Keeping Downtown Seattle Moving: Partners mark on-time completion of Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel retrofit

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Sound Transit, King County, the City of Seattle, and Community Transit officials today celebrated the on-time completion of the two-year Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) retrofit project for future light rail service and the September 24 tunnel reopening for bus service.

The tunnel, which is owned and operated by King County Metro Transit, was closed Sept. 24, 2005, to allow Sound Transit contractors to retrofit it for use by both buses and light rail trains. The work was scheduled to take two years. The tunnel will reopen to King County Metro and Sound Transit buses on Monday, Sept. 24 – two years to the day after it closed.

“The reopening of the tunnel equipped for joint operation of buses and light rail is a major milestone in our efforts to provide the region with an efficient, modern, integrated mass transit system that incorporates all modes and methods," said King County Executive and Sound Transit Board member Ron Sims. "It improves the regional system we have today and opens the door for the next generation of mass transit.”

“We are proud to say we delivered on our promises to downtown Seattle and the region to get this work done on time,” said Sims, who was the Sound Transit Board Chair during planning for the tunnel closure.

The retrofit included lowering the roadbed in the stations to accommodate level boarding for passengers using either trains or buses, and installing new electrical, communications, and safety systems. For example, inside the tunnel passengers will benefit from better lighting and signage, more security cameras, and a new public announcement system.

The DSTT retrofit also included excavating a new 550-foot extension to the tunnel under Pine Street. This new “stub” tunnel will be the launching point for the 3.1-mile University Link project, which will dig twin light rail tunnels to stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.

During the tunnel closure, Sound Transit, King County Metro, the City of Seattle and Community Transit coordinated efforts to keep downtown Seattle moving. These efforts included funding a $16 million package of mitigation projects to help promote downtown businesses and dedicating Third Avenue as a transit-priority corridor during peak-commute hours. Other steps included improving traffic signal systems downtown, and street work at the north and south ends of downtown to help move buses and cars through the downtown core.

“The efforts we put into keeping downtown moving during the tunnel closure worked for commuters and for downtown businesses. This project is a great success story,” said Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit Board member Greg Nickels.

"Reopening this tunnel on time shows once again that Sound Transit is a leader in delivering new transportation options to our region," said Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair John Ladenburg. "The momentum continues for Link light rail service in 2009."

“With the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel back in service, our transit network is better than ever before,” said King County Councilmember and Sound Transit Board Member Larry Phillips. “We’ve added more conveniences for passengers such as more dedicated transit lanes and increased service frequency. Soon commuters will have even more transit options in Link light rail and the South Lake Union Streetcar.”

When the tunnel reopens, 18 bus routes will operate in it Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Metro is also taking the opportunity to make changes to some surface-street bus routes to balance traffic volumes and relieve congestion in the downtown Seattle core – particularly during peak commute times. More than 20 routes will be moved to Third Avenue to take advantage of the transit priority corridor. These, and other changes, will reduce the number of buses on First, Second, Fourth and Fifth avenues, and improve the flow of all traffic.

“Today marks another major milestone in the evolution of Seattle’s center city,” said Downtown Seattle Association Board Chair John Hanley. “Downtown Seattle is the economic engine and heart of the region, and now with growing transit options, it’s becoming more accessible to everyone.”

In two years, Link light rail service will join buses in the downtown tunnel. Sound Transit’s 15.6-mile Link light rail project is 78 percent complete between downtown Seattle and Tukwila and is scheduled to open for service in July 2009 with an extension to Sea-Tac International Airport opening in December 2009. The line is expected to carry more than 45,000 riders a day by 2020 between downtown and the airport.

Sound Transit plans to begin construction activities for the University Link project by late 2008. The Federal Transit Administration has given the project its highest rating in the competitive process to secure federal funding. Sound Transit is seeking $750 million in federal funding for building the extension in combination with existing local taxes.


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Sound Transit’s regional network of express buses, commuter rail, light rail and transit facilities connects communities in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.