Seattle’s Sound Transit will open the University Link light rail extension between January and March 2016 — six months earlier than previously scheduled — under plans detailed at a news conference earlier this week with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).
“Every new light rail station helps commuters, businesses and local communities, but this station is particularly important, because it will strengthen the connection between our entire region and one of our most cherished institutions, the University of Washington,” said Sen. Murray. “I’m thrilled that Sound Transit, the University of Washington, and the City of Seattle have been able to work together and build this station ahead of schedule, because this expansion will benefit our region for generations to come.”
The $1.95 billion project was made possible by more than $830 million in federal funding, including an $813 million full funding grant agreement that Sen. Murray helped secure. It was previously scheduled to open in September 2016.
University Link is currently 79% complete and trending more than $100 million under budget. The mining phases that posed the biggest risks to the project schedule are complete. Contractors are currently installing rail in the twin tunnels and continuing construction at the two new stations on Capitol Hill and at UW.
The University of Washington Station is about 80% complete and the Capitol Hill Station is about 25% complete. Opening early will require continued close coordination among the contractors building the stations and the follow-on systems contractors installing the power, communications, and fire/life/safety systems necessary to operate the system.
Staff will report back to the board of directors in late 2014 or early 2015 with a specific opening day for commuters to mark on their calendars.
University Link will provide a reliable option for drivers and transit users who are stuck on Interstate 5, a facility that operates over capacity for up to eight hours a day, with vehicle speeds running between 15 and 35 mph. Already, buses can run up to 30 minutes behind schedule due to congestion.
A trip from UW to downtown will take about six minutes regardless of traffic conditions.