Sound Transit unanimously approves East Link starter line to open spring 2024

Aug 24, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: 5:33 pm

east link line vote Sound transit delay...

A train at the downtown Bellevue light rail station. (Photo: Sound Transit)

(Photo: Sound Transit)

The Sound Transit Board unanimously voted Thursday to approve a proposal that would launch an East Link light rail starter line next year.

The plan will allow early opening of the light rail on the Eastside while work continues on the delayed segment that crosses Lake Washington and connects to Seattle.

“Almost exactly one year ago, when we first learned that Eastlink light rail would be significantly delayed due to workmanship issues on the I-90 bridge, I proposed that we open an Eastside-only starter line,” District 6 King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said in a prepared statement. “This pivot from a long-established plan to adapt to changing circumstances is a testament to hard work, creativity and nimble action by agency staff, as well as the overwhelming enthusiasm by cities and community members from across the Eastside …”

Balducci originally proposed the idea last year, claiming the Eastside-only service would be important in connecting major population areas east of Lake Washington and utilizing tracks that are ready to be used.

“We are excited about the connectivity and reliability that the starter line will bring to the Eastside,” Redmond Mayor Angela Birney said in a press release. “This decision transforms the promise of light rail into reality, providing thousands of Redmond residents and employees the benefits of a guaranteed 10-minute commute between Overlake and downtown Bellevue.”

Sound Transit’s System Expansion committee unanimously approved the starter line in a meeting Aug. 10. They also approved the opening of the Lynnwood Link Extension opening in the fall of 2024. This starter line is not expected to delay the Lynnwood extension.

The East Link extension and Downtown Redmond Link extension are expected to open in 2025.

More on the Eastside Link light rail: Two cars test track on possible light rail ‘starter line’ in Bellevue

The East Link light rail was originally scheduled to fully open in mid-2023, but construction issues on the Interstate 90 (I-90) bridge have delayed the project.

With the starter line approved, riders will be able to travel between South Bellevue and Redmond, with a total of eight stops. Once construction is done on the connection over Lake Washington, the route will ultimately connect Seattle with stations on Mercer Island and in Bellevue and Redmond.

Sound Transit Board’s System Expansion Committee was informed of the delay in a meeting in August 2022, with problems like complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, the concrete workers’ strike, and unexpected problems with the mortar pads, rebar, and fasteners.

Construction issues along the I-90 segment of the East Link alignment are expected to delay the full project opening into 2025.

Daily ridership, including the downtown Redmond extension, is projected to be between 43,000 and 52,000 passengers by 2026.

The Eastside Starter line is expected to be open to the public by March of next year.

Contributing: Frank Sumrall, Steve Coogan

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Sound Transit unanimously approves East Link starter line to open spring 2024