Sound Transit uses wrong escalators at UW Station, replacement to cost over $20M

SEATTLE — Two and a half years after opening the University of Washington light rail station, Sound Transit now plans to replace all the escalators at a cost of more than $20 million. A spokesperson told KIRO 7 that Sound Transit made a mistake by using cost-effective escalators that can’t handle the traffic.

“What we've discovered since then is that we need heavy duty escalators because our system is a 20 hour a day system,” Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason said. “So, we really apologize to our riders.  We realize this was a terrible inconvenience for them.”

On March 16, the down escalators stopped working and repairs took three hours. Hundreds of people waited in line to use the elevators. Many have suggested Sound Transit should just use the escalators as stairs when they break down. But Sound Transit said there's too much safety associated with using the escalators as stairs.

Instead, the agency will convert the back stairs in place now, which are designed for emergencies only. Safety features, such as lighting and security cameras, need to be added to that stairwell. Sound Transit said those stairs should be ready for daily use by early to mid-2019.

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Replacing all the escalators will happen between 2019 and 2022.

“We don't know the exact cost, but we know it's going to cost more than $20 million to accomplish this piece of the program,” Reason said.

KIRO 7 morning anchor John Knicely asked who will cover the cost.

“Well, it will be the taxpayers,” Reason said. “But the taxpayers invested in this system.  And they expect to be able to access the station in and out without any trouble.”

Reason told KIRO 7 that money will come from the existing project and will not involve any new taxes.

During the up to three years of repairs, commuters will have to use stairs for at least part of the 90-foot climb and descent.

Because of this issue, for all future light rail stations, Sound Transit will make the stairs usable 24/7 and not just for emergency situations. It will also heavy-duty escalators for future projects.