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Sound Transit approves opening portion of East Link Extension amid project delay

The East Link Starter Line will run from South Bellevue Station to Redmond Technology Station beginning in March 2024.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — The Sound Transit Board of Directors voted Thursday to move forward with the East Link light rail Starter Line, which will begin service in March 2024.

In January, the board voted to authorize $6 million to develop the option to open a completed portion of the East Link Extension after it was announced last year that the project would be delayed.

"When you look at it you think to yourself, why don't you put this to use?" said Sound Transit Board Member Claudia Balducci. "The tracks are there. The structure is there."

The board voted in favor Thursday to establish the East Link Starter Line. The line will run from South Bellevue Station to Redmond Technology Station.

According to Sound Transit, the $43 million to implement the East Link Starter Line exists within the overall East Link Extension budget, which is $3.68 billion. The board projects the cost to operate and maintain the starter line after opening to be $34 million, which would be included in the proposed 2024 agency budget.

The starter line will operate while work continues on the delayed segment that crosses Lake Washington.

Thirty cities, businesses and organizations wrote a joint letter in support of opening the starter line.

President and CEO of the Bellevue Chamber Joe Fain cited a study that found 65% of people in Bellevue will be regular users of the system when it is fully open.

"It's something that people really want," he said.

Balducci said the board is now looking at other parts of the line and asking if they should be opened up early as well.

Once complete, the East Link Extension will be 14 miles and include 10 new stations from Seattle to Redmond.

RELATED: Sound Transit reveals months-long delays to light rail extension projects

Sound Transit released a report last year that the opening of the East Link would be pushed back at least one year beyond the previously scheduled mid-2023 opening.

The biggest challenge the East Link Extension faced was the construction quality and durability concerns about plinths or raised concrete structures, that support the tracks. According to Sound Transit, work to fix problems with the concrete plinths on both the east and west sides of the I-90 floating bridge led to the discovery of further issues.

Sound Transit also detailed the delay of other light rail extensions in the report.

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