Brooke Belman is the Chief Expansion Delivery Officer and a Deputy CEO of Sound Transit
It’s official: the 2 Line is going live on the Eastside next year!
Today the Sound Transit Board of Directors voted for a phased approach to opening the East Link Extension, beginning with service between South Bellevue and Redmond Technology stations in spring 2024.
As we’ve shared over the past year, delays caused by construction quality issues along the I-90 portion of the East Link Extension, which includes two more stations in Judkins Park and on Mercer Island, prompted Sound Transit’s staff and Board to reimagine our plans for beginning passenger service. We now expect to open this remaining section of the 2 Line, creating rail connections across Lake Washington, in 2025.
After greenlighting the phased approach today, the Sound Transit Board will finalize initial 2 Line service levels later this fall, when they consider the 2024 Service Plan. The plan will also set service levels for the Lynnwood Link opening, slated for next fall.
With the Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension opening next month and new Eastside and Snohomish County service launching next year, your light rail destinations are expanding in a big way in the near future. Here’s what we expect Sound Transit’s regional service will look like by the end of next year:
But this is all just the beginning of a long stretch of opening celebrations on the horizon, including 2 Line service to Downtown Redmond and across Lake Washington in 2025, 1 Line connections to Federal Way in 2026, and three all-new Stride bus rapid transit lines coming in 2028 and 2029.
Introducing the 2 Line
If you live or travel on the Eastside, the 2 Line segment opening next spring will mean easy, traffic-free connections via new stations at South Bellevue, East Main, Bellevue Downtown, Wilburton, Spring District/120th, BelRed/130th, Overlake Village, and Redmond Technology.
Easy transfers to existing ST Express bus routes like the 542, 545, 550, and 554 will also zip you across Lake Washington or further east to Issaquah or downtown Redmond.
We know how long you’ve been waiting for a light rail connection across I-90, and how frustrating construction delays have been for our current and future passengers. But we’re committed to being transparent about the challenges we’re facing.
Above all else, our top priorities are quality and safety, and the tough reality is that quality takes time.
While contractors continue concrete demolition and reconstruction work on the I-90 segment, a phased 2 Line opening offers plenty of benefits:
Putting new vehicles, stations, trackways, and other assets into use as soon as they’re ready—rather than sitting unused until the entire East Link Extension finishes construction—maximizes our warranty periods and can help prevent vandalism.
Lessons learned on one project opening always benefit the next. Opening a portion of the 2 Line first will mean more staff and partner experience to improve the Lynnwood Link opening next fall, our 2 Line extensions in 2025, and other service activations into the future.
Opening in spring 2024 aligns with our partner agencies’ bus service changes.
And mostly importantly, it means we all reap the benefits of more transit as soon as possible!
So, what will this initial 2 Line service look like?
The Board will make final decisions on service levels later this fall, but right now we’re proposing two-car trains, running every 10 minutes for 16 hours a day, between approximately 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. At this level, we estimate about 6,000+ weekday boardings on average.
Once the 2 Line opens across Lake Washington connecting to the full regional system, we’ll be able to increase service levels to meet rising demand.
In the meantime, we’re hard at work behind the scenes preparing the South Bellevue to Redmond Technology segment for opening next spring. Our infrastructure construction and testing is nearly complete, and pre-revenue service, where we thoroughly test our new vehicles, signals, systems and more, is scheduled to begin this November.
We’re also closely tracking risks that could impact the 2 Line opening schedule.
As we’ve noted over the past year, regional and national post-pandemic trends suggest that hiring and training enough operators and maintenance experts may be the biggest schedule challenge for all our Link openings in the years ahead.
The good news is that as of July, our operating partner King County Metro had filled 82% of the approximately 180 total positions the 2 Line will require, including 82% of 90 roles deemed absolutely critical. Our confidence is high that the remaining positions—which are excellent jobs with great pay and benefits!—will be filled in time to meet our opening goal.
Another schedule risk we’ve emphasized is our ongoing work to ensure we have enough light rail cars and storage space to support our future openings, especially without a rail connection over Lake Washington.
We’re happy to report that based on the proposed service level for the initial 2 Line opening, we’re on target to have the vehicles we’ll need (about 23 cars) and the storage space required at our Operations and Maintenance Facility East in Bellevue.
Your Link to Snohomish County next fall
Opening the 2 Line on the Eastside next spring won’t affect Lynnwood Link, which is on track to be ready to open in fall 2024.
Work on the 8.5-mile extension, which adds four new stations north of Northgate, is progressing on schedule. You can check out photos of the progress in Shoreline in our blog post from last month.
When it opens, Lynnwood Link service will be less frequent than previously planned, at least at first, because it will initially operate as an extension of the 1 Line only. Until the I-90 segment of East Link opens and trains can cross Lake Washington and access our Operations and Maintenance Facility East in Bellevue, service to Lynnwood will be limited by the storage capacity of our Central OMF in Seattle.
Given these temporary storage constraints, we’re proposing an initial service level on the 1 Line of three-car and four-car trains running 20 hours per day, arriving every 10 minutes in peak hours and every 10-15 minutes off-peak.
Our ridership models predict demand for 25,000 to 34,000 average weekday boardings between Northgate and Lynnwood City Center alone, and we estimate demand for 100,000 to 136,000 on the full 1 Line, from Lynnwood to Angle Lake.
Today’s Board action on the 2 Line also included provisions to meet 1 Line ridership demand, including additional bus service in Snohomish County and support for Lynnwood passengers until the full East Link Extension opens.
This fall, we’ll present possible strategies to the Board that will look to maximize capacity onto mitigate crowding on the 1 Line until rail access across I-90 can open.
These Sound Transit projects and so many others comprise the biggest transit expansion in the country, and things change quickly. We want to keep you up to speed on our progress!
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