Some of the 188 vertical columns that will carry Link light rail trains from Seattle to Lynnwood starting in 2024. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Some of the 188 vertical columns that will carry Link light rail trains from Seattle to Lynnwood starting in 2024. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

188 concrete columns: Light rail to Lynnwood is 25% done

Already, Sound Transit’s construction of track structure and stations is transforming the area.

LYNNWOOD — Construction of light rail between Shoreline and Lynnwood has hit the quarter-way completion mark.

Sound Transit announced the milestone this week for Lynnwood Link, a route that is still a few years away from opening in 2024, with stops in Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline.

It’s the latest major update in the long work of building three parking facilities, four stations and 8½ miles of track. About 4 miles of the line extension are elevated with 188 columns. Of those, over 130 are complete, as well as 50 girder spans. Drilled shafts support the columns and girder spans, and they’re all designed to withstand some seismic activity.

The progress means construction contractors are starting to wrap up underground work and will begin building structures visible to passersby, Sound Transit project director Randy Harlow said.

During excavation, the Lynnwood project crews didn’t discover any artifacts, abandoned pipes or remains, which could have delayed work for archaeological inspection. However, crews found some old glass bottles, probably from the 1950s and 1960s, slowing work for an afternoon while photos were reviewed.

“They were cool, but historically significant? Not really,” Harlow said.

Now and for decades to come, underground drilled shafts about 10 feet in diameter will serve as foundations for the above-ground columns. The depth, about 80 feet on average, depends on soil conditions and, to a lesser degree, the column height. The deepest drilled shaft near the Highway 104 interchange of I-5 is 130 feet because that’s where the tallest columns are and a nearby creek meant the solid base was farther underground.

The concrete columns have about 6,200 pounds of bound rebar inside. They’re roughly 6½ feet in diameter and 20 to 30 feet tall.

Concrete columns for the Lynnwood Link light rail extension have about 6,200 pounds of bound rebar inside. They’re roughly 6½ feet in diameter and 20 to 30 feet tall. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Concrete columns for the Lynnwood Link light rail extension have about 6,200 pounds of bound rebar inside. They’re roughly 6½ feet in diameter and 20 to 30 feet tall. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

For Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, light rail’s approach has already yielded financial and visible effects.

In August 2019, about 5,300 trees were cleared along I-5 where the track is being installed, and they likely won’t be replanted until 2023.

Apartment buildings, mixed-use developments and other multi-family housing projects are springing up around the two stations in Snohomish County. In Lynnwood, land values around the station have more than doubled in the past five years.

“To see the rapid changes happening in Lynnwood are fascinating,” said Lynnwood City Center program manager Karl Almgren. “It’s truly achieving the city’s vision of having a downtown core.”

Within two years of opening, Sound Transit projects that between 47,000 and 55,000 riders daily from the Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline stations. While the coronavirus pandemic changed work commutes, some possibly forever as more people work from home, the regional transit agency hasn’t made any updated forecasts. That’s because many of the data points are in flux, such as population growth projections, cost changes, travel time changes and congestion estimates, Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher said.

“While we know that COVID has affected ridership, it’s still hard to predict how things will shake out by the time Lynnwood opens in 2024,” Gallagher said in an email.

Lynnwood city leaders are forging ahead with millions of dollars in investments around its first light rail station, at the Lynnwood Transit Center, 20100 48th Ave W. About $2.5 million of that funding is from Sound Transit through an agreement with the city to improve access around the Lynnwood Transit Center station, called the Lynnwood City Center. City leaders are using that money to apply for grants that require matching funds, as well.

Once the Lynnwood City Center station opens, Lynnwood anticipates becoming an even greater transit hub as people headed to Bellevue or Seattle stop at the station to board a rail car.

“We only have 1,896 parking stalls in Lynnwood for 20,000 people getting on a train every day,” said Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, who also serves on the Sound Transit Board of Directors.

The Lynnwood Transit Center has 1,368 parking spaces, and Sound Transit is adding around 500 as part of its light rail station construction. So far there aren’t plans to charge for the parking, though that could change by the time light rail operates.

“There’s an agency-wide discussion taking place around what our strategy is going to be,” Gallagher said.

Work on the Lynnwood Link light rail extension from Northgate in Seattle to Lynnwood hit the 25% mark recently. The four stations and 8.5 miles of rail line are scheduled to open in 2024. (Sound Transit)

Work on the Lynnwood Link light rail extension from Northgate in Seattle to Lynnwood hit the 25% mark recently. The four stations and 8.5 miles of rail line are scheduled to open in 2024. (Sound Transit)

In preparation for the anticipated light rail commute, Lynnwood is widening 200th Street SW from 52nd Avenue W to the 4200 block of Alderwood Mall Boulevard. The City Center program manager, Almgren, said work at the intersection of 44th Avenue W and 200th Street SW should allow for more traffic flow with less delay.

“A big part of that is making sure our buses can get in and out of the stations, providing consistent timing,” Almgren said.

Within the Lynnwood Transit Center, the city is also building a new street, 202nd Street Southwest, between 46th and 48th Avenue W. It is intended to give traffic a way through that avoids the buses and lets drivers cross without going all the way around the transit center’s parking lot sprawl.

The city is preparing for more buses and drop-off traffic through the transit station, as well.

Community Transit will send 800-series routes that currently go to the University of Washington and downtown Seattle to Northgate after the light rail station there opens in 2021. Beyond that, further reductions in bus service into Seattle could happen as the transit focus shifts to light rail and its 28-minute commute from Lynnwood to the Westlake station in downtown Seattle.

“Our goal is to move people and to be able to have people get to their destinations effectively and efficiently,” Almgren said.

Pedestrian and bike improvements also are part of that goal. Lynnwood is working with Sound Transit to connect the east-west Scriber Creek Trail to the Interurban Trail — which generally parallels I-5 from Everett to Seattle. Improvements to the 44th Avenue W underpass near I-5 are in the city’s plans as early as 2021.

Other projects will follow as part of the Everett Link extension, scheduled to open in 2036, though some of that work could be pushed back because of revenue shortfalls in the wake of the pandemic.

In that coming light rail expansion, Lynnwood is set for another station at West Alderwood. City leaders in 2016 officially chose the area of 33rd Avenue W and 188th Street SW as their preferred location, which ultimately is up to Sound Transit’s board.

“For Lynnwood, specifically, it’s not one and done when this station is done,” Mayor Smith said of the Lynnwood City Center station. “So getting ST3 done is really, really important. We’re building our city center around that.”

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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