Every weekday, University of Washington students, workers and neighbors shuffle onto crowded buses in the downtown Seattle transit tunnel, and wish they could ride a train to campus.
Sound Transit now has some good news.
Its $1.95 billion subway from Westlake Station to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium will open “with certainty” in the first quarter of 2016, transit CEO Joni Earl announced Friday. That is six to nine months sooner than the official date of September 2016.
Within a few years, 40,000 riders a day will arrive or depart through the vast UW Station, next to Husky Stadium, where transit leaders conducted a tour Friday.
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The existing 16-mile system, from downtown to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, carries 32,000 riders a day — a figure that trails initial estimates but has grown more than 10 percent a year.
Work is now four-fifths complete on the 3-mile tunnel to the university. It passes through the most densely populated area in the state, and should eventually add 70,000 riders to the overall system, officials say, if you figure that more people from Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Tukwila and later North Seattle will hop a train if they can get to the UW.
“Think about being able to go from here to downtown Seattle, every time, in six minutes,” Earl said, in a speech from the station mezzanine. “I don’t know how long it took you to get here today, but six minutes is pretty darn incredible.”
Transit trains were originally supposed to reach the university in 2006. But the actual costs turned out double what local politicians promised — nearly killing the agency, until it reorganized its plans, dropped a First Hill station, and increased its budgets to reflect reality.
Voters approved a tax increase in 2008 to continue north of UW and build suburban extensions.
Finally the tracks are being laid, escalators are being assembled, and walls are covered in black, blue and rave-yellow tiles at the UW Station. A curved bridge will let passengers walk to campus over Montlake Boulevard East.
The station is oversized to handle crowds for Husky football games, graduations and special events.
The nine-story-deep station is so vast that if the Space Needle were laid on its side, it would fit within, said Joe Gildner, project director for Sound Transit.
The 3-mile project is funded by sales taxes, a car-tab tax, long-term bond debt, and an $813 million federal grant.
Trains will reach Northgate in 2021, and reach Lynnwood and Overlake by 2023.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who helped Sound Transit win the federal aid, attended Friday’s tour. But Murray said in her speech that she was preoccupied by thoughts of President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
On Nov. 22, 1963, she was playing for her middle-school band in Bothell, in a concert for grade-school kids. Suddenly, the teacher asked them to perform “America the Beautiful.” He then announced the president had been shot.
“The Kennedy legacy of community service was something that my family talked about many times after that,” Murray said. “It was instilled in me, and I know it was instilled in many leaders who are here today, that the world is bigger than just your small family or your little neighborhood, and your legacy is to go out and do things that are bigger than yourself and that makes this community better, and that certainly is what this (transit) project is, for all of us.”
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom