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Originally published November 14, 2009 at 12:12 AM | Page modified November 16, 2009 at 10:46 AM

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Light rail to airport to begin Dec. 19

Light-rail trains will start bringing people to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, Sound Transit announced.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Light-rail service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport begins at 10 a.m. Dec. 19, just in time to carry people from downtown and Rainier Valley to their holiday flights.

The 1.7-mile, $269 million airport extension follows the initial 14-mile stretch from Westlake Center to Tukwila that opened this summer, nearly 13 years after voters approved sales and car-tab taxes to fund a regional transit system.

"We focused on opening to Sea-Tac by the end of 2009, so that holiday travelers can use it," said Sound Transit Chairman Greg Nickels, the departing Seattle mayor, during Friday's announcement. "Also, so that those folks who are going to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler can use this system, when they come through Seattle."

The ride between Westlake and the airport is scheduled to take 36 minutes, and the adult, one-way fare is $2.50.

The walk from the station — which sits between the parking garage and International Boulevard South — is about one-quarter mile, depending on which airline people take.

After getting off the train, passengers will descend one level to the mezzanine and walk across a new skybridge into the garage's fourth floor, where a yellow-trimmed corridor leads to other skybridges at the terminal.

Baggage carts will be available at the station. Also, there will be 32 seats and an arrival/departure screen in the mezzanine, where people can wait for friends flying into Sea-Tac.

To the east, there's another skybridge and a "kiss and ride" lot at International Boulevard, where local drivers can drop off passengers for the Seattle-bound trains.

A frigid breeze blew through the station Friday morning — some walls and windows were reduced to stay on budget, so the platform is exposed to winds from the south (and occasional jet-fuel exhaust).

Though airport ridership is not expected to be high in the near term, the station allows the agency to shed the "line to nowhere" label given by some opponents earlier this decade.

Because it adds travel connections, the station "may well be the crown jewel of our transportation system," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, said Friday.

Long term, Sound Transit forecasts 4,000 daily trips at the airport station by 2030, after the regional-track network reaches Lynnwood, Federal Way and the Overlake Transit Center, near Microsoft, in the early 2020s. Especially to the south, future links should help thousands of people reach their jobs in or near the airport.

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Estimated ridership on the Seattle-Tukwila route was around 16,100 per weekday in October, showing growth but far short of the agency's near-term 26,600 target for Seattle to Sea-Tac by late 2010.

Until the airport station opens, white buses provide temporary shuttle service from the Tukwila station.

Currently, Metro Transit's bus 194 provides downtown-to-airport express service, a scheduled 32-minute ride, compared with 36 minutes for light rail, which winds through Rainier Valley. However, buses are more susceptible to traffic delays. Metro is dropping the 194 in February.

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

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