Launch of University Link light rail construction will bring economic stimulus, fast transit connections; Sen. Murray honored at UW groundbreaking ceremony

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Construction begins today for extending light rail to the University of Washington. The underground University Link extension will generate or retain about 2,900 direct construction jobs and offer seven-minute rides between downtown Seattle and UW.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray, University of Washington President Mark Emmert and Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels joined local leaders today at the University of Washington to turn the first shovels of dirt.

“University Link is a key to the future for this region’s world-class light rail system,” Nickels said. “The project we kick off today will put thousands to work and deliver many thousands of commuters where they need to go to work, play and learn.”

“I can’t think of a better time to be kicking off a project that’s going to create thousands of jobs in the Puget Sound,” said Sen. Murray, Chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee, who worked with the FTA and Sound Transit to secure $813 million in federal funds for the $1.9 billion project. “Light Rail is proving that it is not only a long-term solution to our biggest transit and environmental needs, it’s also a short-term way to jumpstart our economy.”

"When the system is complete, students, faculty, staff, and visitors will find it much easier to come to campus and move about the region with greater ease and efficiency," said UW President Mark A. Emmert. "And they will also be traveling in an environmentally friendly mode. The University District is about to take another major leap forward into the future."

University Link is an extension to the Link light rail line scheduled to open between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport this year. The $1.9 billion University Link line is scheduled to open in 2016. University Link will provide a seven-minute ride between the University of Washington Station at Husky Stadium and Westlake Station in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and a three-minute ride between UW and Capitol Hill Station.

The overall economic impact of the project will be much greater than the estimated 2,900 direct construction jobs predicted by a U.S. Department of Commerce model. The model estimates that the economic activity generated by University Link will be equivalent to 22,800 both direct and indirect jobs.

The population of the corridor served by University Link is expected to increase by a projected 56 percent between 2000 and 2030, further increasing congestion and the need for fast, reliable light rail service. Based on its tremendous benefits, the University Link project received the highest possible FTA ranking in the extremely competitive federal funding process. With completion of the Sound Transit 2 package that voters approved last November, daily light rail ridership is projected to total more than 286,000 by 2030.

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.

Construction crews will relocate utilities at the UW station area over the next several months to prepare the area for station and tunnel excavation activities scheduled to start late this year and continue for approximately three years. During that time, two tunnel boring machines will dig twin tunnels south from the UW Station site to Capitol Hill where they will be removed at the site of the Capitol Hill Station. Station and tunnel finish work, systems integration and testing will finish by late 2016 to start passenger service.

At the Capitol Hill station site, contractors have begun preparing the area for station excavation and tunneling work from there to downtown Seattle. One tunnel boring machine will make two trips from Capitol Hill to a “stub tunnel” that connects to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel at roughly the same time as the twin machines are traveling from UW to Capitol Hill. Sound Transit built the “stub tunnel” during construction of the Initial Segment between downtown Seattle and the airport. The bulk of Capitol Hill station excavation and tunneling work will begin in 2010 and be completed within three years.

The local share of University Link is funded through existing Sound Transit revenues, and was not part of last November’s successful Proposition 1 ballot measure that will fund the Sound Transit 2 package. Sound Transit 2 will extend the University Link light rail line 12.5 miles further north to Northgate, Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and Lynnwood as part of a 36-mile light rail expansion plan. The 55-mile light rail system achieved by Sound Transit 2 will also reach Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond/Overlake, Highline and the Star Lake/Redondo area north of Federal Way.

Light rail from downtown Seattle to Tukwila is on schedule and on budget to open in July. By the end of this year a direct light rail connection from Tukwila to Sea-Tac International Airport will replace the temporary shuttle connection that starts in July.