The first of two tunnel boring machines that will dig new twin light rail tunnels from the Northgate neighborhood in Seattle to the University of Washington began mining today.
"It's great to see these machines going underground," said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine. "It will be even better when their job is finished and millions of light rail riders will sail past one of the biggest traffic bottlenecks in the state."
The machine will mine approximately 3.5 miles from the tunnel portal just south of the Northgate Transit Center to UW where the tunnels will connect with the University Link line into downtown Seattle. That section between downtown and the UW is scheduled to open in early 2016.
The $2.1 billion Northgate extension includes underground stations in the U District and Roosevelt neighborhoods and an elevated station at Northgate. The line will add major new capacity to the region's transportation system, offering fast, frequent and congestion-free service 20 hours a day. A trip from Northgate to downtown will take 14 minutes. Northgate to UW Station will take eight minutes.
The Northgate extension is expected to add more than 60,000 riders a day to the system by 2030.
>These tunnels are being constructed by the same contractors, Jay Dee Contractors of Livonia, Mich., Frank Coluccio Construction Company of Seattle, and Michaels Corporation of Brownsville, Wis., that successfully completed two one-mile tunnels for the University Link light rail project. The University Link light rail project is currently scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2016, six to nine months early, and is estimated to be completed approximately $150 million under budget.
A second tunnel boring machine is being assembled at the Northgate site and is expected to begin mining the second tunnel in October.
Over the past 13 years, Sound Transit has maintained an outstanding track record delivering major infrastructure projects. In 2009, the agency opened the region's initial light rail segment, downtown to the Airport within the budget and schedule that were established in 2001. In addition to the upcoming completion of University Link ahead of schedule and under budget, Sound Transit remains on track to deliver more than 30 miles of further light rail expansions by 2023 despite a cumulative revenue reduction of 29 percent caused by the national recession.
In 2016 Sound Transit will launch the construction of East Link light rail from downtown Seattle to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond's Overlake area. Planning and environmental work are moving forward to establish alignments for extending light rail from Northgate to Lynnwood and from South 200th Street to the Kent/Des Moines area. Following the 2023 opening of all the Sound Transit 2 extensions that regional voters approved in 2008, Link trains are projected to carry more than 280,000 riders each weekday by 2030. The projects are playing a major role in the region's ongoing recession recovery, creating a projected 100,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The region's 50 miles of light rail will serve as a critical element of the region's overall transportation system, significantly expanding its capacity and attracting riders who won't compete for increasingly scarce space on congested freeways and roads. In 2012 alone, the average Puget Sound resident spent 33 hours stuck in traffic. As growth continues, commuters could spend 300 percent more time sitting in traffic according to Puget Sound Regional Council projections.
For more information on the Northgate Link Extension see: www.soundtransit.org/Northlink