as in Snohomish (158,000). For those who use transit, Lynnwood Link will deliver faster and more reliable travel times. It could serve these riders even more efficiently with more stations a little further north to intercept buses from across the County.