University Link station

The new light rail station at the University of Washington opened March 19, allowing for fast transportation to Capitol Hill, downtown, and Sea-Tac Airport.

The long-awaited UW and Capitol Hill Sound Transit light rail stations opened March 19, attracting thousands of community members with free rides and the chance to be one of the first to take the trip.

The stations have already exceeded expectations with over 67,000 people riding on opening day, and at least 35,000 each day during opening week. Use of the new stations is only expected to go up, as opening week was considered a low traffic period due to the UW’s spring break.

To account for the higher than expected traffic, Sound Transit has added additional cars to some of the trains. Each train car is designed for a maximum capacity of 150 people, and each train has two or three cars at this time.

The $1.9 billion extension, dubbed the “University Link,” added 3.15 miles to Seattle’s light rail network, which stretches from the UW’s Husky Stadium station to Sea-Tac Airport. The project was completed six months ahead of schedule and $200 million under budget.

Five new bus routes have been added and more than 30 have changed to account for the new light rail stations, meaning fewer buses from the U-District to downtown and more routes to Husky Stadium.

“For those who were taking bus transit downtown, there are still options to do that, but less of them,” said Joshua Kavanagh, director of UW Transportation Services. “What students will find is that the frequency and reliability of the light rail just blows bus transit out of the water.”

Leaving by light rail from Husky Stadium, the trip now takes four minutes to Capitol Hill, eight minutes to downtown, and less than an hour to the airport.

As with buses and other Seattle public transportation, UW students and employees can ride the light rail for free using their U-PASS. Passengers must simply tap their Husky Cards on the ORCA card reader on the station platform prior to the trip and again upon arrival at their destination.

While correctly tapping on and off will ensure riders do not get fined for failure to pay, it also provides important data about user habits and overall traffic.

“Tapping off is very important,” Kavanagh said. “Because the fares are distance based, if students are not consistently tapping off, we [the UW] will be paying for a trip from the point of origin to the end of the line.”

These costs can add up over time, so tapping off is extremely important.

“A trip from UW to the airport costs the university about 44 percent more than a trip up to Capitol Hill,” Kavanagh said.

Seattle’s light rail network will continue to expand in the foreseeable future. A station at Angle Lake is expected to open later this year, extending the line beyond Sea-Tac Airport. The Northgate expansion, which includes a U-District station, is expected to be completed by 2021.

Reach reporter Spencer Kelty at Twitter: @spencer_kelty

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