Sound Transit kicks off East Link light rail construction

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New line will connect Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Overlake

Federal, state and local officials today celebrated the start of construction of the East Link light rail extension connecting Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond's Overlake area and Microsoft campus.

The 14-mile light rail extension approved by voters in 2008 will provide reliable 24-minute trips from downtown Bellevue to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle.

"Today, we begin connecting the east and west sides of Lake Washington with high-capacity light rail—a project that will revolutionize travel to and from the Eastside," said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine. "East Link will provide a quick, reliable trip from downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle, delivering mass transit that will transform our region."

Officials celebrated the start of construction with a ceremonial groundbreaking near where trains will run in a tunnel under downtown Bellevue.

"For a long time we've been working hard to build and expand a world class transit system in the Puget Sound region, and for the first time today, we are pulling Link's reach across Lake Washington to the Eastside with this groundbreaking," said U.S. Sen. Senator Patty Murray, D-WA. "Voters have consistently shown they want less congestion, more accessible transit, and greener transportation by supporting new light rail investments—and I will keep working every day over in the other Washington to make sure our state is getting the resources it needs to do that."

Funding for the $3.7 billion project is provided in part by a $1.3 billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"East Link is a great example of the important regional projects the federal government is investing in to make critical improvements to the nation's transportation system," said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

By 2030 East Link is projected to carry about 50,000 riders each weekday with stations in Seattle, Mercer Island, South Bellevue, downtown Bellevue and the Bel-Red and Overlake areas. By 2030 the region's light rail system is expected to carry more than 280,000 riders each weekday.

"I am deeply excited to officially kick off construction, after years of planning, of the Eastside's light rail line," said Sound Transit Board member and King County Council member Claudia Balducci. "Soon, people who live or work in Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond will have a new, fast, reliable way to travel across Lake Washington and around our region - out of the traffic that gridlocks our freeways each and every day."

Trains will travel across Lake Washington in the current center reversible lanes of I-90. Construction on I-90 will start next year following the completion of new HOV lanes in each direction on the outer roadways that will preserve the existing number of general purpose and HOV lanes. The Washington State Department of Transportation is managing construction of the work to add the new HOV lanes and upgrade the communications and safety systems in the I-90 tunnels.

"Part of a healthy economy is a reliable transit connection to jobs and homes. That's what East Link is all about," said State Rep. Judy Clibborn, Chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. "Making sure we continue to plan for the future is even more critical in coming decades as our population increases."

The East Link budget includes a $100 million in-kind contribution from the City of Bellevue toward the downtown tunnel, a $33 million contribution from Microsoft to fund a bike/pedestrian bridge over SR 520 at the Overlake Transit Center Station and a $10 million contribution from the City of Redmond towards a pedestrian/bike bridge over SR 520 at the Overlake Village Station.  The new bridges create a direct connection to the Microsoft campus and other businesses on the north side of SR 520.

"Bringing light rail to Bellevue and Redmond will help people across our region live more productive lives, not only by helping them commute faster but by strengthening the region's economy and our global competitiveness," said Sound Transit Board Member and Redmond Mayor John Marchione. "The future of light rail on the Eastside becomes real today."

Contractors have begun preparing the site just south of downtown Bellevue near East Main Street and Northeast 112th Street for the tunnel portal where trains will transition from the surface to a 1/3-mile-long tunnel under downtown before reemerging to the surface near Northeast Sixth Street.

East Link's 10 stations are scheduled to open in 2023 as part of more than 30 miles of light rail extensions connecting population and employment centers in the region. Link's South 200th extension is scheduled to open later this year, followed by the extension to Northgate in 2021. In addition to East Link, other segments scheduled to open in 2023 include expansions north to Lynnwood and south to Kent/Des Moines.

For more information on East Link and a video animation of the route and stations see: www.soundtransit.org/eastlink

The Sound Transit Board is currently working to submit a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure to regional voters in November. A draft plan that is available for public input through April 29 would complete a truly regional 112-mile system reaching north to Everett, south to Tacoma, East to downtown Redmond and Issaquah and west to Seattle's Ballard and West Seattle neighborhoods. Residents can take an online survey and learn about remaining open houses at soundtransit3.org.