Light rail service across Puget Sound region hits a decade
By the time the first trains started rolling 10 years ago today, the light rail system was already more than a decade behind schedule and as much as 86 percent over budget, from what was promised to voters in 1996.
In 10 years, trains were to be running from the U-District to Sea-Tac. What voters got was a line from Westlake to Tukwila in 13 years. Sound Transit reinvented itself after that rocky start. It also reset its internal clock, wiping those first 10 years off from its collective memory.
What has happened since the trains started rolling?
“Average daily boardings when Link first opened-up was about 15,000,” Sound Transit’s John Gallagher said. “Now it’s an average of 77,000 per weekday. The total number of boardings are over 134 million.”
Ridership was up 6 percent just last year, which makes sense as the service continues to expand.
The first line ran from Westlake to Tukwila. The airport extension came online six months later. It now extends to the U-District and as far south as Angle Lake, with the big ticket extensions coming online over the next five years.
“The next five years are really going to be transformative,” Gallagher said.
Service to Northgate is scheduled to open in 2021 and service to Bellevue will follow in 2023. Trains are scheduled to start serving Redmond, Lynnwood, and Federal Way the following year.
That’s when I believe this system is really going to have an impact on our commute. Once trains reach the suburbs, commuters from outside Seattle will finally have a legitimate option to forget their cars. But that expansion in service also comes with a hefty price. The Lynnwood line and Federal Way extension are each running $500 million over budget. What does Gallagher say about that?
“We’re experiencing the same cost pressures that everybody in the region is experiencing, in terms of construction costs because it’s been such a tight market, and acquisition of properties as well,” Gallagher said.
Now a quick trip down memory lane. When light rail started 10 years ago, Seattle’s population was just under 609,000. It’s approaching 750,000 today. The median home price in Seattle was $365,000. Today it’s nearly $700,000. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment was around $1,100. Today it’s nearly $2,500.
The Mariners still haven’t made the playoffs.