This is an archived article.

May 20, 2010

The big dig: Sound Transit construction will be around awhile

If you’ve passed Husky Stadium recently, you’ve no doubt noticed that something big is going on. With fencing all around the E-11 parking lot and large machines at work, it’s hard to miss the activity. The over-sized construction site is the staging ground for the Capitol Hill-to-University leg of Sound Transit’s light rail project. Part of the site will also become a new light rail station that will serve the University area.

At present, what you see and hear are crews readying the work space. They will spend an entire year preparing to dig the massive tunnel. First, the crews will level the parking lot to create a “table top” work area. Then, they will begin digging down to create a trough-shaped excavation. Finally, they will put the boring machines in place and start digging south.

One day shift is at work presently, a second shift will come on this summer and a third shift will be in place sometime later. Once the boring machines start, work will take place around the clock to keep the project efficient. According to Peter Dewey, assistant director of Transportation Services, an estimated 50,000 truck trips will be required to remove earth during the first three years of tunnel construction.

The contractor hired by Sound Transit to dig the tunnel will be working until May of 2013. A second contractor will start work in the spring of 2011, overlapping with the first, to build the station, install escalators, finish the tunnel interior and construct exterior improvements.

The project affects UW parking. The crews are currently using a 600-stall area in the E-11 parking lot. Eventually, when the project is completed, the parking lot will be restored and improved, and the University will reclaim all but about 130 of the original parking stalls. The new lot will be offset from the street and landscaping strips with trees will add aesthetic appeal, as well as help with the lot’s carbon footprint.

Losing the E-11 parking area for six years will have a large impact on the UW community. The 600 stalls are thought to serve around 1,000 people, and the lot has been highly utilized by people heading to the UW Medical Center and other areas of south campus. All of the commuters using E-11 had to be relocated. Commuter Services provided commuters with advance notice and offered a choice of other parking options. Three hundred of these commuters have been relocated to the new Portage Bay Parking Facility, which was expanded in part to help offset the loss of E-11 and help serve south campus commuters. Other commuters have relocated to surface lots.

Fans attending events at Husky Stadium will also feel the loss of nearby parking spaces. During Husky games, campus parking will likely be completely full.

Trucks serving the construction site will result in increased traffic on Montlake Boulevard and North East Pacific Street, as well, although construction vehicles are being rerouted around the Triangle during the day. Construction traffic is expected to increase in volume starting in August with peak traffic occurring the winter of 2011–12.

Although more traffic and fewer parking spaces may be inconveniences in the short term, the light rail is expected to serve 70,000 people daily when it opens in 2016, which will reduce traffic, free up parking spaces and provide an economical commuting option for many UW staff, faculty, students and visitors.