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Sound Transit Board approves Eastside light rail starter line, set to open in March 2024

August 24, 2023

By a unanimous vote Thursday afternoon, the Sound Transit Board of Directors approved a proposal to move forward on launching the East Link light rail Starter Line in March 2024. Brought by King County Councilmember and Sound Transit Board member Claudia Balducci, the plan will allow early opening of light rail on the Eastside while work continues on the delayed segment of East Link that crosses Lake Washington and connects to Seattle.

“Almost exactly one year ago, when we first learned that Eastlink light rail would be significantly delayed due to workmanship issues on the I-90 bridge, I proposed that we open an Eastside-only starter line,” Balducci said. “Today, I was pleased that the Board unanimously decided to approve this plan. This pivot from a long-established plan to adapt to changing circumstances is a testament to hard work, creativity and nimble action by agency staff, as well as the overwhelming enthusiasm by cities and community members from across the Eastside who know how transformational these generational transit opportunities will be and how important it is to open them ASAP.” 

The approved plan will open Eastside-only service in advance of full East Link light rail line completion, taking advantage of the fully completed South Bellevue to Redmond East Link light rail segment, a part of East Link light rail that was originally scheduled to fully open in 2023.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, nearly 30 stakeholders representing businesses, hospitals, cities, and community organizations wrote a joint letter to Sound Transit in support the Starter Line. Eastside cities have been making preparations for years, with complementary investments in transportation, trails and transit-oriented land use planning.

What community leaders are saying:

Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson: “For years, Bellevue’s land use, transportation, housing and economic development plans have centered on the start of light rail in Bellevue. Our employment, housing and transit accessibility have all grown in anticipation of light rail serving our region. Councilmember Balducci’s unwavering commitment to this vision has ensured Bellevue is a key destination on East Link and an economic driver on the Eastside.”

Redmond Mayor Angela Birney: “We are excited about the connectivity and reliability that the starter line will bring to the Eastside,” said Redmond Mayor Angela Birney. “This decision transforms the promise of light rail into reality, providing thousands of Redmond residents and employees the benefits of a guaranteed 10-minute commute between Overlake and downtown Bellevue.”

Kristina Hudson, CEO, OneRedmond: “With Redmond’s explosive population growth, providing cost-efficient and inclusive transit options to residents in this region as soon as possible would be of great value. “Being able to provide the option of light rail for over 8,000 residents who are already commuting within Redmond or to Bellevue is a win for our entire community.”

Move Redmond: “East Link Light Rail is about connecting communities. The starter line is an important stepping-stone in our regional transit system, by providing access for riders to jobs, healthcare, school, friends, and families. It is also emblematic of the transformation on the Eastside from car centric suburbs to transit oriented communities.”

Former Bellevue Mayor and Councilmember John Chelminiak: “This is another step forward for the cities of Bellevue and Redmond. Connecting our neighborhoods and economy with light rail is critically important and will help build ridership for the eventual completion of East Link to Mercer Island and Seattle.”

Ada Healey, Chief Real Estate Officer, Vulcan: Vulcan is thrilled with the passage of the East Link Starter line. As a major property owner in Bellevue, we are excited to know that the tenants and residents in our buildings will soon have reliable light rail service to access their places of work and homes throughout the Eastside.

Jodie Alberts, Vice President of Government Affairs, Bellevue Chamber: "15 years in the making, Bellevue and the Eastside have been patiently waiting for light rail. This time has certainly not been wasted as city officials and the business community have used this period to prepare the infrastructure, zoning, and development to make the most of this investment. We are more-than-ready for the East Link service expansion. "

Lisa Morten, Chief People Officer, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics: The East Link Starter Line is the first step in easing some of the pressing transportation challenges on the Eastside.  We are anxiously awaiting the opening of the line to ensure our employees have reliable transportation to and from our hospital and clinics where we can best serve our Eastside patients.

John Schoettler, Vice President of Global Real Estate & Facilities at Amazon: “With our presence continuing to grow on the Eastside, we’ve long supported and are thrilled to see our region becoming better connected with Sound Transit’s approval of the East Link Starter Line. Investments like this will benefit the entire Puget Sound region by connecting people to jobs, reducing car trips and congestion, and improving affordable housing developments at station areas.”

Kelsey Mesher, Interim Executive Director, Transportation Choices Coalition: “We’re thrilled to see Sound Transit find a solution that delivers much-needed transit service to the Eastside, and keeps other regional projects on track. The Starter Line will have immediate tangible benefits for Eastside communities, making them more connected and accessible. As Sound Transit continues to build out the regional transit network that voters approved, milestones like this one show the power and the promise of what we’re working toward.”

Alex Brennan, Executive Director, FutureWise: “The Eastside communities served by East Link are growing fast and urgently need more transit capacity. While we are disappointed in the delay of the full completion of the East Link connection to the rest of the light rail system, the Starter Line is a great example of creative problem solving to meet transit needs now.”