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Originally published | Page modified July 11, 2009 at 1:04 AM

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Sports fans to find relief at Stadium light-rail stop

It's a Seattle sports tradition: the one- or even two-hour ordeal to leave Sodo after the game, because your car or bus is stuck in traffic. Relief is coming for some fans July 18, when Sound Transit light rail begins, with Stadium Station just three blocks east of center field.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

About the Stadium Station

PLATFORM
Open-air station beneath freeway ramps. Passengers wait on a platform between the north- and southbound tracks.

CONNECTIONS
Sodo busway a few steps west. Bike route to Interstate 90 bridge, via South Dearborn Street. Walkway over freight tracks coming in 2010.

NEIGHBORHOOD ATTRACTIONS
Safeco and Qwest fields, Qwest Field Event Center; WaMu Theater.

DID YOU KNOW?
Seattle Mariners executives wanted to silence freight-train horns during the internationally televised 2001 All-Star Game, but the city threw a brushback pitch. "They're as much a part of Seattle baseball as the view of the Olympics or Dave Niehaus," said then-Councilmember Jim Compton.

Light-rail trains use a softer, clanging bell.

How they roll

Seattle Mariners fans: A 2008 survey asked how people get to the ballpark. Average attendance was 28,761 for the 81 home games last season.

Cars: 75 percent, both carpools and solo drivers

Buses: 11 percent

Ferries: 4 percent

Trains: 3 percent

Other: 8 percent, includes walking and bicycling

Source: Seattle Mariners; numbers exceed 100 percent because of rounding.

Video | Light-rail ride along

It's a Seattle sports tradition: the one- or even two-hour ordeal to leave Sodo after the game, because your car or bus is stuck in traffic.

Relief is coming for some fans July 18, when Sound Transit light rail begins, with Stadium Station just three blocks east of center field.

"It couldn't come at a better time," said Seattle Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale, who points to three major street-construction projects this year.

Politicians dropped the $4 million station years ago during a budget crisis but restored it after bids for the whole downtown-to-Tukwila segment came in low.

Commuters would be relatively few, but Sound Transit, within a decade, expects to attract 170,000 to 250,000 round trips a year using Stadium Station, mostly sports fans or concertgoers.

To help carry crowds away, the agency built side tracks to store extra trains. They'll be used the first day, after an expected sellout crowd watches the Sounders FC play visiting Chelsea FC.

The boarding platform sits between the northbound and southbound tracks, so it requires walking across rails in a crowd. Be alert. Also, there is construction scaffolding on the platform, as part of an Interstate 90 ramp project.

Sound Transit has experience moving sports fans. Last year, its Sounder commuter trains, from Everett and Tacoma to King Street Station, handled about 64,000 round trips for 26 Mariners, Seahawks and Washington State Cougar football games. The agency has published "Hawkhead" ads that rebrand transit as macho enough for NFL supporters.

Transit officials aren't hyping the light-rail/sports relationship much; they're still busy testing their new trains.

Stadium Station isn't especially large, but Mike Williams, light-rail startup manager, predicts that in the short-term, 600 to 1,000 football fans, or 800 to 1,400 baseball fans will likely use it per game, so four two-car trains (capacity of 200 per car) would suffice.

It is possible to assemble longer three- or four-car trains.

Cities such as Denver and San Diego attract massive light-rail ridership on game days but have thousands of parking places in the suburbs. While the long-distance Sounder train fills a comparable role here, with 6,233 outlying parking stalls, the Link light-rail line provides just one 600-space lot, in Tukwila. A bigger payoff comes in the early 2020s, when team supporters can converge from throughout a 55-mile, three-line light-rail network.

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

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