Congrats to Sound Transit and the small Washington suburb of Bellevue, wherever that is, on the completion of a major milestone in the East Link Extension: A tunnel under downtown has now been officially completed, clearing the way for light rail service to the Eastside to begin on schedule … or, do my eyes deceive me, possibly a little early?!?! WHAT?
Yes, it’s true. After three years of tunnel-boring and soil-moving and concrete-spraying, the surprisingly attractive East Link Bellevue tunnel is ready for its closeup. (The track inside the tunnel and the stations on either end are still not complete.) And despite the delays caused by a deadly pandemic, they were able to finish five months ahead of schedule thanks to some clever planning around the variable soils to be found in the tunnel's path. So! Who’s up for a field trip to discover the majesty of downtown Bellevue?
Not so fast, of course: service isn’t scheduled to begin until 2023. But the speed of the tunnel work is perhaps cause for optimism that things might move along faster than anticipated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if trains start running just a little sooner than Sound Transit’s cautious estimates suggested. We’ll have a better sense of just what to expect when the Northgate extension opens next year (no firm date yet) and the Tacoma extension opens sometime in 2022.
This is one of those projects for which the region’s been aching for decades — for many of us since 1992, when the extremely-90s film Singles proposed a “Seattle Supertrain” to connect the region. (Not to be confused with the NBC mega-fiasco “Supertrain,” which was kind of Love Boat on rails.) In the film, everyone laughed the idea off because people in Seattle love their cars too much. The very idea, getting grungy Seattleites to drink coffee and grow goatees in a train while crossing Lake Washington, ho ho, it’ll never happen. Well, it only took thirty years, but now at last Singles has been proven wrong. Take that, writer-director Cameron Crowe.
When it’s finally ready for riders in 2023, the East Link Extension will breeze through downtown, which means you’ll finally be able to explore an area that was previously too annoying to get to. And there are some legitimately lovely attractions across the lake, believe it or not: The Bellevue Botanical Garden is three times as stunning as it has any business being, especially in the winter with the fancy light shows; The KidsQuest Museum is a great place to bring kids when you’re on Gay Uncle duty; and don’t get me started on Mercer Slough Park. I fucking love sloughs, and soon, so will you.