University Link light rail extension halfway finished

Sound Transit tunneling contractors Traylor Kemper Frontier pushed through the wall into the Capitol Hill station site early Wednesday morning to complete a two-mile light rail tunnel from the University of Washington. The 21-foot diameter tunnel boring machine emerged within 3 millimeters of its target as part of the University Link light rail expansion.

When complete, the University Link project will connect UW and Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle with 3.1 miles of new underground light rail service.

“Every turn of the cutterhead that emerged on Capitol Hill tonight has put us closer to fast train service between downtown Seattle and the University of Washington,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “The Board thanks and congratulates the talented companies and workers that are well on the way to delivering this long-awaited project.”

The overall $1.9 billion project is about halfway complete and scheduled open in 2016. The expansion with stations in the heart of Capitol Hill and the University of Washington will provide unparalleled speed and reliability through Seattle’s most dese neighborhoods. A trip from Husky Stadium to Westlake will take six minutes and is expected to add 70,000 riders to the system which today runs from downtown to south Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport by 2030.

The corridor includes three major universities /colleges – the University of Washington (UW), Seattle University, and Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) – with a combined enrollment of more than 50,000 students. A trip from the UW to downtown is projected to take six minutes.

The contractor launched the TBM on its two-mile underground journey from the University of Washington Station site near Husky Stadium in May, 2011. The machine, nicknamed “Togo” passed beneath the Montlake Cut and Montlake, Interlake, Volunteer Park and north Capitol Hill neighborhoods. A second TBM, named “Balto,” is still mining the second tunnel between UW and Capitol Hill and is expected to arrive in April. Meanwhile, a third TBM is mining the second tunnel between Capitol Hill and downtown. That machine is expected to arrive in June.

Each of the TBMs:

  • Weighs over 1 million pounds
  • Stretches more than 500 feet long including the conveyor system that removes spoils from the cutterhead to the surface
  • Places 21’ diameter pre-cast concrete tunnel liners as it mines through the earth
  • Was built specifically for this job

The U-Link project has become a major construction jobs driver with almost 1.5 million direct construction work hours into the project. Sound Transit estimates the project will create about 20,000 direct and indirect jobs over the life of the project.

Upcoming work

With major tunneling work wrapping up, contractors have begun mining 20 cross passages between the north and southbound tunnels. With that work complete, contractors will build a new track bed in the tunnels and begin laying the rail and communications systems for light rail operations. At the same time, contractors will finish the stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.

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