Light rail through downtown Seattle will be closed this weekend. The closure preempts a longer disruption that will affect everyone traveling through the city for the next few months.
Starting Saturday, light rail will be closed in both directions between the SODO and Capitol Hill stations. Shuttle buses will fill in the gaps.
It's the first of three weekend closures during the 10-week period Sound Transit is calling Connect 2020. During this time, crews will connect the current stretch of light rail to East Link construction. The new line toward Bellevue and Redmond will intersect with the main line at Chinatown-International District Station and is set to open in 2023.
When light rail opens again Monday, riders traveling through downtown Seattle will see other changes.
For 10 weeks, trains will not run through Pioneer Square station. Riders in both directions will have to transfer trains there.
For example, a rider heading to the airport from Westlake would take a southbound train to Pioneer Square, get off, cross the center platform, and step onto another southbound train.
The shift means trains will run less frequently, every 12 minutes instead of every six minutes during peak hours. As a safety precaution, bicycles will be banned at Pioneer Square station.
Sound Transit spokesman David Jackson said the alternative would have been to shut down the system altogether during construction. The single-track method preserves some service during what Jackson says is a period of lower ridership.
"We need to get this done before the Northgate Station opens and the U-District Station opens and the Roosevelt Station," Jackson said. "Those are going to add a lot of riders to our system."
The extension to Northgate is set to open in 2021.
Transportation officials are preparing for the light rail disruptions to ripple out through downtown Seattle. Jackson says Sound Transit personnel in teal vests can help riders navigate through the stations.
The change is likely to affect other travelers, too, as people shift their habits. Buses may be more crowded; there could be more bikes on the street or more people choosing to drive.
"We really need folks in the Puget Sound region to really think about their commute," said Heather Marx, director of downtown mobility with the Seattle Department of Transportation. "And think about it not just as their individual, most convenient way to get to work, but as a decision that impacts the whole community."
Marx's advice is to consider a variety of options, including working from home or shifting hours if possible, and making plans before heading out.