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September 26, 2013 at 3:12 PM

Sound Transit: We think we can open UW line early

Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl is looking into whether Link light-rail trains can reach Capitol Hill and the University of Washington months earlier than the official start date of Sept. 24, 2016.

An early opening would certainly be good news for students, staff and medical-center personnel who often must cram into UW-bound buses downtown.

Sound Transit leaders are feeling optimistic because there is still six months of “float” in the construction schedule after finishing 75 percent of the heavy work, including the tunnel tubes. And the $1.95 billion, 3.1-mile project is trending toward having $105 million left over, she said.

“We’ve asked our contractors for cost proposals on what it might take to move the start date up,” she told the transit agency’s governing board Thursday. In other words, spend down some of the $105 million to accelerate the work.

It’s not a sure thing. The U-Link team would need to test the trains to meet federal requirements, and satisfy the Seattle Fire Department’s rigorous fire-suppression and safety codes for tunnels. There can be glitches in train-control software that eat days or weeks.

Earl said she will report again in October or November on whether builders can deliver an early-2016 launch.

“That would be fabulous, fabulous,” said board Chairwoman Pat McCarthy, the Pierce County Executive.

Meanwhile, the agency said it plans to release the land around the future Capitol Hill Station for redevelopment in March 2016.

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: Capitol Hill, Link light rail, Sound Transit

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