More than 30,000 people rode University Link light rail during its first day in service on Saturday, March 19, which included an opening celebration between the University of Washington and Capitol Hill.
While locals waited for the 10 a.m. public opening, a pre-funk event took place underground at the UW Station open to government officials, transit workers, the media and a select number of “Golden Ticket” contest winners, who were granted special passes good for free rides the next two weeks that came with a commemorative ORCA transit card.
“For me, it’s just exciting to see the opening festivities, even if it’s just an hour before the public,” said Andreas Piller, who won a Golden Ticket with Anne Massey. The Queen Anne couple plans to get a lot of mileage out of their tickets.
King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke to a crowd on the platform of the UW Station about U Link’s impact on the city’s transportation system — six months ahead of schedule and $200 million under budget — and how more improvements could be possible if voters approve the Sound Transit 3 funding measure in November. Sound Transit expects to soon have a working plan for ST3 ready for the public’s review.
“We’re giving ourselves the high-capacity transit system we have always needed,” Constantine said on Saturday. “So from now on, you won’t have to sit through traffic on the Ship Canal Bridge. From now on, you won’t have to build an extra half-hour into your day just in case there’s a traffic jam. From now on, you will be able to get to where you want to be on time every time. That is the change that is coming to Seattle, King County and our region.”
Constantine was joined by student representatives from UW in signaling U Link’s launch by pressing a large button with a red arrow, turning it green and drawing in light rail trains for the inaugural 3.15-mile ride to Capitol Hill. Many throughout the day timed the trip — advertised as four minutes — coming in either on time or often faster.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was joined by husband, Michael Shiosaki, in pulling the ceremonial cord to open the Capitol Hill Station, but not before first clarifying he did not choose the music choice. That turned out to be “Celebration,” by Kool & The Gang.
“Today we celebrate and tomorrow we go to work and we pass Sound Transit 3, so we can get on the station in Capitol Hill and go to West Seattle or Ballard,” Murray said.
Sheila Edwards Lange, interim president at Seattle Central College, which is just down the street from the Broadway and Denny entrance to the Capitol Hill Station and also now has the First Hill Streetcar passing by, expressed her enthusiasm for the U Link opening.
“This is a very exciting day for the college and, in case you didn’t know, one of the entrances is right next to our college,” she said. “We have 16,000 students and another thousand employees who will use this light rail to get back and forth.”
Murray addressed another crowd once topside at the Capitol Hill Station, where eager transit riders had already began lining up for the official 10 a.m. opening. A number of them were invited to stand behind officials as they performed the station’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This is what we’re building in Seattle. We’re building neighborhoods that you can walk in. We’re building neighborhoods with great transit,” Murray said. “And right where we are, there will be affordable housing and open space. That’s the future.”
Murray added U Link took seven years to complete by union laborers, and without any serious injuries.
“I think this is huge,” Massey said. “It’s predictable every time … It’s more fun than the bus.”
Since the opening on Saturday, commuters have been expressing their excitement about having U Link as a new option for getting to and from work. King County Metro will be making a series of bus changes on Saturday, March 26, that are expected to better pair with light rail service.
The Red Wall was put up by Sound Transit as a temporary art piece during construction at the Capitol Hill Station, but was removed last summer to allow a contractor to begin restoring the area around the station.
Through Seattle Central’s Wood Technology Center and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, the Red Wall returned in commemorative pieces on Saturday. The chamber ran a promotion during launch day, where people who spent $5 or more at any Broadway area business could bring their receipt to the chamber’s booth at the station’s event pavilion and receive a small magnetic piece of the wall embossed with a star.
“Starting at 9:05, these things started flying,” said Sierra Hansen, chamber executive director.
Hansen said the Wood Technology Center was able to provide the chamber with 1,100 Red Wall pieces.
On site during Saturday’s U Link launch party were representatives from Gerding Edlen, the developer tapped by Sound Transit to lead the construction of transit-oriented development around the Capitol Hill Station, and Capitol Hill Housing, which will co-develop one of four buildings to be 100-percent affordable housing.
Gerding Edlen partner Jill Sherman told the Capitol Hill Times the developer is nearing finalization of its negotiations with Sound Transit before design work begins.
“We’re so close; we’re almost there,” she said. “We are just finalizing our agreement with Sound Transit.”
The project calls for the construction of 430 apartments, with 169 at below market rate. One building will have 20 percent of its units at 65-85 percent of the market rate in order to take advantage of the city’s multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) program, Sherman said.
The design and entitlement process is estimated to take 18 months to complete, followed by another 18 months of construction, she said, adding it will take careful coordination with Sound Transit to keep light rail running during construction.
Capitol Hill Champion received a Small & Simple Projects Fund grant of $10,000 late last year to engage the community to conduct outreach and collect feedback to assist with design and implementation of the transit-oriented development (TOD) project.
While there has been some concerns raised in the community, including from Seattle District 3 Councilwoman Kshama Sawant about the potential for New Seasons to be the anchor grocery tenant at the TOD site because it is not unionized, Sherman said the developer is exploring a number of grocery stores and no lease has been signed.
“New Seasons is a very well loved and well respected company in Portland,” she said, “ but that’s what the concern has been expressed about.”
Sherman added the grocery tenant Gerding Edlen has in mind would provide quality and be able to find ways of working creatively with smaller retailers within the development.