Last week, Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee unanimously voted to put forth a motion to the agency’s Board of Directors that sets the stage for moving up the 130th Street light rail station’s opening date, while still pushing the final approval vote ahead to 2021. The decision is intended to please both community advocates who support advancing the opening date of the 130th Street Station, and Sound Transit Boardmembers troubled by the projected $33 million accounting hit associated with the move.

Credit: Sound Transit

Initially incorporated into Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link Extension as an infill station set to open a full seven years after the nearby 145th Street/Shoreline South Station, advancing the opening date of the 130th Street Station has emerged as a rallying point for community advocates from nearby Northeast Seattle neighborhoods like Pinehurst, Haller Lake, and Lake City, many of whom have long argued that constructing the two stations simultaneously would minimize service disruptions on the future light rail line, while providing additional benefits such as better informed neighborhood planning and increased light rail access for North Seattle’s most racially and economically diverse zip codes.

The infill station would between Northgate Station and Shoreline South Station. (Sound Transit)
Credit: Sound Transit

That argument gained considerable heft this January when Sound Transit released a report revealing that construction of an infill station on the working light rail line could disrupt transit ridership for as many as 60,000 riders across the entire Link light rail system. Furthermore, the data also revealed that in the current economic climate additional expenses incurred by advancing the 130th Street Station’s completion date would have “minimal impact” on the agency’s debt capacity, or its ability to borrow the funds necessary to cover its costs. The agency is expecting the major “pinch point” in its debt capacity to be 2032, and the early 130th Street Station opening in 2025 would have a negligible impact on the debt load that year: just $6 million or 0.2% of spare debt capacity.

Credit: Sound Transit

Information gathered by Sound Transit has also provided support for the engineering feasibility of constructing the 145th and 130th Street Stations at the same time, although according to Sound Transit staff it is likely that the 130th Street Station will need to open in 2025, about one year later than other stations on the Lynnwood Link Extension line.

However, despite the strong case for accelerating the 130th Street Station’s opening date, the System Expansion Committee was unwilling to commit to its “Advance Fully” option because of lingering concerns about the impacts of an economic downturn on the agency’s ability to secure funding, as well as an unknown price tag for cost of the station, which is currently only at 30% design. Finally, Sound Transit staff also explained that this approach would potentially provide another benefit–more flexibility for negotiations with construction contractors that could drive down costs.

Sound Transit projected a "Near Term Recession" scenario suggesting debt capacity would be tighter under such a turn of events. (Sound Transit)
Credit: Sound Transit

What Does It Mean To “Advance Progressively”?

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who called moving up the station’s opening date a “no-brainer,” said that the group should consider their vote as in favor of a “hybrid option,” which lays the groundwork for the 2025 opening date, while providing opportunity for Sound Transit to adapt to unforeseen situations that could arise. Stating the intention was to “Advance Progressively,” Mayor Durkan assured the supporters in the crowd who had provided public testimony in support of the “Advance Fully” option that there would be “no delay” to the station’s opening date as a result of the decision.

Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez (Council District 5), who has been a vocal supporter of opening the 130th Street Station early, expressed approval for the decision, stating “I appreciate the need and concern for more information.”

It appears likely that Sound Transit’s Board of Directors will also pass the motion on February 27th. If that occurs, the agency will have a year to gather additional information before the agency’s leadership make need to subsequent decisions about the future opening date of the 130th Street Station.

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Natalie Bicknell is Senior Reporter at The Urbanist. She is a writer and community college instructor who lives in the Central District with her husband and two dogs. In her research and writing, she is always on the lookout for better ways of creating sustainable, diverse, and vibrant cities. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.