Historic groundbreaking for Lynnwood light rail extension

Soon after service to Snohomish County begins in 2024, trains are forecast to carry up to 55,000 riders a day.

By:  Lizz Giordano
Source: The Everett Herald

LYNNWOOD — The ceremonial turning of dirt with shiny shovels Tuesday not only marked the official launch of the Lynnwood Link extension — which will bring long-awaited light rail trains to Snohomish County — but also a redesign of the region’s transit system.

The new route will open in 2024. Within two years of opening, the Lynnwood station is projected to handle more passengers than any other does currently, according to Sound Transit.

Trees in the route’s path are already falling. Trains — scheduled to arrive every four to six minutes during peak times — will move riders from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle in less than half an hour. And for the first time light rail will run between two Puget Sound counties.

“Finally, finally light rail is coming to Snohomish County,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. “There are over 119,000 Snohomish County residents that commute to Seattle and beyond every day. This project will give them new opportunities to take that route and get there a little easier.”

Part of the ST 2 plan approved by voters in 2008, Lynnwood Link extends light rail track from Husky Stadium through the U-District to Northgate.

Four stations will line the 8.5-mile route from Seattle to Lynnwood. The first will sit just north of NE 145th Street in Shoreline, replacing the 68-stall park-and-ride. The next stop will be at NE 185th, also in Shoreline.

After crossing out of King County, a redesigned Mountlake Terrace Transit Center will host the first station in Snohomish County. The Lynnwood Transit Center will be the end of the line — at least for the time being.

A dozen years after trains start running to the Lynnwood station, the Everett Link extension is set to open.

That route, part of the next planned expansion of Sound Transit, wasn’t far from Snohomish County officials’ minds as they celebrated the day.

“We have to get this project done, we also have to make sure we get from Lynnwood to Everett,” said Dave Somers, the county executive. “This region needs it, people are tired of sitting in traffic without any options. It’s vitally important to our future.”

By 2035, Sound Transit forecasts as many as 74,000 riders a day will board along the Lynnwood Link corridor.

While ridership at the Lynnwood station is expected to more than triple in the decade or so after light rail arrives, parking at the station won’t be keeping pace. Only about one in ten riders will be able to park at the station, even after about 500 spaces are added, bringing the total to 1,900.

A similar pattern is predicted for the other stations.

To accommodate these new passengers, Community Transit is already preparing for a massive system restructure. After more than 40 years of whisking commuters to King County, the transit agency will instead focus on integrating buses into the light rail system.

“Link light rail will transform how people will get to and from Snohomish County, but also how they move around Snohomish County,” said Emmett Heath, Community Transit CEO.

Community Transit’s plan is to truncate commuter buses at the Lynnwood station, freeing up the vehicles that were once stuck in traffic on the way to Seattle, allowing the agency to service more neighborhoods or increase frequency on existing routes.

The Lynnwood station will become the portal into the light rail system, describes Paul Roberts, an Everett city councilmember and member of the Sound Transit board.

Right now bus trips into downtown Seattle can take riders 70 minutes or more during peak times, according to Community Transit, but light rail will offer passengers a reliable 28-minute commute.

Part of the restructuring will extend the agency’s most popular route, the Swift Blue Line, to the light rail station at 185th in Shoreline.

A third bus-rapid-transit line is set to start operating in conjunction with the opening of the light rail extension. The Swift Orange Line will offer an east-west connection, partly along busy 164th Street SW, from McCollum Park and Ride to Edmonds Community College, with a stop at the Lynnwood station. It is predicted to ferry more than 5,000 passengers a day.

The extension has faced obstacles; a booming housing market and construction costs put the project about $500 million over budget. Sound Transit later revealed an updated plan which trimmed the budget.

An uncertainty over federal funds, which loomed when the Trump Administration took over, also pushed the opening past the original target date of 2023.

Last November, a $1.2 billion federal grant was approved to the relief of Sound Transit officials. That money covers about a third of the $2.9 billion cost of the project.

And more recently, Initiative 976 on November’s ballot seeks to cap car-tab fees at $30. If approved by voters, it would eliminate most of the motor vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit along with funds many cities use for road projects.

Though still years away, the light rail line is already shaping parts of the county. Hundreds of apartments and thousands of square feet of retail space are breaking ground over the next few years in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

“Mark my words, once Lynnwood is reachable by light rail, we are going to see much of the same growth in jobs and business development here in Snohomish County that we are currently seeing grow by gangbusters on the Eastside accompanying our construction of light rail to Bellevue and Redmond,” said Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit.