Sound Transit Board adopts plan for airport light rail extension

The Sound Transit Board today approved plans for moving forward with extending Central Link light rail to Sea-Tac International Airport.

“We made a promise to voters to take light rail to the airport and today we found a way to do that,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Sound Transit Board Vice Chair. “It took a lot of hard work by Sound Transit, the Port of Seattle and the City of Sea-Tac to make this happen. And I’m happy to say, Momma, pack your bags, we are going to the airport!”

The plan for the light rail extension locates the airport station adjacent to the fourth level of the existing airport parking garage, with an elevated walkway to International Boulevard and a pedestrian walkway to the airport’s ticket counters. The connection is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle are moving forward with designs for the light rail connection and Sea-Tac International Airport expansion projects. The planning includes accelerated construction of new roadways that will enhance airport vehicle access and make way for the airport’s continued expansion.

The light rail extension will occur without any increase to taxes paid by the region’s residents and is not subject to be affected by potential impacts to the state’s gas tax. One of the projects associated with improving airport access — adding capacity to SR-518 — is planned to be financed by gas-tax revenues. However, the timeline for the light rail connection would not be affected if gas-tax revenues were not immediately available.

Because of uncertainty about state gas-tax revenue, the Port has developed a “work around” solution to create a necessary interchange on the airport expressway that could accommodate some delay in the expansion of SR-518.

“This temporary solution would not eliminate traffic backups to the airport, but it would keep light rail on schedule for a 2009 arrival at Sea-Tac Airport. The widening of SR-518 is still an extremely critical project for Sea-Tac Airport,” said Bob Edwards, Port Commission President.

Construction of the Central Link light rail system is moving forward rapidly. Construction bids came in 6 percent below estimates, and Sound Transit remains on schedule to begin carrying passengers starting in mid-2009. The airport light rail connection — Airport Link — is scheduled to be completed by December 2009. By 2020 the system is projected to carry more than 45,000 riders daily between downtown Seattle and the airport.