On December 19, 2009, Sound Transit's Link light rail connecting Seattle with Sea-Tac International Airport reaches SeaTac/Airport Station. The inaugural ribbon-cutting attended by some 500 celebrants takes place before the station opens at 10 a.m., at which time trains begin regular service. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955) does the honors of cutting the ceremonial ribbon with an oversized pair of scissors. Speakers praising this long-awaited infrastructural improvement to the region include Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton, U.S. Representatives Adam Smith (b. 1965) and Jim McDermott (b. 1936), King County Executive Dow Constantine (b. 1961), and Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago. The first 14 miles of light rail between downtown Seattle and the Tukwila/International Boulevard Station had opened the previous July. The extension from Tukwila to the airport is 1.7 miles long.
Running on Time
The light rail's arrival at the airport was timely, just before the busy holiday season. In the previous year (2008), during the month of December more than two and a half million passengers came through Sea-Tac Airport. More than 30 million passengers pass through every year, and 15,000 to 20,000 employees commute to and from every day.
The Port of Seattle, which operates the airport, and Sound Transit cooperated closely on the airport station. The project included improvements to the Airport Expressway and Return-to-Terminal roadway loop. Pedestrian bridges connected the two-level station (which is partially open to the wind and occasional jet exhaust because some walls and windows were reduced to keep the project within budget) to the airport parking garage and to a "kiss and ride" lot on International Boulevard just outside the airport.
At the opening celebration, Mayor Nickels said, "It's been a heck of a journey, but we delivered on what we promised: light rail from downtown Seattle to the airport. This opens an entirely new option for travelers and commuters, and represents the first steps of a truly regional network" ("Sound Transit Opens ...").
Port Commissioner John Creighton said "[W]e anticipate light rail will be a welcome green alternative for travel to and from the airport. Using light rail will reduce air emissions and traffic congestion. It's good for the airport and it's good for our region" ("Sound Transit Opens ...").
Representative Jim McDermott compared the difficulty of establishing light rail in Seattle to the difficulty of fixing health care. "Getting started is the hard part ... My intention is to live long enough to ride this to Tacoma" ("Early Holiday Arrival"). McDermott stated that Mayor Greg Nickels deserved to stand beside former Senator Warren Magnuson (1905-1989) and Senator Patty Murray (b. 1950) for his sustained support of light rail.
For her part, Senator Murray said:
"Opening the doors to Sound Transit's airport line in time for the holidays is a great gift to residents of the Puget Sound region. This new line will provide fast and easy connections to downtown Seattle and a low-cost way to get around. This is just the latest in environmentally friendly transportation that will help ensure our regions long-term economic growth" ("Sound Transit Opens ...").
The Highline High School Band provided music at the celebration.
Riding the Light Rail
With the opening of the SeaTac/Airport Station, Link light rail, built at a cost of $2.57 billion, ran from Seattle's Westlake Center to the airport, with 13 stops serving downtown, SODO, Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, Rainier Beach, Tukwila, and the airport. The ride took about 36 minutes and the one-way fare was $2.50.
The Link line from downtown to Sea-Tac was part of the initial Sound Transit system approved by King, Pierce, and Snohomish County voters in 1996, which also included the Tacoma Link light rail that opened in 2003, Sounder commuter trains between Seattle and Tacoma and Seattle and Everett, and express bus service. Even before Link opened to the airport, construction was underway on the final light-rail segment approved in 1996, from downtown Seattle to the University District, and plans were in progress for further extensions of the light-rail system.
The next new Link light-rail stations opened a little more than six years after the celebration at the airport. On Saturday, March 19, 2016, Sound Transit celebrated the extension of light rail from Westlake Station to the University of Washington with the opening of stations on Capitol Hill and at the south end of the UW campus, near Husky Stadium and the Montlake Bridge. Six months later, on Saturday, September 24, the opening of the Angle Lake Station extended the line another 1.6 miles south beyond the SeaTac/Airport Station that had opened in 2009. Within weeks, the Link light rail, now 21 miles long, topped 100,000 riders in a day for the first time. The next light rail extension -- from the University of Washington Station near the stadium to Northgate -- was scheduled to open in 2021.