It’s wiser to add a North Seattle light-rail station now at Northeast 130th Street than to break ground again in the late 2020s, after trains are already passing through along the Northgate-to-Lynnwood line.
That argument prevailed Thursday at Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee. A vote by the full transit board is expected in February.
Voters approved the station in the 2016 ST3 tax-increase measure, but not to open until 2031. The Lynnwood extension where the station would be added was approved in 2008 to open in 2024.
The station delay occurred mainly because Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff was nearing the finish line in 2016 to win a $1.2 billion federal grant for the Lynnwood line, and worried that adding the Northeast 130th Street station to the application would foul up the process.
Another reason the station wasn’t considered urgent was low estimated ridership. The station would be near Interstate 5 and amid a wooded residential area that might add only 1,500 daily boardings.
But community members, North Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juárez and Mayor Jenny Durkan have pushed to deliver the train stop sooner.
The timing to move up the station may be politically ideal.
A few steps from the Sound Transit boardroom where the committee met, trains are running less frequently and at less capacity during a 10-week disruption to join International District/Chinatown Station tracks to the future Bellevue-Overlake line. Trains are alternating on a single track downtown.
Durkan mentioned this week’s hassle as an object lesson to build the Northeast 130th Street station concurrent with the other four Northgate-to-Lynnwood stops. Otherwise, trains will single track there to build a 2031 station, causing slowdowns for an estimated 61,000 passengers.
“All of us grapple with difficult, complicated issues in projects. I hate the phrase no-brainer, but I will tell you, for me this is one of the few no-brainers I’ve seen in public service,” Durkan said.
The cost to finish the station early is estimated at $144 million, including engineering, construction and debt. That’s $23 million cheaper than building later, but adds $44 million in debt that must be raised sooner.
Kenmore Mayor David Baker, a transit-board member, said he’s leery about spending money to accelerate the North Seattle stop until other early ST3 projects are funded and underway. These include bus-rapid transit through his town’s growing Highway 522 strip, promised by 2024.
Perhaps a greater dilemma is ridership at what’s now a low-density spot.
Juárez said her district yearns for better connections to transit between Aurora Avenue and Bitter Lake west of the light-rail line and Lake City east of the line. Negotiations for bus stops and routes are underway with King County Metro, said Kamuron Garol, Sound Transit north corridor development director.
So far, no upzones are included in Seattle’s land-use maps that would add housing density and riders within the standard quarter-mile walk of the new station.
However, Juárez said community support appears strong to add more housing there. That would include units for people earning 60% to 80% of median income, she hopes.
“These are people that may not necessarily have a car, and want to take light rail. We need to keep middle-class housing in Seattle,” she said.
Renee Staton, a longtime member of the loose Northeast 130th Station coalition, said once political leaders give the green light to build sooner, people there are ready to start real discussions about denser land use.