Looking up from the platform at a set of stairs and an escalator in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.
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Making sure our passengers have working elevators and escalators is a big priority for Sound Transit in 2021.

Sound Transit working to restore elevators, escalators in downtown tunnel

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What goes down, must come back up again.

That’s the philosophy of Sound Transit’s team after taking over responsibility last month for elevators and escalators in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

As our riders know all too well, many of the tunnel’s elevators and escalators (or as we sometimes call them, vertical conveyances) are in need of repair. In fact, 57 of the 58 assets date back to 1990, when the tunnel first opened as a bus facility. They are now more than 30 years old and past their useful service lives.

The good news is that Sound Transit is hard at work to fix the out-of-service conveyances. In the coming weeks, passengers can expect to see a few at University Street Station and Pioneer Square Station coming back online.

Getting all of the conveyances up and running will take some time, but we are devoting the resources necessary to make that happen.

Check here for elevator/escalator status across our system that is updated daily

We understand that having so many conveyances down has made the passenger experience very difficult. They are just as important as other modes of transportation when it comes to moving people from point A to point B. We now consider them as their own mode, on the same footing as trains and buses.

Getting these elevators and escalators up and running is crucial, and not doing so threatens the accessibility of our transit system. Currently, 24 are out of service.

Sound Transit has a two-pronged approach to address the situation: repair and replace.

First, we will spend $3.2 million this year (and $8.7 million total over the next three years) to get to a state of good repair in the downtown tunnel – meaning that every asset is working safely and reliably.

Second, we will start the design work for an elevator and escalator replacement program that covers our entire transit system.

"We have a plan moving forward but we want our passengers to know that it’s not going to be fixed tomorrow," said John Carini, Sound Transit’s deputy director of vertical conveyances. "A lot of work needs to be done. It’s a big undertaking."

Each asset will be given a score based on age, ADA access, egress and more to determine priority for replacements and upgrades. We’ll do the design work five years before assets reach the end of their life.

In the meantime, Sound Transit has a new elevator and escalator maintenance contractor for conveyances in the downtown tunnel and has established two repair crews dedicated to the repair work, with a third on the way in March 2021.

A stringent requirement of the new contract states that parts must be procured within 48 hours and that repair crews must respond to issues within one to two hours.

Now that Sound Transit is taking responsibility for these elevators and escalators, we are going to increase communications, availability status and program transparency as well.

We will give an elevator program update every quarter, along with a monthly report on the Sound Transit website.

We have also given presentations to and sought input from local ADA groups, including an update to the Citizens Accessibility Advisory Committee

Our goal is to leverage maintenance, technology and data to keep our conveyances running safely and reliably, and to keep all passengers and stakeholders better informed.

We appreciate the input from local transit advocates who have been instrumental in helping us to understand the issues and to find solutions. Working with our passengers is a key element in designing a transit system that meets the needs of our region.

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