Light rail edges closer to Snohomish County with opening of Northgate Station

Updated 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 with new information on immediate changes to routes serving the University of Washington.

Sound Transit officially marked the opening of the new Northgate Line with a gala Friday evening reception at the Northgate Station including speeches, confetti, a laser show, a marching band – and of course, a ride on the completed 4.3-mile line with stops along the way to explore the new Roosevelt and U District stations.

The Northgate station opening is a milestone of sorts for South Snohomish County, as many South County commuters who travel from the Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace Transit Centers to reach downtown Seattle will now change to the train at Northgate to complete the trip.

In addition, the Lynnwood light rail extension, under construction and scheduled to open in 2024, will include stations in Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. To mark the occasion, several South Snohomish County dignitaries were present during the event, including Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright and City Councilmembers Steve Woodard and Laura Sonmore, and former Edmonds Mayor and Sound Transit Board member Dave Earling.

Voters approved the Northgate Link extension in 2008 as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure. Construction on the project began in 2012 following six years of planning. Construction of all three stations was substantially complete at the beginning of 2021. Since then, the line been thoroughly tested with trains doing daily “dry runs” between the UW and Northgate.

Over the next three years, the agency plans to nearly triple the reach of the system from 22 to 62 miles, with service to Tacoma’s Hilltop in 2022, East King County in 2023 and Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Federal Way and downtown Redmond in 2024. The project’s $1.9 billion baseline budget includes a $615 million credit agreement under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which provided significant long-term savings for regional taxpayers through reduced borrowing costs. On top of this, the project is coming in approximately $50 million under budget.

Officially open to the public on Saturday, Oct. 2, Sound Transit says that the new line will offer an uncongested, traffic-free trip from Northgate to downtown Seattle in just 13 minutes and marks the start of a period of “unprecedented” transit expansion in the region.

More than 300 guests attended Friday’s event, from elected officials to Sound Transit board members to tribal representatives to the union workers who poured concrete and laid rails.

“This is an historic day and the start of three years that will transform how people get around our region,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and University Place Council Member Kent Keel as he addressed the audience. “Northgate Link will let thousands of riders get to their destinations on time without sitting in horrendous traffic.  We are able to celebrate this milestone thanks to support from the Federal Transit Administration, our congressional delegation and the regional voters who approved building a world-class transit system for our growing communities.”

Other speakers included Muckleshoot Tribe Vice-Chairman Donny Stevenson, who noted that as a primary sponsor of the Seattle Kraken, the tribe especially appreciates new line providing fans “a fast and efficient transportation option to visit the Kraken Community Iceplex [located just east of the Northgate Station], the ice sports hub of Seattle!”

The opening of Northgate Link will bring significant service changes for bus riders, and many will have to get used to a different way to get downtown.  number of routes that formerly served downtown will now terminate at the Northgate Station, where riders will switch to the train.

Travelers using ST Routes 511, 512 and 513 from the Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace transit centers to reach downtown Seattle will now change to the train at Northgate to complete the trip. Buses will stop adjacent to the elevators and stairs leading to the loading platform, where trains arrive at eight-minute intervals. While this means an extra in-route transfer for downtown travelers, it will provide more dependable service by avoiding the frequent I-5 traffic jams between Northgate and downtown. ST Route 510 will continue to serve downtown as before, but with minor schedule changes.

Changes are also immediately in store for routes serving the University of Washington.

Starting Monday morning, October 4, Community Transit’s 800-series bus routes will no longer go to the the U District and University of Washington, but will terminate at the new Northgate Station where passengers will transfer to light rail to complete their trip. Trains will depart Northgate every eight minutes during peak times. Light rail travel time from Northgate to the U District is expected to take six minutes. Community Transit staff will be available starting at 7 a.m. Monday morning at the Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace Transit Centers and the Northgate Station to answer questions and assist riders in making the transition.

Detailed information about the full range of service changes and adjustments to bus routes and schedules is available here.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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