Proving that last summer’s opening of Central Link was merely the beginning of a new era, Sound Transit has extended light rail into Sea Tac just in time for the holidays.
The completion of Airport Link is by far one of the best Christmas presents our region has ever received. It’s now possible to get to and from Puget Sound’s largest transportation hub quickly, no matter how jammed Highway 518 and Interstate 5 might be.
A traveler taking Link light rail can count on being able to get from downtown Seattle to SeaTac (or vice versa) in just 36 minutes for less than three bucks.
The Port of Seattle has worked closely with Sound Transit to smoothly integrate Link with the airport, and the results are impressive. Critics had asserted that the station, once completed, would be far away and hard to get to, but it turns out that they’re totally wrong. Surprise!
It only takes about three minutes to walk from the station entrance to the terminal skybridge, and that’s going at a slow pace. The passageway through the parking garage is wide, clean, well lit, equipped with signs, and separated from parking spaces by a floor to ceiling mesh barrier constructed out of metal. Its surface is also completely level, so it’s no challenge to navigate.
In fact, the walk from the terminal to the station is nothing compared to the time it takes to walk from a concourse gate to the baggage claim, or even from one end of the terminal to the other. I did just that last week, carrying a heavy backpack and deliberately walking slowly, while looking for signage and pausing to ask for directions to get to light rail, as someone new to the area might do.
It took eight minutes and thirty five seconds to get from baggage claim No. 1 (below the ticketing counters for the international airlines at the south end) to baggage claim No. 16 (below the ticketing counter for United Airlines at the north end).
Take it from someone who’s been there: The grumbling about the station’s location within the airport is totally unfounded. Getting between the station and the terminal is easy and painless.
Building the station right up against the terminal, by the way, would have been costly and shortsighted because both the airport and light rail will be expanded in the years to come. The airport will likely grow closer to the station when the terminal is enlarged, while light rail will be extended south to serve Des Moines, Federal Way, and eventually, Tacoma. Sound Transit is actually contemplating the idea of starting work on the project now, so that it could open another SeaTac station in 2012.
Construction is already underway at the northern end of the line on University Link, which will add stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington in 2016. By the time those stations open, work on East Link will likely have begun. When East Link is completed, it’ll be possible to take the train all the way from the Overlake neighborhood in Redmond to catch a flight at SeaTac, providing an unclogged alternative to the daily gridlock on State Route 520 and Interstate 405.
In the meantime, Sound Transit will be busy making Central Link better. For instance, crews are currently smoothing the tracks in the Rainier Valley to mitigate noise. That work will continue through the end of the month. In January, the agency anticipates it will be able to start displaying real time train arrival information on digital signs hanging in all of its stations.
In the meantime, riders can check the train schedule on their mobile devices using One Bus Away (www.onebusaway.org) by using the route code 599. One Bus Away, as the name suggests, can also be used to check the estimated arrival of Metro and Sound Transit buses using either a stop number or a route number.
The next time you head out of town, consider gliding into the airport in style on Link light rail instead of driving and parking or taking a cab. It’s only a few steps from the train to the plane, and there’s no danger of getting delayed by a traffic jam.
Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute. Villeneuve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.