Light rail finally reaches Northgate, a promise 25 years in the making

Sep 28, 2021, 5:30 AM
Northgate light rail...
Northgate light rail terminal. (Photo courtesy of Sound Transit)
(Photo courtesy of Sound Transit)

Sound Transit opens light rail service to Northgate on Oct. 2, 2021. It is the culmination of a promise made to voters 25 years ago.

After the ribbons are cut on Saturday and cheers die down, you might want to remember that Sound Transit included service to Northgate in the first package, known as Sound Move, passed by voters in 1996. That package promised light rail between the airport and the University District in 10 years at a cost of $1.67 billion. As you likely know, Sound Transit didn’t make it to the University District until 2016, a full 10 years behind schedule and way over budget. The Seattle Times estimated the overruns to be 86%, and that original figure ballooned to close to $5 billion.

So, when Sound Transit tells you it’s on time and on budget, that assumes the first 10 years of the agency and the financial mismanagement in that initial decade don’t really exist. The agency just reset its timetable. To be fair, Sound Transit has been doing a much better job with scheduling and budgeting since then, but it is still running more than $6 billion in the hole today.

It would be easy to blame Sound Transit for all of this, but it would likely have been hard to predict the financial bubble that burst in 2009, a global pandemic in 2020, and the incredible spike in property values and construction costs. Those all contributed to scaled back or delayed projects through ST-2, which passed in 2008, and ST-3, which passed in 2016.

Ridership has never really reached the levels Sound Transit predicted either. It expected to have 280,000 passengers a day by 2030. Ridership is still way off because of the pandemic, and it isn’t likely that the agency will hit that rosy number, but I have long predicted that light rail really won’t matter until it goes places, until it gets to where commuters really are.

Once it gets to Bellevue in 2023, and Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Redmond by 2024, it might have a shot at getting commuters out of their cars, but Sound Transit doesn’t even pitch light rail as a congestion reliever. Today, it’s pitched as an alternative to sitting in traffic, with fast and reliable trips. The trains will run every eight minutes out of Northgate.

Three new light rail stations to open in North Seattle next month

There are changes to the system that daily commuters, especially those from Snohomish County, will have to prepare for as well. Most buses out of Snohomish County will no longer go all the way into Seattle. They will now dump their passengers at the Northgate light rail terminal, and those passengers will have to finish their trips on light rail.

The line names and numbers of light rail have also changed. This north-south light rail line is now called the Number 1 line or the green line.

Getting to Northgate this weekend should be celebrated. It’s one more step toward delivering on what Sound Transit has promised to voters and for what people in the taxing district have been paying into for a quarter century. But voters and taxpayers should never forget how we got here, and should hold Sound Transit and its leadership accountable.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


wood plank, sr 169...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT archaeologist solves mystery of structure under Maple Valley Highway

The Maple Valley Highway finally reopened to all traffic Wednesday after an unexpected discovery pushed a weekend culvert project out three days.
5 days ago
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT accounts for 21% of state employees fired over vaccine mandate

Of 1,887 state employees that lost their jobs over the vaccine mandate, the largest group was from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
7 days ago
Maple Valley Highway...
Chris Sullivan

King County crews find mystery structure under Maple Valley Highway

You never know what you'll find when you dig in this corner of the country. Road crews found that out this weekend when fixing a culvert under Highway 169.
7 days ago
Climate Pledge Arena...
Chris Sullivan

Getting to Climate Pledge Arena 101: Prepare to ditch the car

The old ways of getting to the arena in downtown Seattle have intentionally been made more difficult so that public transit is a more palatable option.
12 days ago
I-5, bumps...
Chris Sullivan

Why there are bumps along I-5 through downtown Seattle (and when they’ll go away)

When KIRO Radio's Dave Ross asks you to update something for him, you do it. So what's with those annoying bumps on I-5 SB out of downtown Seattle?
14 days ago
I-90, grooves...
Chris Sullivan

Why are portions of I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass so ‘groovy’?

Another question from Chris Sullivan's recent driving: What's with the horizontal grooves on portions of I-90, east of Snoqualmie Pass?
19 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Light rail finally reaches Northgate, a promise 25 years in the making