University Link light rail tunneling set to begin

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Sen. Patty Murray, FTA Administrator Rogoff dedicate first tunnel boring machine, hail jobs created by construction

Senator Patty Murray and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff today joined Sound Transit Board members to dedicate the first of the three tunnel boring machines that will dig twin tunnels from the University of Washington to downtown Seattle.

"The University Link project is already creating quality jobs here Seattle, and it is going to be great for local commuters and the community when it opens in 2016" said Murray, who secured an $813 million federal grant to help build the $1.9 billion project.

"Projects like this one are essential to rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and keeping us moving into the 22nd Century," said Rogoff.

The first tunnel boring machines (TBM) to begin digging will drive underground from the University of Washington to Capitol Hill. Another TBM will drive from Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle. University Link will extend the region's first modern light rail system by about three miles and serve an estimated 70,000 additional daily riders in one of the most densely populated and gridlocked areas on the West coast.

The University Link project has already created more than 2,000 new jobs, with almost 700,000 work hours so far to excavate the station sites, build and assemble the tunnel boring machines and prepare the alignment for tunneling.

"University Link fulfills a long-range vision we have had for connecting the incredibly important and vibrant urban centers of the UW, Capitol Hill and Downtown Seattle," said State Sen. Ed Murray. "Providing fast service 20 hours a day through these centers will open even more opportunities for thousands every day."

The economic activity generated within the state by University Link will be equivalent to approximately 19,100 direct and indirect jobs according to calculations using a State of Washington Office of Financial Management model.

"It's thrilling to stand here today with our regional, state, and Federal partners to witness this milestone in Sound Transit's history," said Sound Transit Board member and Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin. Breaking ground on U-Link marks the completion of the initial light rail line approved by voters in 1996 and highlights the regional vision of a light rail system that extends north, south and east."

When complete, it will take six minutes to get from Husky Stadium to downtown Seattle via Link.

"University Link will connect an incredible number of riders to our regional mass transit system," said Sound Transit Board and King County Council member Larry Phillips. "Light rail provides a fast, reliable connection for the thousands of students, faculty, staff and visitors to UW and the nearby medical and sports facilities."

"Today marks another milestone in the progress Sound Transit is making in constructing our region's light rail system. Each step brings us closer to the day when people throughout the region will be able to commute to the University by train," said Interim UW President Phyllis Wise. "We are eager for the digging to commence and look forward to the day when this station is complete and the trains begin to arrive."

The population of the corridor served by University Link is expected to increase by a projected 56 percent by 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 in 2008, daily systemwide 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.

Each TBM weighs over 1 million pounds and stretches more than 300 feet long including the conveyor systems that remove the spoils excavated by the 21-foot diameter cutter head. Sophisticated satellite technology guides the machines.