Construction is finally under way on a light-rail station and tracks to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. But first, a few detours. Sound Transit and the Port...

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Construction is finally under way on a light-rail station and tracks to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

But first, a few detours.

Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle ceremonially broke ground Friday on a 1.7-mile, $244 million transit extension, to open by the end of 2009.

At the same time, the port will spend $102 million to expand its airport-access expressway, north of the terminal.

For the next year, motorists can expect a short delay when getting to the airport. As long as passengers plan to arrive the suggested two hours before takeoff, they should still have plenty of time, said airport spokesman Bob Parker.

The worst delays come early in the three-year project, he said. “We plan to do a good job of traffic control, but until you see it, you never really know.”

• Next month, the incoming (southbound) lanes will be squeezed onto the northbound side of the expressway, until the incoming road can be widened from three lanes to four. During the detour, only two incoming lanes will be available.

• In mid-October, the ramp marked “Return to Terminal,” used mainly by people who circle the airport waiting for passengers to arrive, will be demolished. Drivers will be detoured a half-mile north and return on the inbound expressway until a new return-to-terminal loop is ready next fall.

• The curbside road in front of the baggage-claim area, at ground level, will shut down for four days late next month.

• In early 2007, the outgoing (northbound) lanes will temporarily move onto the new incoming expressway, as the outgoing highway is rebuilt and widened.

Meanwhile, light-rail tracks will be installed in the expressway median.

Future train users will get off at the airport parking garage, then walk 1,100 feet through the garage to enter the terminal using the existing skybridges. Baggage carts will be provided, but no people-mover walkways or electric-cart rides.

The station-roof design features trusses and skylights. With its back entrance and kiss-and-ride access at International Boulevard, the stop is seen as a magnet for redevelopment by SeaTac city officials.

Murray lauded

Friday’s celebration was mostly an occasion to applaud U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who helped secure $500 million in grants toward the first 14 miles of rail — the $2.4 billion “initial segment” from Westlake Center to Tukwila.

That corridor is slightly more than halfway done, and due to open in mid-2009, with the airport segment connecting months later.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels reminisced about former senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Warren Magnuson, who steered government aerospace contracts and public-works projects to the state.

“I thought never again we would have a senator whose name we could mention in the same breath as Magnuson and Jackson, but I think we can add Murray to the list,” Nickels said.

By 2020, about 3,000 people a day are expected to board light-rail trains at the airport station, said agency spokesman Geoff Patrick.

Voters approved a regional transit plan a decade ago.

Until recently, many citizens chided Sound Transit for planning a “train to nowhere,” after enormous cost increases uncovered in 2000-01 forced the agency to stop its initial line short of the airport. Later, transit and port managers devised a plan to get there.

“To all the naysayers out there who didn’t think it would happen, it is,” Murray said.

Friday’s milestone didn’t impress Richard Harkness, a bus-rapid transit advocate. An airport station “is what was promised to the voters in the first place,” he said. “It isn’t anything special.”

Based on known estimates, Sound Transit needs roughly $6 billion, including federal funds, to establish 24 miles of light-rail service from Northgate to the south end of the city of SeaTac.