Construction workers walk along the underside of the Lynnwood Link light rail tracks on March 29, in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Construction workers walk along the underside of the Lynnwood Link light rail tracks on March 29, in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lynnwood light rail could sit unused for months

The Sound Transit board is considering the sequence for four upcoming light rail projects after pandemic and strike delays.

LYNNWOOD — Light rail between Lynnwood and Northgate could go unused for months under the current project timeline, Sound Transit staff said in a presentation on Thursday.

Without access to the Operations and Maintenance Facility East in Bellevue for the vehicles to be maintained and stored, additional light rail cars would need to be stored in Seattle, where room is quickly running out, Sound Transit deputy CEO Kimberly Farley said Thursday.

Instead, the agency could proceed first with a segment of the East Link between Redmond and Bellevue in spring 2024. That would push back the start of Lynnwood Link service, now penciled in for mid-2024, by at least a few months to fall or winter.

“If we keep with the original opening order, Lynnwood would sit completed and unused for several months waiting for East Link construction to wrap up,” Farley said.

Delaying the start of light rail in Snohomish County could disrupt Community Transit’s service plans. The Everett-based public transportation agency had plans to end service into Seattle once light rail reached Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Instead, those buses and drivers would be deployed throughout Snohomish County.

“Opening Lynnwood with one light rail line instead of two, as was the original plan, would have potential impacts on our plans for the restructure of the bus network,” Community Transit spokesperson Monica Spain wrote in an email. “With one line, trains will essentially only be able to carry half the amount of people. So, the timing of some of our plans may change to ensure there is enough space for people making trips between Snohomish (County) and King County. Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to work with Sound Transit and partner agencies to explore solutions that will best serve the community.”

Sound Transit, which runs commuter buses, the Sounder commuter train and light rail in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, is developing four light rail extensions over the coming three years. Those include the East, Federal Way, Lynnwood and downtown Redmond Links.

Originally, East Link was scheduled to open first in mid-2023. But construction problems pushed it into 2024.

Issues related to the pandemic and the concrete driver strike potentially bumped the Lynnwood Link initially set for mid-2024 by at least a few months.

“Two of my highest priorities on the Sound Transit Board are to get light rail service to Snohomish County as quickly as possible and within budget,” Snohomish County Executive and Sound Transit board member Dave Somers said in a statement. “The delayed launch of East Link is having an impact on Lynnwood Link. We don’t yet know the full implications of the various options that Sound Transit staff have proposed, but I will support the option that makes the most sense for our residents and businesses. The benefits of light rail and other mass transit options are many, and with our partners, we will work through the current challenges.”

That sequence was critical because it would establish the connection from the 1 Line, which runs along I-5, to the 2 Line along Interstate 405 and to the operations facility in Bellevue.

Without access to the facility, Sound Transit staff estimate 8-minute headways for light rail on the 1 Line during peak hours. It likely would mean “very full” trains.

If the 1 Line can connect to the East Link and reach the facility, which has room for 96 light rail cars, it could cut that wait to 4 or 6 minutes. The peak hour headways for the 2 Line would be 10 minutes.

Beyond project timelines, Sound Transit is facing a huge hiring need amid an ongoing struggle to employ workers in maintenance, mechanics and operation. The agency needs to double its hiring rate to fill additional positions necessary for the system expansion. If it doesn’t, that could add another six months to each opening, Farley said.

“It might be some consolation that we and our partners are not alone in this,” Farley said.

Sound Transit staff plan in January to ask for the board’s direction on whether or not to first pursue the East Link segment.

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

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