East Link Light Rail

We have become big fans of Link Light Rail since its launch in July 2009. However it is frustrating, assuming currently projected timelines stand, to know that we eastsiders are being asked to wait ten years for Link service to reach Bellevue. Update: East Link pushed back to 2023.

 It leads us to wonder whether there may be ways to accelerate system expansion faster than planned within the already approved funding. Presumably Sound Transit is as interested in capturing additional ridership revenues as we are in riding the train.

We realize that regardless of any other factors, Link cannot begin to reach the eastside until after the I-90 HOV upgrades across Lake Washington are completed – 2014 according to the WA DOT website. Update: completion of HOV upgrades have slid back to 2017.

However this is still at least six years ahead of Sound Transit’s current timeline for East Link service. So the thought occurred; what if we accelerate East Link construction to Mercer Island, and introduce service in conjunction with University Link in 2016? Update: estimate earliest an accelerated build could happen is now 2019.

And what if we run shuttles from Overlake, Bellevue, and perhaps Issaquah to funnel riders into the system at Mercer Island? In this scenario completion of East Link beyond Mercer Island could still take place in the 2016 to 2020/21 timeframe (update: 2018 to 2023) but significant ridership could be acquired sooner.

Click for full size viewThe Sound Transit Board’s final decision on East Link project scope is due in 2010 so now is the time to consider this opportunity. With all this in mind, I hope I’ll see something like my modified map appear on the ST Projects and Plans web page.

Update January 2015: although Sound Transit received FTA approval and signed off on the final project in November 2011 there has been no word on whether an accelerated timeline might be explored. In fact the pushing back of the overall East Link timeline since I first wrote this post, likely due to delays to the I-90 HOV upgrades to be carried out by WSDOT, largely removes the option to seek an expedite at least to Mercer Island. There is however a nice video now available showing how the extension to Mercer Island over the I-90 floating bridge will look…

In the meantime, here’s a look at how Link operates between Downtown Seattle and the Airport today. The following photos show how versatile Link is:

  • Operating deep underground (Beacon Hill Station). University Link will also be underground for its entire length when it opens.
  • Sharing space with hybrid diesel/electric buses in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel; where our 550 bus from Bellevue connects with Link
  • Monorail-style on elevated trackways, such as between SoDo and Beacon Hill, and from Rainier Valley to the Airport.
  • At street level like a Streetcar/Tram, such as between Columbia City, Othello and Rainier Beach, through the Rainier Valley.

Beacon Hill Station

Westlake Station in the Downtown Transit Tunnel

Elevated trackway from Airport descending to Rainier Valley

Street level running through Rainier Valley

Hybrid electric buses connect with Link at downtown transit tunnel stations

Photo credits: Sound Transit; Seattle Transit Blog

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