LYNNWOOD — For years, Lynnwood residents have been waiting to tack up their 2024 calendar.
That’s been the tentative date of the city’s light rail opening — and a new era for the city.
So now that 2024 has arrived, what date can they circle?
That’s still TBD.
Sound Transit is currently looking to begin service by the “third quarter” this year, spokesperson John Gallagher said in an email. Right now, the agency has not set an exact opening date, nor a date targeted to have one.
Even with a solid date up in the air, a quick walk around the Lynnwood Transit Center reveals quite a bit of excitement for light rail coming to Snohomish County.
Ainsley Harold, 21, is one of those people. The University of Washington student drives to the 1,670-stall transit center parking garage, then takes the 512 Sound Transit bus to Northgate. From there, she hops on the Link.
The Lynnwood light rail, Harold said, will make her commute more convenient by eliminating a bus ride. It’s been a long time coming.
“I’m excited that it’s connecting the area more,” Harold said. “I know my parents have been paying taxes for the train for, like, 25 years, that’s how long they’ve been here, and it’s always been, ‘Oh, we’re gonna build this train, we’re gonna do all this stuff.’ So it’s exciting that it’s finally happening.”
Jason Smith, 33, another frequent transit rider, has a similar commute. He has found the Alderwood Zip Shuttle to be a game-changer in getting him to the transit center. The Link will shave about 30 minutes from his commute.
“It’s a good system and they have good routes,” he said.
Once it’s running, Lynnwood to Westlake could take as little as 28 minutes.
In 2008, voters approved Sound Transit 2, funding 36 miles of new light rail track. Sound Transit 3, approved in 2016, added money for 62 more miles, including service to Everett, Ballard, and Tacoma.
This included the extension from the University of Washington to Northgate, which opened in 2021. It also added four more future stops after Northgate: 145th Street, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood.
Sound Transit 2 also included the East Link, connecting Bellevue via Mercer Island to Overlake Transit Center. It will connect surrounding areas with the main North-South line.
Construction started on the Lynnwood Link on Sept. 3, 2019. Since that point, there have been some delays on the 8½-mile, four-station expansion.
Testing and training is to take place before it opens. Vehicle operators getting familiar with the route and first-responder exercises will take place during the first half of the year.
After that, simulated service and safety certification. Service starts after checking those boxes. Mid-2024 was the original target, but the project was pushed back in August 2022. A concrete delivery strike was partly to blame.
Sound Transit is not the only one building up ahead of the trains running. The city has improved the entrances and area surrounding the transit center to prepare for the crush of people.
On the last week of 2023, construction was everywhere. Workers installed concrete walkways and grates. Roads and intersections were being widened, landscaping installed and, in late December, concrete saws screeched.
Remaining work includes widening 200th Street and improving signals at the intersection of 44th Street and 200th Street SW, city Community Planning Manager Karl Almgren said.
“We’re really focused on making sure it’s ready for opening,” Almgren said.
He described the working relationship between Sound Transit, Community Transit and Lynnwood as “awesome.” Many of those who have worked on the project are ecstatic, he added.
“This is a generational improvement project,” Almgren said. “This is one of those types of infrastructure projects that you tell your kids about that you helped work on.”
There could be another chance for that — the Everett extension will be the next massive Snohomish County transit project. That was approved by voters in 2016 and could start service as early as 2037.
Everett will eventually be the northern end of the light rail.
‘Real, credible alternative’
Elsewhere, the Eastside extension has also been beset by delays. Early last year, its opening was pushed back to 2025.
About 100 light rail cars on the East Link can’t connect with the rest of the system because the I-90 portion isn’t finished across Lake Washington. There were quality problems with concrete plinths and pre-cast blocks, delaying the project.
This will mean longer wait times in Lynnwood, with fewer cars for a larger service area. The target is arrivals every 4 to 6 minutes during peak hours. Sound Transit projects 47,000 to 55,000 daily riders on the extension by 2026.
Once the I-90 portion is finished, more train cars will enter the system. It should lead to less time waiting for a ride.
Other transit agencies around Puget Sound are planning for the train opening too. Community Transit, for example, is fully rearranging its bus routes due to the changes. Community Transit will no longer run buses to Seattle, instead funneling people to Lynnwood and its new light rail station.
“Taking people to Lynnwood and transferring them to the train gives them a better commute,” Ric Ilgenfritz, Community Transit’s CEO, said earlier this month. “It requires a transfer, and people are going to have to get off the bus and walk to the train and vice versa and that adds a bit of time, but the improved performance in the I-5 corridor, represented by the train, will more than make up for that.”
Beginning in March, the Orange line will run from Edmonds College to McCollum Park. It will be the first east-west bus rapid transit link in south Snohomish County. Other extensions, like along Community Transit’s Green Line, are also on the way.
These will connect up with the Orange Line as part of efforts to extend service and get more people to the train. It also helps avoid driving on the interstate.
“The light rail system provides a real, credible alternative,” Ilgenfritz said.
Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; email@example.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.