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Originally published May 15, 2011 at 10:01 PM | Page modified May 16, 2011 at 11:58 AM

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Boring to begin Monday on light-rail link to UW

This week, Sound Transit will start drilling a $2 billion, three-mile light-rail tunnel to connect the University of Washington, Capitol Hill and Westlake Center.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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This week, Sound Transit will start drilling a $2 billion, three-mile light-rail tunnel to connect the University of Washington, Capitol Hill and Westlake Center.

Boring machines will work around the clock for more than a year. Trucks will carry away dirt, while others will deliver arc-shaped segments to build the tunnel walls. Then rails will be installed, and stations constructed.

The fruit of all that labor and noise is a direct line joining three of the premier transit hubs in Washington state.

The first machine will be christened Monday in a ceremony outside Husky Stadium by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff and other dignitaries.

That machine will bore the southbound tunnel south toward Capitol Hill.

A second machine will start the parallel northbound tube in June. Also in June, a third machine will start at Capitol Hill and go one mile toward Westlake Center, be retracted from a pit next to the Paramount Theatre, then return and dig the parallel tube.

The route is scheduled to open by September 2016. The new First Hill Streetcar, due in 2013, will link Capitol Hill Station to the existing International District/Chinatown Station.

Voters approved a UW line in a 1996 regional plan, but cost estimates were off by more than $1 billion, forcing delays and alignment changes.

The long-awaited route is estimated to attract 70,000 daily passengers by 2030 — even more if the agency completes three suburban lines to Lynnwood, Overlake and Highline Community College.

"As the system is completed, this is going to be a big deal," said Josh Kavanagh, UW transportation director.

Ridership estimates can go awry, as illustrated by the existing downtown-to-airport line, currently drawing 21,000 boardings a day instead of the targeted 26,000.

On the other hand, the UW campus, Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College are proven transit markets with a combined enrollment of 56,000. Two of every five UW students and employees take transit already, another two-fifths carpool, bike or walk, and only a fifth drive alone.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631

or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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