Keeping Eastside riders moving through major Downtown Seattle construction projects

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Public involvement coming for routes that could be involved, including but not limited to 252, 255, 257, 268, 271, 311, 540, 541, 542, 545, 550 and 554

This news release was issued jointly by King County Metro, Sound Transit.

King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit will seek public input beginning in February on options for keeping I-90 and SR-520 routes or cross-lake transit riders moving as major transportation projects affect the eastside travel into and through Downtown Seattle.

Nearly 230,000 people commute in and out of Downtown Seattle from throughout the region, with many thousands more coming to shop and attend cultural events. Over the next 20 years, Seattle’s center city is projected to add 55,000 more jobs, which will employ people from throughout the region, and 25,000 more households. All this activity places even more demands on our regional transportation systems. Changes coming to Downtown Seattle between 2018 and 2023 that will affect commuters from throughout the region include:

  • Continuing public and private construction.
  • Demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and construction of a new Seattle waterfront.
  • The long-planned conversion of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) to a rail-only facility will relocate buses that now use the tunnel to surface streets and enable light rail to extend to Northgate in 2021, the Eastside and Lynnwood in 2023 and other destinations thereafter. By 2023 light rail will operate every four minutes in each direction through the Center City, with four-car trains that can move up to 800 riders each.
  • Expansion of the Washington State Convention Center, set to begin as soon as late 2018, will also require relocation of buses to surface streets.
  • Construction of a new downtown streetcar which will connect the First Hill and South Lake Union streetcar lines via First Avenue and Stewart Street.

Changes outside downtown Seattle between 2018 and 2023 include:

  • Construction impacts along I-90 in preparation for the opening of East Link in 2023.
  • SR-520 construction impacts.

Without action, studies show the resulting congestion on downtown streets will slow cars and buses on major thoroughfares to a walking pace during the afternoon rush hour. The potential strategies that seek to avoid those outcomes include:

  • Street and traffic improvements – These include priority transit treatment through downtown, channelization, signal timing, changes to curb uses, improvements to pedestrian walkways and new protected bike lanes.
  • Transit service restructuring options – Bus routes now using the tunnel would be shifted to surface streets as soon as late 2018; others could be rerouted to connect with light rail stations at the north and south ends of Downtown Seattle with transfer to and from congestion-free light rail.

Building on a process that began in 2015 through outreach preceding the opening of University Link light rail, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit will seek riders’ input on options for keeping transit service moving, including integrating some bus routes with Link light rail service. Additionally, an effort led by the Seattle Department of Transportation in partnership with King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Downtown Seattle Association called One Center City proposes potential strategies including bus route changes alongside street and traffic improvements and other measures in Downtown Seattle.

The potential strategies involving transit routes that will be considered came from an analysis of 30 routes serving Downtown Seattle. King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit will take a holistic corridor approach in analyzing each respective agencies routes in both the SR-520 and I-90 corridors. Routes that could be involved include but are not limited to 252, 255, 257, 268, 271, 311, 540, 541, 542, 545, 550 and 554.

Changes to these routes could provide riders with access to congestion-free light rail service to Downtown Seattle at the University of Washington and International District/Chinatown stations. For example, after buses can no longer travel through the DSTT, Route 550 could truncate at the International District/Chinatown Station. Another strategy for the Route 550 after the tunnel conversion could be new surface routing requiring capital investment to improve performance.

Public involvement and input led by King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit will help identify which transit route changes receive consideration going forward. All decisions about strategies involving transit routes will be made by the King County Council and Sound Transit Board following upcoming public involvement opportunities.

Community members who want to take part in outreach should sign up to receive upcoming details. Sign up to receive more information by e-mailing fastride@soundtransit.org.