Service starts April 27 on 8 light rail stations on the Eastside as part of the 2 Line. This week, Sound Transit offered a preview inside South Bellevue Station. (Ryan Packer)

Sound Transit officials opened up South Bellevue’s light rail station for a media tour Tuesday, offering a preview of what will be the southern terminus of East Link or the 2 Line — at least until service is able to start between Seattle and the Eastside, tentatively set for next year. Planned as the largest park-and-ride station on the Eastside, South Bellevue Station is paired with a 1,500-stall garage along with a surface lot adjacent to the bus loop where riders can make local connections.

Until service across the I-90 bridge starts, the station will be a common transfer point for connections to and from Seattle, with Sound Transit’s 550 express bus continuing to operate across Lake Washington.

With less than three weeks remaining until the grand opening of the abbreviated 2 Line on April 27, anticipation continues to grow for the start of light rail service to the Eastside, originally approved by voters in 2008. Since January, train operators have been running simulated service on the 2 Line, operating close to the promised 10 minute frequencies in preparation of serving riders. At 10am on the 27th, Sound Transit will cut the ribbon at Downtown Bellevue Station, and elected officials and riders can celebrate a significant milestone in the buildout of the overall Sound Transit network.

Trains have been running simulated service on the 2 Line since January, operating at normal frequencies as if they were serving riders. On April 27, those riders will come. (Ryan Packer)

Unlike the three- and four-car trains operating on the 1 Line, the 2 Line will start out with only two car trains in anticipation of the modest demand expected in the abbreviated form. Current expectations are that 6,000 riders per day will utilize the entire eight stations between South Bellevue and Redmond Technology Stations, fewer riders than currently use Seattle’s Westlake Station every day.

Ridership projections for the full 2 Line (which will also head north to Lynnwood from Downtown Seattle) are much more robust — Sound Transit recently announced Lynnwood Link’s opening date as August 30.

Sound Transit plans to fully open East Link in 2025 and add Federal Way Link in 2026, completing the ST2 rail buildout. (Sound Transit)

For trips along the Bellevue to Redmond corridor, light rail service has the potential to be a game-changer. Once the 2 line is running, a trip between South Bellevue and Redmond Technology Stations is set to take riders only 19 minutes, compared to close to an hour right now with a required transfer. A trip from Redmond to Downtown Bellevue, two stations directly served right now by King County’s RapidRide B, will be cut in half to 12 minutes.

The South Bellevue Station, intended to be the station of choice for people trying to drive to stations on the Eastside, will likely see a drop in usage once service across I-90 starts. (Ryan Packer)

“I’m hopeful that people will see an opportunity to explore more of the east side of the region as well, by taking advantage of this,” Redmond Mayor Angela Birney told reporters. “I know it’s not the full meal […] but it’s really an opportunity for people to get used to riding light rail that maybe have never used it before, in a space where they’re used to driving, and really get them out of their cars. We also have a lot of connections for pedestrians and bikes throughout this entire 2 Line, so I think people have an opportunity to use it in a way that they maybe never thought of before.”

The 8 stations that start service on April 27, bringing light rail to the Eastside, will see modest ridership but serve as a solid starting point to get riders used to thinking about utilizing light rail for certain trips. (Sound Transit)

Much of the design of South Bellevue Station is intended to lessen the impact of light rail on the low-density neighborhood surrounding the station to the west, including the town of Beaux Arts Village, the independent jurisdiction of around 315 just up the hill. A major element of station art, a series of porcelain enamel panels imprinted with work created by Vick Scuri and inspired by the nearby Mercer Slough, serves to dampen the noise of arriving and departing trains — notably, the work faces out: at the station platform, the art is not visible.

The art by Vick Scuri along the light rail guideway also functions as a noise wall to lessen the impact on the neighborhood to the west, even if I-405 is much noisier. (Ryan Packer)

Similarly, the five-story parking garage was placed behind the station itself and two stories were built underground, essentially hiding the structure behind the station. Compared to riders who will drive to South Bellevue, walk and bike mode share at the station is expected to be very low, but the station will likely prove semi-popular with bike riders connecting from the nearby I-90 trail.

The South Bellevue Station will likely prove popular with people biking to light rail, given the close proximity to the I-90 trail. (Ryan Packer)

While corrective work for construction defects on the I-90 bridge has delayed the full 2 Line opening, Sound Transit also experienced construction challenges on the rest of the line as well. At South Bellevue Station, the entire tile flooring on the platform had to be completely redone after the agency discovered defects in its installation. Of the eight stations, six required spot replacement of tiles.

The design of South Bellevue Station, which lacks a mezzanine level, mirrors some other stations that Sound Transit has built, like Mount Baker Station. (Ryan Packer)

But Sound Transit’s Jon Lebo, executive project director of the East Link extension, said the tile work wasn’t the primary factor in setting a timeline for opening of the 2 Line. “It didn’t really have much of an impact,” Lebo said. “It meant that we were doing a lot of work, [at] quite a pace in order to get it done.”

This month’s opening may not have happened without the dogged advocacy of Sound Transit board members like Claudia Balducci, who back in 2022 pushed for the agency to study running an abbreviated line, and groups like Move Redmond. In just a few short weeks, riders will be able to get their first look at these eight Eastside stations, and that work will pay off in a big way.

Article Author

Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.