Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. On September 15, 1990 at 5 am, Metro commenced bus service through the newly completed Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The first routes to use the tunnel were the 71, 72, 73, 106 and 107. The 1.3-mile long tunnel with 5 unique stations was conceived in 1983 as an alternative to a 3rd Ave electric transit mall and cost $486 million. Construction began in 1987. 236 Breda dual-mode buses were purchased for the service. $1.5 million (1989) worth of public art was installed at stations.
In June of the same year: Trolleybuses returned to 3rd Ave after three years on 1st Ave during tunnel construction. The extension of the Waterfront Streetcar to the International District opened on June 23rd.
Not all routes served the tunnel from day one, it took almost two years for most of the routes that we know today to join the tunnel. In its first anniversary in 1991, the tunnel had 28,000 commuters a day and an estimated 6,200 additional people ride the buses during the day just to get around downtown. Ridership increased by 25% on Routes 71, 72 and 73, and by 22% on Route 150 between downtown and Auburn. The tunnel reduced travel times through downtown by more than half. A trip from Royal Brougham Way to Howell St used to take 20 minutes on the surface, now takes only 8 minutes through the tunnel. Later that year on December 8, the SODO busway opened, constructed for $4.5 million with federal funds from the I-90 project. On the February after, direct access ramps from the I-90 Express Lanes to the tunnel opened. These surface extensions to the tunnel allowed quicker and more reliable access from the south and east.
In September 2005, the tunnel closed for two years to prepare for light rail service as the original rails installed were not usable and with advances in light rail technology, namely low-floor cars. New signage, public address, and lighting systems were also installed.
According to Rochelle Ogershok with Metro, the tunnel now has 1,193 weekday bus trips, 725 Saturday bus trips, and 497 Sunday bus trips. Because of extended tunnel hours, there are now more riders and trips through the tunnel than before Link light rail opened. For most of its life, tunnel hours were 5 am to 7 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday. After 2007, it was open weekdays only to 7 pm.
Metro doesn’t have any special event planned for this occasion but you can reminisce about the early days of the tunnel right here.