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New light-rail stations now open at U District, Roosevelt and Northgate


Sound Transit’s light-rail trains arrived early Saturday to take riders from Northgate to the airport, carry families from Roosevelt Station into downtown, and scoop up college students from the U District Station to shifts at weekend jobs.

John Williams, a University of Washington student studying biology and physiology, said the new U District Station will allow him to sleep in another half hour before heading off to work at Chipotle near Westlake Center.

Calling the new light-rail extension a “game-changer,” he said this new commute will be “much more convenient.”

Saturday’s startup of the $1.9 billion, 4.3-mile transit extension marks a milestone in the history of Seattle, some 25 years after voters passed the first of three Sound Transit tax measures to build a regional high-capacity system.

The first train left Northgate Station at its scheduled time of 4:51 a.m. to cheers from passengers on the platform. About 150 people boarded the first train, according to Sound Transit. Rail cars will remain on the normal weekend frequency of trips every 10 minutes, except early mornings and late nights.

Trains will arrive every eight minutes during peak commute hours. In a non-pandemic era, ideal capacity would be just over 600 riders per four-car train.

A few dozen people per train boarded at Northgate Station early Saturday as southbound traffic on Interstate 5 grew congested during closures in Sodo for deck repairs.

Jeff Foster, of Lake Forest Park, took light rail from Northgate to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for a speaking trip in Dallas. His family dropped him off at Northgate instead of the Husky Stadium Station, saving him 15 to 20 minutes each way on his trip.

Foster applauded the new transit but grumbled about the project’s price tag.

“I think it’s a ridiculous amount of money we’ve spent on this,” he said, “But just about every great city — Chicago, D.C., Paris, Shanghai, New York — all have great transit systems. We’re late to the game, but it will be really great for the region.”

At Northgate Station, a new walk-bike bridge over Interstate 5 was dedicated as the John Lewis Memorial Bridge, honoring the late civil-rights leader and congressman from Atlanta.

Riders on Saturday can also stop for music and food on University Way Northeast, next to the new U District Station, through 8 p.m.

The three stations were projected a decade ago to add about 45,000 daily passengers to the 80,000 boardings south of U District Station. Apartments and offices are being built faster than expected when ridership projections were made, but COVID-19 and work-from-home trends could reduce transit demand.

Many bus routes are being changed to end at light-rail stations, so many riders will take both a bus and a train to reach their destinations. Some bus routes are being eliminated, notably freeway Route 41 in North Seattle.

Sound Transit recently replaced its fare-enforcement officers with “fare ambassadors” who will help nonpaying riders obtain ORCA fare cards.

Concrete tracks and columns are under construction far north of Northgate Station, but that 8.5-mile segment to Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood won’t open until 2024.

Heading to class, University of Washington graduate student Caitlin O’Morchoe said she was “stoked” about the new light-rail line. She lives in Maple Leaf and boarded at Northgate Station, saying the transfer process from the bus to the train was “so easy.”

Opening day faced a few early-morning snags.

Escalators were closed in the U District station near the entrance along Brooklyn Avenue Northeast, a frequent issue at stations throughout the system.

Travis Buck, 37, complained that Sound Transit’s announcements within the U District station could be heard from inside his apartment at University Manor.

In general, he’s looking forward to taking the train from the U District to the airport but said noise from the station every four minutes was annoying.

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