CHOKEPOINTS

It’s not the whole enchilada, but light rail to roll on Eastside this month

Apr 11, 2024, 6:46 AM | Updated: 7:06 am

Light rail service on the Eastside begins later this month, but it’s going to be another year before the trains actually cross Lake Washington.

The eight stations are ready to roll. Test trains are running on the tracks. The operators are training. Service on the Sound Transit starter line between south Bellevue and the Microsoft campus in Redmond begins Saturday, April 27.

While not the full ride from Seattle to Redmond that Sound Transit promised, Jon Lebo, the executive project director, said it’s a good start.

“I think for the public it’s the realization that we are going to have light rail on the side, and they’re going to see the advantages of having this kind of system in their backyard,” he said while surveying work at the south Bellevue station this week. “I think the next step is to bring it across the lake, and it will be absolutely fabulous.”

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The full 2 Line, which is now the name for the East Link extension, was supposed to open in 2023 under the latest estimates.

You throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and bad concrete, and you get the delay Sound Transit is working with today. The agency had to pull up all the tracks on the Interstate 90 (I-90) floating bridge and replace the more than 5,000 concrete plinths that held them up.

The agency tried to repair them, but it eventually had to replace them.

Where are we on that process now?

“We’re about 75% done with the track work that needs to be reconstructed,” Lebo said.

I asked Lebo his thoughts on that concrete issue and how it was handled. “It’s very disappointing,” he said. “It’s very disappointing both in terms of what work was done by the contractor.  There are things that we would do in hindsight, and I think we’re doing them right now.”

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And he believes they have taken the proper steps to keep this from happening again.  “We have full time inspection on all of the concrete work that’s going in so we know for sure that the work has been done correctly,” Lebo said.

I spoke with Redmond Mayor Angela Birney about the upcoming opening while touring the south Bellevue station. Her hope for this starter line is that it gets people thinking about and using light rail as they wait for the line to Seattle to open.  “I know it’s not the full meal or the full the full enchilada or whatever you want to call it,  but it’s really an opportunity for people to get used to riding light rail that maybe have never used it before,” she said.

There are about 1,500 parking spots at the south Bellevue station.

The 14-mile light rail extension from Seattle to Redmond has a price tag of $3.7 billion. It is currently running five years behind schedule. It was approved by voters in 2008.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as Twitter. Head here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.

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