Sound Transit updates council on MLT light rail station progress

Lynnwood Link Project Director Randy Harlow speaks to the Mountlake Terrace City Council May 1.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council received an update earlier this week from Sound Transit officials regarding the Lynnwood Link light rail extension and in particular the progress of construction at the Mountlake Terrace light rail station, scheduled to open next year.

The main speaker was Randy Harlow, executive project director for Lynnwood Link and part of Sound Transit’s Department of Design, Engineering and Construction Management.

He updated the council on the Lynnwood Link schedule and provided a status report on Mountlake Terrace station construction. He also talked about the station’s public art installation and the bus-rail integration planning work that is occuring in coordination with Community Transit.

The Lynnwood Link project is an eight-and-a-half mile extension of Sound Transit’s existing 1 line rail service, which currently runs from Angle Lake to Northgate. The extension will follow Interstate 5 from Northgate to Lynnwood, with four stops currently planned: at 145th and 185th Streets Southwest in Shoreline, at Mountlake Terrace and at the Lynnwood Transit Center. There are provisional plans for two additional stations — one at Northeast 130th Street in Seattle and the other at 220th Street Southwest in Mountlake Terrace — but those are not currently funded.

Service is projected to begin in summer or fall of 2024, with daily ridership between 47,000 and 55,000 across the extension by 2026. Approximately 5,000 of those boardings are expected daily at the Mountlake Terrace station alone. However, Harlow cautioned that those ridership projecttions “haven’t been updated for post-COVID travel patterns, so take some of these numbers with a grain of salt.”

The expected travel time from the Mountlake Terrace Station to Northgate is 10 minutes. Trains will eventually run every four minutes during peak periods, but that is being delayed due to construction issues that Sound Transit is facing as part of its Interstate 90 East Link project. Since the trains will be stored at the agency’s eastside operations and maintenance facility, Sound Transit won’t be able to bring them across Lake Washington for 1 line service when Lynnwood Link opens.

Harlow estimated that the more frequent service would be in place by mid-2025.

Mountlake Terrace station construction is nearly 85% complete. Station finishes are expected to be complete in Mountlake Terrace by early summer, and the rebuilt  permanent park-and-ride lot located just east of the parking garage is set to reopen by September.

Harlow then shared a graphic that provided a snapshot of the construction sequence for the elevated light rail construction. “We’ve come a long way this past year despite some of the headwinds we’ve faced between the pandemic’s new normal and the concrete strike in quarter one of 2022,” he said.

Sound Transit is now in the third and fourth stages of the graphic, and is “in full swing building the stations, garages and supporting infrastructure as well as installing rail and traction power,” Harlow said.

“At this stage, we’re nearing completion of most of the physical elements, and the latter half of 2023 will see a transition to systems work and testing,” he added.

A major construction milestone occurred last May, when Sound Transit — in coordination with the Washington State Department of Transportation — removed the falsework (the temporary supports) from the I-5 overstructure that will carry light rail vehicles across the freeway.

The overcrossing structure that will bring light rail vehicles across Interstate 5.

“We have a long way to go, but getting the structure in was one of the biggest risks we identified during the planning and design stages of the project, so I’m pleased that our contractors were able to complete this scope of work safely along the way,” Harlow said.

Harlow then shared an image showing the station rendering superimposed over a site plan of the permanent park-and-ride lot.

This image shows the station rendering in gray, superimposed over a site plan of the permanent park-and-ride lot. The future Gateway Plaza site being built by the city is highlighted in orange and the existing parking garage is visible at the top right. Veterans Memorial Park is shown in the lower right and the current interim park-ride is visible in the lower center.

He also shared the following photo of the construction site, taken in late March. (The April version was take on a cloudy day and wasn’t as clear, Harlow noted.)

An aerial view of the progress, taken in late March.

Then, Harlow showed a series of images comparing early design renderings to current construction progress.

Aerial view of the station looking southwest:

The view from the I-5 offramp on to 236th Street Southwest, with the art panels visible as they cross the roadway:

The view of the station platform looking north:

The north station lobby, with the stair and escalator visible on the left side and the ticket vending kiosks in the background:

The south lobby at street level on the south side of 236th Street Southwest:

As for the station art, artist Kipp Kobayashi has developed an artwork that wraps around the stairs and escalators at each station entrance, Harlow said. “The images for the artwork were based on photographs the artist took while visiting parks and other areas in Mountlake Terrace with city staff and neighbors,” he added.

Some of the themes that Kobayashi focused on in development of the work included connections and living in urban forest. “His intent was to celebrate sustainable development and history of the neighborhoods’ wetlands,” Harlow said. Kobayashi’s work is rendered in perforating metal panels, creating crisp images that change as they are seen from different angles.

Among the activities Sound Transit plans to complete in the next few months are “the ongoing electrical and mechanical installations, finalizing the track work and getting the site restoration, paving and hardscaping dialed in,” Harlow explained. As the agency focuses on system activation, the physical work will shift more into the testing and certification activities. This includes ensuring that train operators are familiar with the new operating alignment, “as well as run time with simulated service to ensure that the system is safe for our public passengers when we eventually get into revenue service operations,” he added.

Sound Transit has been engaged in planning work with Community Transit to integrate bus service with the new rail transit line. Community Transit plans to expand its bus rapid transit Swift lines to interconnect with the light rail at both the Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood stations and to provide additional coverage countywide. Public outreach and engagement on those plans will be ramping up in the next few months, Harlow said. Later in the meeting, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright suggested the council schedule a presentation soon from Community Transit so that agency can share their planning efforts so far.

When it came time for council questions, Councilmember Steve Woodard asked how Sound Transit was progressing in efforts to collect fare revenue, an issue imentioned when transit agency officials spoke to the council two years ago. Harlow replied that the agency has shifted from a fare enforcement to a fare ambassador system, which has resulted in greater fare compliance but added that “we haven’t fully returned to the levels we were at prior to COVID.”

Councilmembers also asked about parking availability at the Mountlake Terrace light rail station and heard that there are a total of 800 stalls between the existing garage and the surface park-and-ride lot set to reopen this fall. Harlow said that of the 2,900 projected peak-hour boardings per day, 1,000 riders are expected to come by bus with about 500 people expected to walk to the station. Riders are also expected to arrive through a variety of other modes, including bicycles, scooters and taxis.

Councilmember Woodward added that community members have expressed concerns about overflow parking from Sound Transit commuters spilling into nearby Mountlake Terrace neighborhoods. “Maybe that might be the council’s responsibility to keep an ear out about whether or not we need to go to a stickering system,” Woodard said. “There might be some reasonable things we can do.”

Harlow also reminded councilmembers that those numbers are pre-COVID projections  “and we’re noticing that the ridership patterns are much less based on peak hours now as being more consistent for longer hours. We are looking, along with our bus partners, to see how to spread that out to line up with commuting patterns.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Wahl asked about what steps needed to occur for getting the provisional station at 220th Street Southwest “up and running.” For now, Harlow said, the best approach is to speak with Sound Transit’s government relations team. The station isn’t included in the Sound Transit 3 funding most recently approved by voters and Harlow said he isn’t certain if there is any work being done on a future Sound Transit 4 measure.

Councilmember Rick Ryan asked how the agency planned to address the situation of people using drugs while riding the light rail system. Harlow replied that the Sound Transit Board “is wrestling with the issue of security now particularly where it relates to drug utilization on the trains, and I’m hopeful that in the next few months you will see some improvement in that.”

Currently, Sound Transit is taking measures to try to limit drug use, “both with the increase in the number of security officers that are available to respond as well as the introduction of station agents to help on the platforms of the various stations,” Harlow said.

Councilmember Laura Sonmore raised the issue of whether the station would have public restrooms, which Harlow confirmed wouldn’t be provided, although there will be “comfort stations” for train operators. Sonmore said that the council — in early discussions about station design — stressed the importance of providing restrooms. “I’m very saddened that they didn’t go in there,” she said. Sonmore also asked about a glass panel that the council had requested be installed to increase visibility of riders entering and exiting the train stations, for security purposes, and was told that had been done.

Sonmore said the discussion raised a bigger question of what happened to the list of council requests of Sound Transit that were included as part of the project’s city-issued conditional use permit. City Manager Jeff Niten promised to research that issue and get back to the council.

Mayor Pro Tem Wahl then asked when the agency’s pre-COVID ridership numbers would be updated, so the city can have a better sense of how to plan for the number of riders expected and how those riders will be accessing the system.

Sound Transit has been debating when the right time is to update those numbers, Harlow replied. “It seems that every time we settle on the right time there’s a new shift in which employers are returning to work in person and which schools are doing the same.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg but we are hoping to do that in the near future,” he added.

In other business May 1, the council:

– Approved several items as part of its consent agenda, including a Berger Partnership design agreement for the Ballinger Park Viewing Platform and Trails Project; a consultant agreement with Otak for the city’s 2024 Comprehensive Plan update; a $125,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Growth Management Program; a seventh amendment to a contract with consultant Otak for light rail consulting services; a work order with Osborn Consulting Inc. to develop an engineering design, plans and cost estimate for the 218th Street Southwest stormwater tightline project; and a resolution to surplus public works equipment. More information about each of these consent agenda items is provided in our report on the council’s April 27 work session.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Was there discussion of the impact from the additional traffic on 236th (Lakeview Drive) to highway 99? There is a safety issue currently with vehicles not following traffic speed and passing lane regulations. Has there been more activity with “traffic calming”. The MLT police do a great job now protecting our citizenry. Most of the traffic from lightvrail will probably not be MLT folks.

    1. That issue wasn’t raised at the meeting but it should be communicated to the council if you want to send an email about it.

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