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Originally published March 6, 2009 at 9:42 PM | Page modified March 7, 2009 at 1:11 AM

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Sound Transit breaks ground on 3-mile light-rail tunnel in Seattle

Sound Transit next week will start building a three-mile light-rail tunnel from Husky Stadium to Westlake Center, with a station at Capitol Hill. Work will create noise and mess for the Capitol Hill residents it will serve when it's completed.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

University Link

Sound Transit users will have quick service when the tunnel opens in 2016.

3 minutes

Capitol Hill to University of Washington (Husky Stadium)

7 minutes

UW to downtown (Westlake Center)

11 minutes

UW to International District

Source: Sound Transit estimates

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Sound Transit is ready to start building a three-mile light-rail tunnel from Husky Stadium to Westlake Center, with a station at Capitol Hill.

When the line opens in seven years, it will improve travel choices for the 70,000 students, faculty, staff and medical patients who go to the University of Washington on a typical day, President Mark Emmert said.

And the Capitol Hill stop will serve the most densely populated area of the state.

First, neighbors must endure some mess and noise.

Work begins next week at Broadway and East Denny Way, where storefronts, houses and a three-story apartment building will be torn down over four months. Later, hundreds of dump trucks will roar past a walled-off site, as they remove the tunnel dirt.

Trucks represent the sound of progress to Sound Transit, one of the few American institutions that's flush with cash.

An $813 million federal grant helps pay down the tunnel's $1.9 billion price tag. A $125 million windfall could arrive from unspent cash reserves, for the agency's initial Seattle-Tukwila line opening this summer.

And a sales-tax increase passed by voters last fall, to build future suburban lines, can be tapped now, if necessary.

"As everyone else is scaling down, Sound Transit is ramping up. That's great," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said at a groundbreaking ceremony at the stadium Friday.

More than 2,000 jobs will be created, said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council.

Major work stages:

• At Interstate 5, concrete foundations will be added at a retaining wall, where the tunnel crosses under the freeway. Work starts in June, lasts a year, and will close the I-5 northbound Olive Way exit.

• At the stadium, two giant boring machines will proceed toward Capitol Hill — as soon as Dec. 7, the day after football season — and burrow for three years. Dump trucks will work at night, to avoid crowding Montlake Boulevard.

• On Capitol Hill, a third boring machine will be launched early next year toward downtown, and drill twin tunnels, for nearly three years. Dump trucks will travel by day, arriving via Denny Way for a loop around the work zone.

• Station construction follows, until late 2015. This phase includes six months of lane closures on Broadway, to build a cut-and-cover pedestrian tunnel.

Capitol Hill, which votes heavily pro-transit, is greeting construction with a mix of uneasiness and hope.

Kristin Willis, manager of the 12-unit Capitol Crest apartments across from the station site, said she's received virtually no details. She worries about trucks that will pass her window going uphill to the site, and hopes the loads are well-covered.

"Those trucks aren't exactly environmentally friendly," she said. "You can always smell the diesel burning and all that."

Trucks will go down Olive or Denny Way with a full load, in the mix with pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and buses that disgorge riders at the foot of the hill. Sound Transit will have speed limits and operating rules, which haven't been determined, spokesman Bruce Gray said. Some parking could be removed to improve sight lines, he said.

Jack Hilovsky, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said businesses have a good relationship with Sound Transit, and they're expecting marketing help and dollars from the agency.

"I think there's great anticipation and hope, knowing that in another six or seven years, we'll have a great new line to take advantage of," he said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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