Light Rail Across Lake Washington (East Link)
* CONSTRUCTION STARTED JUNE 3, 2017 *
Overview & Background
East Link is a voter-approved project to expand light rail from downtown Seattle to the Eastside with stations serving Mercer Island, south Bellevue, downtown Bellevue, Bel-Red, and Redmond's Overlake area. East Link will connect to the Central Link light rail system already operating between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. Central Link opened an extension to the University of Washington in early 2016, and a further extension to Northgate opens in 2021. Initial construction began in Bellevue in April 2016, and on Mercer Island in June 2017.
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Sound Transit convened an Independent Review Team (IRT) to assess 23 identified safety issues related to operating light rail across the floating bridge, and sought concurrence from WSDOT and FHWA. A user-friendly citizens' guide to these resolved technical considerations was published in June 2017 by Sound Transit.
Once all construction components are complete, Sound Transit will test and open the entire East Link corridor for passenger service in 2023. Sound Transit is also conducting environmental review on a future extension to downtown Redmond.
According to Sound Transit, the Eastside is one of the region's fastest growing economic and residential centers. The job and population growth, however, is putting increasing demand on the Eastside's transportation system. East Link will provide an alternative to driving on congested roads. Because light rail trains operate in their own right-of-way, they provide fast, smooth and reliable service no matter what the weather or traffic conditions. East Link will connect directly to the Central Link light rail line for a no-transfer ride between Redmond, Bellevue, Mercer Island and the University of Washington via downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. A ride from Mercer Island to the UW campus will take just 20 minutes.
The trackway will run across the center roadway floating bridge between Seattle and Mercer Island, and will displace permanently all vehicle traffic onto the mainline roadways. To partially compensate for the lane closures, WSDOT installed HOV lanes in each direction of mainline I-90, under a project known as R8A-Stage 3.
Click here to view a video animation previewing the East Link route from Seattle to MI to Redmond (representing the 60% Design, July 2014).
Click here to view Sound Transit's East Link Project webpage.
What's Happening Now
On the weekend of June 3, 2017, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) permanently closed the I-90 center roadway to all vehicles in order to allow construction of the East Link light rail line. Learn more about expected construction impacts.
A series of public input opportunities occurred starting in 2015; click here for presentation materials and summary comments from Sound Transit's Mercer Island webpage.
On February 13, 2017, the City Council voted to take legal action that would seek to temporarily halt the closure of the I-90 center roadway to provide the City, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Sound Transit the ability to continue their ongoing negotiations about preserving mobility and safety for Mercer Island residents. Read the full press release.
NEW: On May 31, 2017, the City Council accepted a tentative settlement offer of $10.1million in mitigation payments from Sound Transit, and the lawsuit is currently suspended.
The City held a community open house in November 2016 to update the public on ongoing negotiations with Sound Transit, WSDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and to solicit input on future vehicle access to I-90 during light rail construction. Additional community listening sessions about rail issues have occurred throughout spring 2017 with various stakeholder groups. Learn more about community meetings here.
Sound Transit held its customary "Meet the Contractor" outreach open house meeting on July 12, 2017.
- WSDOT closed the I-90 center roadway on June 3, 2017 to allow light rail construction to begin.
- Construction of the Mercer Island station is expected to last from 2017-2019
- In the summer of 2018, the Rainier Ave Freeway bus station will close for Judkins Park rail station construction. Regional ST buses from MI to downtown Seattle will exit at Rainier Ave.
- East Link Light Rail is scheduled to open for service in 2023
Click here to view update to City Council on January 7, 2013.
General Presentations by Sound Transit
Click here to view update to City Council on June 16, 2014.
Click here to view update to City Council on Dec 1, 2014.
Click here to view update (primarily on Bellevue Park & Ride closure) to City Council on Dec 5, 2016
The Environmental Process
In fall 2006, Sound Transit, the Federal Transit Administration and the Washington State Department of Transportation began the environmental review process for East Link with a public scoping comment period including four public meetings held at various locations in the project's vicinity. During scoping, Sound Transit received about 300 written and oral comments on the proposed project. These comments were included in the Scoping Summary Report, which was presented to the Sound Transit Board and made available to the public in November 2006.
From 2006-2011, Sound Transit evaluated 24 route alternatives for East Link; it received more than 1,800 comments during the five year process and held 28 open houses, hearings and workshops to gather community input.
Environmental review and preliminary engineering for East Link Extension was completed in 2011. Sound Transit issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and the Sound Transit Board selected the project to be built in July 2011. The Federally issued Record Of Decisions (ROD) finalized the alignment that the Sound Transit Board selected through this work, completing the required process under the National Environmental Policy Act.
On April 5, 2017, Sound Transit and WSDOT issued an Addendum that updates the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued in July 2011 --and subsequent 2013 and 2016 addenda-- by providing additional analysis and information about the project. It describes changes in operation of I-90 high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and project refinements associated with transit integration on Mercer Island, evaluates the potential impacts of these changes, and identifies changes to mitigation measures.
View the 2017 Addendum pages here.
Click here to view the East Link 2011 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) web portal.
What is Light Rail?
Light rail is versatile and flexible enough to run at street level, through tunnels, or in elevated right-of-way, depending on individual routes. It also can expand and grow with increasing demand. Light rail trains are powered by an overhead electrical power source. Sound Transit's Link light rail vehicles offer level boarding (no steps required) that can operate singly or combined into two-, three- and four-car trains that can carry up to 800-1,000 passengers, sitting and standing.
Sound Transit's Transportation Network
Link light rail is a key element of the Puget Sound region's long-term transportation network, which also includes ST Express regional buses, Sounder commuter trains, local buses, ferries and roads.
Benefits of Link Light Rail
According to Sound Transit, here are some of the top expected benefits:
- Fast, frequent and reliable service 20 hours a day
- Exclusive and semi-exclusive right-of-way for rail transit, separated from other traffic and congestion
- East Link will connect to the Central Link line providing a one-seat ride (no transfers) from Overlake to the University of Washington via Bellevue, Mercer Island, downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill
- Reliable connection to Sea-Tac Airport
- Light rail trains are electric and do not emit harmful contaminants into the air
- Development concentrated around light rail stations promotes walkable communities, which leads to improved public health and mobility
- Light rail can carry crowds associated with fairs, sporting events, concerts, festivals, and other special events; trains can be lengthened based on demand.
Click here to view Sound Transit's full East Link project archive webpage.