Nighttime rail deliveries to UW Station set for July 8th-14th

Images: Sound Transit Flickr feed

Sound Transit construction crews are ready to lay tracks through the U-Link light rail tunnel under Montlake after installing rails from Capitol Hill Station to Downtown over the spring. Starting Monday, July 8th trucks carrying 60′ steel rails will begin a week of nighttime deliveries to UW Station. Sound Transit says to expect a bit more activity and noise around the job site than usual, as the rails are off-loaded and lowered into the station pit. From ST:

The trucks carrying 60’ lengths of rail will approach the construction site from the south via I-5 north, to SR520 and then to Montlake Blvd. After the delivery is complete, the rail will be lowered by crane into the station box where it will be welded and then installed in each tunnel.

To minimize traffic impacts from these large vehicles, delivery will take place during the nighttime hours of 8:00 pm and 6:00 am. Sound Transit’s contractor has obtained a temporary noise variance from the City of Seattle in order to deliver and unload the rail. What to expect during this work:

  • Increased truck activity near the site. There will be approximately 6 trucks delivering rail to the site per hour.
  • Intermittent noise from trucks entering the site and from crane operations.
  • Flashing lights from trucks.

You are always invited to contact me with any questions at 206-398-5300 or For issues that need immediate attention after normal business hours, call Sound Transit’s 24-hour Construction Hotline at (888) 298-2395.

The $1.9 billion U-Link light rail project remains under budget and on time for its scheduled opening in late-2016. Here’s to hoping crews take care and grind those welded rail joints nice and smooth


Montlake Blvd weekend closure + detour


Sound Transit contractors are ready to take down the concrete formwork for what will eventually be UW Station’s pedestrian bridge over Montlake Blvd. To do so, crews will close all lanes of Montlake Blvd next to the station work zone from 3am Saturday until 5am Monday. Traffic will detour west around the Montlake Triangle, with southbound vehicles continuing all the way to Boat Street. Expect delays.


With formwork removed from the pedestrian bridge, we should then have a pretty good look at its final size and shape, despite it not opening until 2016. Once the bridge is complete later this year, UW will begin work on reconfiguring the Montlake Triangle, lowering NE Pacific Place and the Burke Gilman Trail, and building a land bridge along the Rainier Vista — thus the three years left in the construction schedule.

In the meantime, should you find yourself taking the comically long detour to Boat Street this weekend, consider spicing up the situation with some delicious tacos from Agua Verde. Or better, beat traffic across the Montlake Cut by renting a kayak? You’ve been warned.

Sound Transit thanks neighbors for patience with ‘Cross Passage 17’

Image: Sound Transit Flickr steam

Image: Sound Transit Flickr steam

Sound Transit put a ‘Thank You, Montlake’ note in its latest U-Link newsletter, acknowledging the patience neighbors showed in dealing with the Cross Passage 17 dewatering mess. Last June, 20th Ave E adjacent to Montlake Elementary was hastily closed to make way for drilling equipment to “dewater” the soil around the twin light rail tunnels below. After six months of tanker trucks, generators, pumps and pipes — peace has returned to the shire. From Sound Transit:

Thanks to the Montlake community for its patience during the construction of Cross Passage 17, which has been underway 100 feet below the surface since July, 2012.

Montlake neighbors, families and the Montlake Elementary School staff have endured the presence of large equipment, traffic and parking revisions, well drilling and other surface work for longer than anticipated.

What is Cross Passage 17?
Cross Passage 17 is one of 21 horizontal tunnels, 18-24 feet long and about 10 feet in diameter, that connect the two University Link tunnels running between downtown Seattle and Husky Stadium. Cross passages provide emergency access as well as entry and exit between tunnels for routine maintenance.

Building Cross Passage 17 became very challenging when the contractor encountered more water than originally anticipated. To stabilize the area for mining, it was necessary to remove water from the ground surrounding the tunnel to give crews a safe working environment. For more than six months, generator-powered pumps removed water from soils around the tunnels. Today, Cross Passage 17 is nearly complete and work has turned to finishing the U-Link tunnels, including installing concrete duct banks, walkways, light rail tracks, power and signaling supply lines, tunnel lighting and communications systems.

On the surface, crews recently removed equipment and restored streets. Landscaping will be completed soon in order to return the location at 20th and McGraw to its original condition.

In hindsight, neighbors — and school staff and students — were patient because they are generally supportive, excited even, about light rail coming to the ‘hood. Yet, the street closure further complicated the zoned parking restrictions around the school, causing more than a few grumbles about a bad situation made even worse. Relief may be on the way for teacher parking soon enough… and Montlakers will be able to walk to light rail come 2016.

Now that cross passage work is complete, Sound Transit contractors will start work on the track bed, including installation of those train-noise-shushing high compliance fasteners.

Previous “dewatering” posts:


UW Station starting to take shape

All images: Montlaker

All images: Montlaker

UW Station is starting to actually look like a light rail station. Much of the train platform, mezzanine level and escalator ramps are in place, so Sound Transit held a press conference yesterday to show off what’s been happening far below the surface of Montlake Blvd.

The University Link light rail line is now 60% complete, ahead of schedule and $100 million under its $1.9 billion budget, said Sound Transit board member Larry Phillips. Things are looking good for an on-time opening in the fall of 2016.

Things are also looking good inside the job site. The twin tunnels and station platform are lined with train beds and contractors expect steel rails to start arriving at the Capitol Hill site next month. Installation begins in March, with tracks arriving at UW in July.

One of the major challenges with the station’s design is its depth — 90 feet below the surface — needed for travel under the Montlake Cut. The journey to track level will take three escalator rides, four if arriving over the pedestrian bridge from campus. Elevators will speed things up a bit.



Of course there’s lots of tedious work happening too, like waterproofing walls. The station was built ‘top-down’ — meaning side walls were built as the pit was excavated. Since the platform is below the water table, the side walls hold back groundwater in addition to nine stories of geology. Crews are putting up plastic liners to block any moisture that might seep through.


On the downstream side of the station is the cross-over and maintenance area for trains terminating at UW. This area will eventually be capped, back-filled and mostly hidden from view. The bored tunnels begin here — Westlake Station is 3 miles away — six minutes at light rail speed.


Parting shot — crews started pouring concrete for the pedestrian bridge span over Montlake Blvd this week. Once-a-week pours will continue through the winter. The bridge will likely be finished long before 2016, but it won’t be usable until the university completes its end of the deal, a complete redesign of the Montlake Triangle. That project has yet to begin.

Sound Transit to study light rail on 520?

Seattle Transit Blog reports that Sound Transit is set to spend $9.76 million in 2013 to study new light rail lines for their long range plans. While not yet confirmed, Sound Transit staff say three corridors will be studied as part of “ST3”, including a line from Ballard to UW to Kirkland with options for continuing to Redmond, Bellevue or Issaquah. Presumably, crossing Lake Washington via the new 520 Bridge would be part of the study, an idea that would have significant impacts for Montlake.

To review, the current design for the new floating bridge is “light rail ready.” That means with additional pontoons attached to its sides, trains can claim the center HOV lanes — or — an additional two lanes can be built to effectively make an 8-lane bridge. That’s the easy part.

The hard part is getting the trains between the floating bridge and UW Station. A tunnel would have to transition through water — not an easy nor inexpensive proposition. An above ground solution would have to bridge over the Montlake Cut only to arrive at UW on the surface, leaving no good options to go from there. So then, how to tunnel through and then under Union Bay?

A similar idea was once planned for the never-built R.H. Thomson Expressway, as part of its interchange with SR-520 (seen at the end of this post) in the 1960s. The plan was for a vehicle tunnel under Union Bay via a massive, man-made berm:


Images from: Roy W. Morse, Worthington Christiani Fenco, 1967.

Yes, that is an artificial peninsula with a trench leading to a submerged tunnel under the shipping channel (note Husky Stadium in the upper right). Here’s a closer view:


A man-made berm, trench and submerged tunnel under Union Bay, proposed for the ill-fated R.H. Thomson Expressway. Arboretum 520 ramps in background.

Hard to imagine these days, but apparently this was possible before there was, you know, an environment (and irony) to consider. Are we prepared to do something similar to run light rail over 520? Got a better way to get Eastside light rail to UW Station?

As Seattle Transit Blog notes, Sound Transit is moving forward with this study because Seattle keeps making noises about funding and building its own in-city light rail. ST wants to preempt the go-it-alone strategy for fear it would then loose Seattle’s tax-happy appetite for regional light rail (e.g. to Issaquah). So then, if buses using 520’s HOV lanes can get to Microsoft just as fast as light rail, is it worth the expense and possible environmental disruption to run rail through Union Bay? With Sound Transit having to balance its regional mandate, don’t be surprised if they answer “yes.”

For more on the new light rail studies, see the STB post here. See also this Slog post from 2010, and its drawing of a light rail route using the Montlake Lid and a second bascule bridge to reach UW Station. This is a non-starter, not necessarily because the City delayed the bascule bridge “for the foreseeable future,” but because it uses NE Pacific Street, which UW will never allow.

Could an urban gondola solve the Montlake Mess?

Image: Sound Transit + Flickr: Selbe B

Image: Sound Transit + Flickr: Selbe B

Light rail in the far corner of campus — the 520 flyer stop a long walk from nowhere — lumbering buses merging left, blocking traffic — bus stops located far from UW Station. If transit is going to be a solution for the Montlake Mess, this tangled knot of bad connections will have to be untied. How to better move buses through Montlake? Don’t. Use an urban gondola instead.

A gondola could easily connect the 520 flyer stop on the future Montlake Lid to light rail at UW Station with door-to-door service. Imagine stepping off a 520 bus at Montlake, stepping onto a gondola car, riding it for two minutes over the Montlake Cut and arriving on the upper level of UW Station. An escalator/elevator ride down takes you to light rail below, or walk straight across the pedestrian bridge toward central campus.

Gondola lifts are proven people movers. They safely and comfortably travel over mountainous ski terrain the world over — and they’re increasingly being used in urban environments. London has one over the Thames. Medellin, Colombia has one. Portland has a cable car. St. Louis, Austin, and Chicago have considered them. Earlier this year, one was even proposed for South Lake Union.

But this isn’t just fantasy — it makes sense for Montlake. UW Station is about 1800 feet due north of the 520 flyer stop. That’s enough distance to discourage bus riders from walking — but it’s a modest distance for a gondola. A gondola’s cable system could easily sail over the clearance needed for tall ships in the Montlake Cut and it would be a lot less intrusive than a second bascule bridge. It’s the easiest way to move lots of people over difficult terrain.

How do gondolas compare as transit? Crystal Mountain ski area recently built a 1.3 mile gondola for around $6.5 million that carries up to 450 people per hour (900 with more cars added). The 1.3 mile South Lake Union streetcar cost $56 million and now carries about 2,500 people per day. Comparing capacity and ridership are apples and oranges, but the two systems are in the same ballpark — with the gondola costing a fraction of the price.

So rather than run routes over the Montlake bridge, buses could drop riders at a transit hub on the Montlake Lid, right in front of a gondola station with cars arriving every 30 seconds. Each car can carry a dozen or more people, moving an entire bus load to UW Station in a matter of minutes. What’s the actual transit ridership through Montlake? A recent Nelson/Nygaard study found 11,000 transit passengers cross the Montlake Bridge each day on some 600 buses. Thousands of those riders could instead transfer between UW and 520 along a continuously moving gondola — removing hundreds of left-merging buses from an already congested bottleneck.

Nothing like a little bad Photoshop to stir the imagination...

Nothing like a little bad Photoshop to stir the imagination…

It’s not hard to see how a simple gondola line solves Montlake’s problem of topography. A huge challenge for running light rail on the new 520 Bridge is how to connect it to UW Station — through an expensive tunnel (likely not feasible with little room for a second construction pit near Husky Stadium) or with a second bridge over the Montlake Cut? A gondola would effectively connect UW Station to a potential light rail stop on the lid south of the cut — and for a fraction of the cost of a bridge, tunnel, streetcar or whatever.

Fantasy or common sense? Extend the gondola 2000 feet north of UW Station to the E-1 parking lot and a severely underused University resource becomes a revenue-generating park-and-ride lot. A gondola station near the pedestrian bridge over Montlake Blvd NE would be a three minute walk from the HUB. A mile north of UW Station is University Village, a rapidly growing commercial and residential area. Why not just widen Montlake Blvd and run buses in HOV lanes? You could, but would they run every 30-seconds? A U-Village-to-520 gondola ride could travel 1.3 miles in 6.5 minutes with cars moving just 12 mph. U-Village to light rail in 4.5 minutes.

Connecting U-Village, UW Station and the 520 flyer stop — and possible future 520 light rail — with continuously moving transit seems worthy of study. If Crystal Mountain can build a 1.3 mile gondola line for $6.5 million, then Seattle ought to be able to do it for… $25 million? That would be roughly $75 million less than a second bascule bridge.

But the best reason for a gondola over the Cut? The view would be f*cking fantastic.

Sound Transit to remove pump equipment at 20th & McGraw


Image: Montlaker

When Sound Transit contractors arrived at 20th & McGraw back in June to install a dewatering well for the light rail tunnel below, the work was intended to last a matter of days. Today, six months later, ST announced plans to remove the pumps, generators and tanks that have closed down the street. From ST spokesman Roger Pence:

On Monday, Dec. 10, the pumps will be turned off and crews will begin removing equipment — the above-ground pipes, generators, control panels, and so forth. No Parking signs will go back up on McGraw to allow room for the trucks and equipment necessary to remove the pipe on the north side of the pavement.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, the drilling subcontractor will arrive to begin decommissioning the wells — cutting them off below grade and filling them with grout, and then backfilling the holes.

There will be a break in the work over Christmas week, but beginning the first of the new year, the paving contractor will begin replacing all the concrete street pavement panels that were cut to put the system in place. That work will require that the no-parking signs go back up. McGraw is the route for school buses (going westbound) and the contractor will allow the buses to go through without having to detour.

Landscape restoration will be the last step.

The plan comes with a word of warning: working underground is always unpredictable, so call me maybe.

In other construction noise news, jack hammering continues to be heard near Eaton Place. While the cross-passage construction that rattled so many windows last summer is complete, some of the temporary “propping” shotcrete (spray-on concrete) for that work is still being demolished.

And since leaky concrete is in the news these days, some may be wondering why water is being pumped out of the tunnels in the first place. The tunnels do in fact have an exterior waterproof lining keeping groundwater out. However, portions of the tunnel walls had to be removed to create the emergency cross-passages — and for that work water had to be pumped away from the exterior walls. This was done both with pumps inside the tunnel and with the surface well at 20th & McGraw.

Light rail service is schedule to begin at UW Station in late 2016.