UW reaches deal with Sound Transit; light-rail work to begin in 2001

The University of Washington and Sound Transit signed a draft agreement April 5 assuring that the construction of a light rail line along the west side of campus would not disrupt teaching and research—or create more traffic congestion.

The $2.1 billion light rail project will build a line from SeaTac Airport to campus and perhaps Northgate Mall. A tunnel roughly following the route of 15th Avenue N.E. would open in 2006 after five years of construction. Sound Transit is planning stations at the Burke Museum and at the corner of 15th Avenue N.E. and N.E. Pacific St.

“The agreement protects the University’s interests and its ability to grow, while delivering a new and much needed transit alternative for the University community,” says UW Executive Vice President Weldon Ihrig.

The agreement between the UW and the transit agency was two years in the making. Sound Transit promised to protect campus laboratories from vibrations and electromagnetic interference that might be caused by the electric trains.

The agency also pledged to take care of traffic problems that might occur at N.E. 45th Street because of the line. The University wanted Sound Transit to commit to extending the line to Northgate, but the agency does not yet have the additional $415 million needed to finish that route. If the line ends at N.E. 45th Street, the UW fears passengers getting dropped off or picked up would create gridlock.

The agreement specifies that if traffic congestion increases or parking and bus service get worse, the agency will pay for steps to soften the impact. Sound Transit is optimistic that a combination of state and federal funds and local taxes will enable service to Northgate in 2007.

Sound Transit also promised to move dirt from the tunnel construction to barges on Portage Bay, rather than trucking it through the “U” District. As much as 900,000 cubic yards of dirt and muck must be taken away.

The agreement must be ratified by both the Board of Regents and the Sound Transit Board. Construction on campus could start as early as January 2001.