Sound Transit to study elevated light rail in downtown Redmond

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Proposal separates trains from traffic and pedestrians while staying within the project budget and schedule for the Downtown Redmond Link Extension

The Sound Transit Board on Thursday directed agency staff to study an elevated light rail alignment in downtown Redmond. The changes are among potential refinements as Sound Transit works to begin construction of the extension in 2019 and service starting in 2024, only one year after the opening of light rail to Redmond’s Overlake area.

The proposed refinements were identified in conjunction with the City of Redmond and other partners following regional voters’ November 2016 approval of the project. They fit within the project budget and schedule and would improve service reliability and safety by separating trains from vehicle and pedestrian traffic. They would result in an approximately 600 foot shorter route ending at an elevated station in the Redmond Town Center area.

“Shifting to elevated tracks in downtown Redmond is cost-effective and will create a win for transit riders, drivers and pedestrians alike,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Redmond Mayor John Marchione. “Redmond and Sound Transit have built a strong partnership that will continue to move this project forward to an expedited opening.”

“Within a year of opening East Link, we will open this further extension to downtown Redmond that will enable even more East King County residents to leave congestion behind,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “Together we have identified refinements that offer better service for riders while improving safety and helping downtown businesses to continue to thrive.”

The proposed refinements will undergo additional environmental review and engineering prior to the Board’s scheduled 2018 adoption of the final project, which will be constructed under a design-build contract.

The project extends the East Link project that is now under construction by approximately 3.5 miles. While the Sound Transit Board adopted a previously approved route to downtown Redmond in 2011 as part of the broader East Link project, the downtown extension was not funded until regional voters’ November 2016 approval of the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.

The potential refinements were identified through intensive work with the City of Redmond, the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, King County Metro Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation. They update the project based on recent studies, land use changes and developments in the project area. A survey conducted as part of a recent City of Redmond Transit Integration Study reflected that more than 83 percent of respondents support the refinements.

From the Overlake Transit Center, the route runs along the SR 520 corridor to an at-grade Southeast Redmond Station located to the southeast of the SR 520 and SR 202 intersection. The Southeast Redmond station includes approximately 1,400 parking stalls as well as bike parking and bus transfer facilities. After the Southeast Redmond station, the route turns west through the SR 520 and SR 202 interchange into the former BNSF Railway corridor, where under the proposed refinements it would remain elevated after crossing Bear Creek Parkway and terminate at an elevated station near 166th Avenue Northeast. Though not funded by the Link project, the refined alignment also facilitates a future key trail connection through the SR 520/SR 202 interchange that will tie together the Redmond Central Connector and the East Lake Sammamish Trail. This connection is a long-standing goal of the City of Redmond and King County.  

With the refinements, the project is estimated to cost $880 to $915 million, which is within the $950 million financial plan estimate for the extension. A baseline cost estimate for the project will be developed as preliminary engineering advances in the coming months, the Board approves the final alignment and the agency launches a competitive procurement for a design-build construction contract.

With the November 2016 adoption of Sound Transit 3, the people of the Central Puget Sound region took a historic action to build the true mass transit system that has been talked about for decades. The system will include a 116-mile light rail network with more than 80 stations serving 16 cities, growing five-fold beyond its current size, at a scale comparable to the largest systems in the country. 

Under a System Expansion Implementation Plan launched in April, by the end of 2017 Sound Transit will be planning, designing or building 24 train and bus projects in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. As with recent work to expedite the Downtown Redmond Link Extension, the agency will work to meet the expedited timelines in the final Sound Transit 3 package by starting projects sooner and collaborate with cities, stakeholders and private citizens earlier and more intensively. 

The intensified work to advance projects is in response to the region’s crippling congestion and rising demand for transit. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and in 2016 Pierce and Snohomish counties grew faster than all other counties across the country. Congestion will continue to worsen as the region grows by approximately a million new residents in the next 25 years, an amount that exceeds the current combined populations of Seattle and Tacoma. 

By 2021, Sound Transit will complete light rail to the U District, Roosevelt and Northgate. In 2023 trains will reach Mercer Island, Bellevue, Overlake/Redmond, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. Next up will be getting light rail to downtown Redmond and Federal Way in 2024. From there, continuing expansions will focus on Tacoma, West Seattle, Ballard, Everett, South Kirkland and Issaquah. 

Improvements are also coming to Sounder commuter rail service, which will serve 13 cities when planned extensions to Tillicum and DuPont are complete. Following the establishment of bus rapid transit along the north, east and south sides of Lake Washington the agency’s ST Express system will serve 26 cities.