The first Sound Transit Board committee meeting of 2020 was an eventful one as staff presented three options to deliver a NE 130th Street light rail station that is being added to the Lynnwood Link extension. The station will give Seattle one more station nestled between Northgate and Shoreline South, but the question is when will the station open?

One option would deliver the station nearly concurrently with the rest of Lynnwood Link, as transit advocates have urged. Lynnwood Link will open in 2024, while 130th Station would open around 2025 in the plan presented. The other two options staff presented have the potential for later timelines.

One big fan of an early opening is Councilmember Debora Juarez, who sits on the Sound Transit Board and represents Council District 5 where the station is located. “Building this station early will save taxpayers money, decrease service disruptions, reduce carbon emissions, and get more people of out their cars,” Councilmember Juarez said. Mayor Jenny Durkan agreed, saying opening the station early is a β€œno-brainer” at the meeting, and the majority of the public testimony was also positive.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors is expected to make its decision next month, and that decision will be complicated by the fact that cost estimates have increased on all stations along Lynnwood Link–jumping 81% for the NE 130th Street Station. The extra $33 million isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but with suburban areas also trying to fight for upgrades and faster timelines in their jurisdictions, the board may have other ideas for the money needed to speed up NE 130th Street Station’s opening.

Speaking of, Northgate Link is still coming in under budget to the tune of $50 million, staff reported. That may present an elegant solution for Sound Transit to find the money to expedite 130th Street Station. Northgate Link is also staying on schedule, with five months of float time in case anything goes wrong–or signaling a chance it may open early.

The first option would deliver the infill station in 2031, seven years after the rest of Lynnwood Link opens. One drawback of that approach is in full display right now as light rail riders endure ten weeks of delays and disruptions due to the Connect 2020 project laying the groundwork for East Link. When Central Link first went in, Sound Transit didn’t plan for future expansion of the network, which is now an emphasis of Seattle Subway’s advocacy. Sound Transit estimates that 61,000 daily riders would be affected by 130th Street construction in 2031, making it the most disruptive of the three options.

The middle option is a hybrid “incremental” approach, partially building the station to reduce costs and disruptions when the station receives finishing touches, testing, and begins service. The timing of this option is a little uncertain. Finishing and opening the station could be expedited somewhat over the 2031 timeline, but without a definite timeline, Sound Transit indicated any time between 2025 and 2031 is possible.

If the board takes no action, the punt to 2031 option would be the default and proceed. The 2031 opening date was indicated in the original Sound Transit 3 package that was voted on and approved by voters in 2016, but the campaign to open the station sooner had already began.

130th Street will be the first stop north of Northgate when it opens. (Sound Transit)
130th Street will be the first stop north of Northgate when it opens. (Sound Transit)

While the turmoil around Initiative 976 transit cuts and whether how quickly they’ll be definitively struck down may scare the board into acting conservatively on the 130th Street decision, the reality here is the money needed is peanuts in the scope of Sound Transit finances. Even the $33 million figure sounds larger than it is due to the way Sound Transit does its accounting. And remember Sound Transit’s position is that I-976 doesn’t apply to the agency since it has secured obligated financing with car tab revenues, meaning they likely fall under a bondholder protection in the state constitution.

While building 130th Street sooner could be seen as a boon to Seattle with not much benefit to other subareas, not advancing the integrated design would mean significant delays for everyone riding Link north of Northgate when Sound Transit goes back to add in the infill station. The 61,000 daily riders threatened with travel disruptions mostly live or work in Snohomish County or Shoreline.

Rising construction costs

Sound Transit attributed the jump in estimated costs to several factors: inflation in construction costs, the hilly terrain, and upgrading the escalators, which the agency realized was a necessity due to frequent issues with the cheaper escalators it is using on existing stations. All stations along the route face similar pressure, with Lynnwood Station seeing the biggest jump in construction estimates at all. Thus, the cost increase for the NE 130 Street Station would still be within the construction estimate variance of the other stations.

Updated estimates show increased construction costs ranging from 28% to 83% on Lynnwood Link stations. (Sound Transit)
Updated estimates show increased construction costs ranging from 28% to 83% on Lynnwood Link stations. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit emphasized a number of advantages in changing the default separate structure design for 130th Station. A station structure integrated with the guideway structure in either the “advance fully” or “advance incrementally” option would be seismically safer and easier to maintain. An integrated structure rated as a better customer experience more consistent with other stations along the line. Moreover, it’d be easier to build and likely at a lower cost overall.

130th Station Station could open in 2025 with this integrated design. (Sound Transit)
130th Station Station could open in 2025 with this integrated design. (Sound Transit)

Developing the station area

The area around 130th Street Station is low-density with not much going on today. However, the City plans to rezone the station area to create a mixed-use urban neighborhood in the area, and the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) is in the outreach phase. The I-5 freeway chasm represents an obstacle, limiting the walkshed to the west, where lies Haller Lake, a predominantly single-family neighborhood organized around a small lake. Pinehurst is the southeast and is again mostly single-family homes. Both areas could benefit from the development of a commercial district and apartments for residents to age in place. As it stands now, NE 130th Street does offer the best route for a bus connecting Bitter Lake and Lake City–two of North Seattle’s densest and most diverse neighborhoods–to light rail

Jackson Park consumes 160 acres in the walkshed of 130th Street and 147th Street stations, as this Google Earth image shows.
Jackson Park consumes 160 acres in the walkshed of 130th Street and 147th Street stations, as this Google Earth image shows.

The 160-acre Jackson Park Golf Course is just to the northeast of the station and represents a big opportunity considering the course is publicly owned and already requires a subsidy to operate. Moreover, with the declining popularity of golf, the City is facing pressure to get a higher public benefit out of the considerable public land golf courses consume.

Share The Cities, a collective of housing advocates spearheaded by Laura Loe, have conducted outreach and encouraged folks to re-imagine the golf course. Their efforts have made clear that the community is interested in getting better public use out of the golf course, with better walking, rolling, and biking access through the area. Reusing golf courses became a campaign issue in the 2019 election, with the staunchest opponent–golf instructor and former Councilmember Heidi Wills–losing her bid for a District 6 seat.

The 130th and 145th Street station areas are dominated by single family zoning and parks. (OPCD)
The 130th and 145th Street station areas are dominated by single family zoning and parks. (OPCD)

OPCD’s background report found 48% of the land in the station areas is single-family zoning, 31% is parks, 7% is vacant, and just 5% is multifamily and mixed-use. That’s got to change. The presence of so much public land opens up a world of possibilities. The City could do something really creative and special. And that would help guarantee 130th Street Station is a resounding success rather than a kiss-and-ride in a sea of sprawl.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The main benefit of the station is as a bus intercept, just like every other station north of Northgate. All of the Lynnwood Link stations have the same problem — too much land taken up by the freeway. But all of the stations have the potential for very high ridership because they can all be part of a larger, more effective transit network. Fixating on development next to the station misses the point: this is all about the buses.

    The main east-west corridor has plenty of apartments — not just at Lake City. There are gaps, but not that many. Unfortunately, one of those gaps is right by the station. I think everyone expects the zoning to change in that area, but no matter how the zoning changes, that isn’t where the bulk of the ridership will come from. The ridership will come from those that have a much faster connection to Link. Getting to Northgate Station from Lake City is time consuming, and routinely clogged with traffic. There are no bus lanes, even though bus bunching is common (and this is before Link is added). Getting to Northgate from Bitter Lake is worse, because of the roundabout way that it gets there (https://goo.gl/maps/zmk5a5YscasQTAxQ6). Even when there is no traffic, it takes well over twenty minutes. In contrast, a bus would likely get from Greenwood to the station in less than ten minutes. That kind of time savings lead to a lot more transit trips.

    If nothing else, it leads to more trips on the train. Without a station at NE 130th, people from Lake City just take a direct bus to the U-District, while people in Bitter Lake take a bus south, then the 44. But with a station, they use it, saving time in the process.

    That is why I disagree with the idea that this would have “not much benefit to other subareas”. Increased ridership means increased fare revenue. By my estimation, the increased fare revenue would pay for the extra bonding costs. Furthermore, more ridership means more frequent trains, which is a clear benefit to the rest of the line. Finally, there are people who work or visit Shoreline and Snohomish County. Giving those riders the option of good transit helps their business.

    It is also worth pointing out that Metro would be able to come up with a far more efficient, effective transit network with a station at NE 130th. That leads to more riders per service hour. That in turn leads to Metro being able to afford additional routes or trips anywhere in the system, from Auburn to Bothell, everyone benefits if the buses run fast, and pick up a lot of riders.

  2. If delaying station construction until 2031 means 61,000 riders will be adversely affected a la the current train switcheroo in Pioneer Square, delaying it even one year, to 2025, means exactly the same thing. Build it by 2024, like the rest of the line!

    • The idea would be that the station would be essentially complete. The only parts that would need to be done would have nothing to do with the platform or tracks, but access to it. So, for example, the station would be done, but they would need to test the escalators some more. Or maybe finish up the artwork.

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