Surface/Transit Option (WSDOT)

The comment thread of this Dan Bertolet post reveals some confusion about the transit aspects of the deep-bore tunnel plan and the most recent iteration (December 2008) of surface/transit/I-5.

The Deep-Bore Tunnel Plan

  • WSDOT provides $32m in mitigation funds, allowing Metro to run some additional bus service in the corridor until construction is complete.
  • The County provides $190m in capital, plus $15m annually,  to add RapidRide and peak express bus service in the corridor; create a Burien-Delridge RapidRide line; “simplify” downtown trolley bus service, and make some transit-related street improvements, all funded by a new 1% MVET. Despite of signing a letter that vowed to “support efforts” for this revenue source, Governor Gregoire jettisons it at the first sign of trouble (three weeks later) and later goes out of her way to veto a much smaller vehicle license fee.
  • An unfunded commitment to examine the First Avenue Streetcar in the context of the Transit Master Plan.


The who-pays-for-what isn’t as well fleshed out in any document I can find*, but the spending components are:

  • $30m in construction mitigation.
  • $476m (plus $55m annually) for:

Transit improvements include more all-day service than the elevated hybrid scenario. This would include increased service on Metro’s RapidRide routes for Ballard/Uptown, Aurora Avenue and West Seattle and new RapidRide routes on Delridge Way and Lake City Way. The waterfront streetcar would be replaced with a new First Avenue line between King Street and Seattle Center. Park and rides would be expanded in Burien, White Center and Shoreline. The Rapid Trolleybus Network would be expanded with new connections such as Madison Park to Colman Dock, Queen Anne to Capitol Hill, and Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill. Moderate investment would be made in other express and local routes in Seattle.

Make of this what you will, but those are the facts.

* It is, interestingly, much easier to find info about unpopular alternatives like the Elliott Bay Bridge or retrofit than live ones like surface/transit or the rebuild. See this for one take from the 2009 Nickels campaign, a take which probably isn’t constitutional.

60 Replies to “The Transit in Surface/Transit”

  1. Wow. Whatever gets built I hope we can use that planning and maybe get to the $476m (plus $55m annually) level of service improvement.

  2. “Rapid Trolley Bus”, caught me off-guard. Like you, going to Metro’s website yielded nothing, so google turned up this, which is about the only info I could find.
    Thank goodness for Blogs!
    Apparently, it’s a ‘floater’ idea for the surface option to make trolleys faster. The only meat and potatoes in the report calls for frequent headways(10 min.) or less on some routes, which is close to the current condition, and stop spacing of no less than 1/4 to 1/2 mile apart. That sounds like the current efforts to consolidate stops.
    “Rapid Trolleys” has a nice ring to it, but in reality, not much different than the current network. From a practical standpoint, trolleys must slow to 5 mph at all wire crossings, switches, etc, make frequent stops along the route for tons of ON/OFFs, follow existing city traffic, and do pretty much the same thing they do today.
    I’m all for making trolleys faster than they are now, but you can’t dress up a Clydesdale in fancy satin, and call them quarter horses.
    Give trolleys a separate lane, and absolute signal priority, and watch ’em fly!

      1. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I read “allow trolleys to go through at speeds up to 37.5mph”. I suspect many skeptics at Metro would have an even stronger reaction involving the word “Bull” mixed with another, more colorful, word.

      2. I haven’t experienced European trolleybus systems for myself so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the manufacturer’s claims but videos of European trolleys on YouTube is good enough evidence for me that they can go much faster than 5 mph through special work, at least 10 mph.

      3. I find those trailer cars interesting.

        And it’s probably feasible to incorporate the motors directly into the wheel and get an all-wheel drive ETB.

      4. We used to be able to go 10 mph through special AND go backwards, before the new and improved Kiepe trolley poles were installed. I never understood that ‘improvement’.

    1. This must be what Metro is already implementing. Stops have been or are being eliminated on the 43 and 49, and bus bulbs are being built. It’s not “rapid” but it’s an improvement.

      1. Yeah but it is more like eliminating stops that no one uses anyways. Metro still has stops about every two block.

  3. Shame on Seattle Transit Blog for perpetuating the myth that a surface/transit replacement of the current Viaduct is still and option. To consider a surface/transit option as “live” is delusional, at best.

    Transit advocates who seek to kill the current deep bore tunnel plan under the guise of supporting a surface/transit option are actually enabling the building of a bigger, more obtrusive viaduct that increases SOV capacity vs. the deep bore tunnel or the current Viaduct.

    Seattle Transit Blog has never addressed (to my knowledge) how a surface/transit option would achieve what it really needs in order to come into existence: majority support in Olympia. Mayor McGinn, the Sierra Club, and even a majority of Seattle voters could be in favor of this plan, but it is Olympia that has the ultimate legal authority and money to determine what will get built, and Olympia has said it’s either a deep bore tunnel or a new elevated viaduct. Period.

    Mayor McGinn couldn’t stop an elevated viaduct even if he wanted to. The situation is analogous to the Bellevue City Council / Sound Transit Board dispute over where the East Link line will be sited. Sound Transit has the ultimate authority to put the line where it wants; Bellevue does not have the legal authority to stop it. The same is true with regard to the replacement of the Viaduct. Seattle can’t say no, it can only try to negotiate the best deal possible. Does Seattle Transit Blog really believe a new elevated structure is better than a deep bore tunnel?

    It’s ironic seeing transit advocates make common cause with road warriors and people concerned with preserving “that view” as you drive into Seattle. I believe the deep bore tunnel is the best outcome Seattle can hope to achieve in replacing the Viaduct. And until it can be proved that Mike McGinn has the ability to convince Olympia to fund a surface/transit option, I cannot support any effort that will ultimately lead to a bigger elevated viaduct.

    1. A sensible solution would remove the viaduct altogether immediately upon utility relocation and upgrade the road system to modern standards.

      The Tunnel Everywhere Already crowd, such as yourself, is stooping to basic fearmongering about not building the tunnel now that it’s looking more likely that the tunnel will be killed. It’s panic, pure and simple.

      Were they to tear down the viaduct to build an elevated solution, the game is over even faster than it would be with this tunnel fight. The adjustment of traffic patterns would be stark, given our current roadway capacity and the general comfort Seattle citizens have with transit. The elevated plan would most certainly be stopped and state legislators would be more than happy to reallocate funding.

      Flapping your arms around about terrible gridlock, freight dying and so on? Not going to work in actual practice.

      And if traffic does turn out to be terrible and no good? Well, then we’ll work from that point. That’s what intelligent transportation planning involves. Not screaming about how it will kill Seattle to take away a luxury like the viaduct.

      1. Even people like me who support a tunnel given appropriate risk assessment and cost overrun provisions would like to see the viaduct torn down and utility relocation commencing far before the ink is dry on any tunnel agreement.

        We need to get rid of that eyesore for reasons of safety, economy, and sustainability.

      2. I agree that the Viaduct needs to be gotten rid of. Waterfront and central city freeways are in the past. I would rather see improvements to a corridor that is really needed and open up the waterrfont without spending billions on a hole in the ground. History has shown if you provide people with a better alternative then tear down a freeway, people will change their habbits. Just like with the Central Freeway and Embarcadero in San Francisco.

      3. I’m not stooping to anything of the kind. You’re giving in to a fantasy (ie The public and legislators will rise up to kill a new a viaduct) that has no credible evidence behind it. What’s the source for your confidence that this would happen?

        I support the tunnel not because I’m concerned with capacity along that route: in a perfect world where I were king, I’d simply tear down the Viaduct, massively increase transit, and be done with it. I support the tunnel because I’m concerned with the quality of place we’re making along the Waterfront and in downtown. What good are public transit investments if we build places that are inhospitable to residential and employment density?

      4. Fantasy? I’m simply stating a likelihood based on something in practice (Embarcadero, Harbor Drive, Times Square), you’re speaking in fantasy. If we kill the tunnel, then we’ll get an elevated rebuild? Not bloody likely.

        Even further into fantasy is presuming the waterfront will be a quagmire of traffic that will stifle tourism. It won’t be. If you’ve lived in any city with an appreciable tourist core, you’d recognize that traffic is a way of life. A visible and identifiable place is always well-trafficked. And it’s tourism — they don’t get going until 10am anyway and they’re back in their hotels by 5pm. You also blatantly ignore that even the tunnel dumps tens of thousands of cars on the waterfront AND diverts a great deal of truck traffic — purposely — onto the waterfront.

        But you won’t hear that out of the Tunnel Everywhere Already crowd. The tunnel is magic. It doesn’t increase traffic counts throughout the core city by tens of thousands, it doesn’t dump huge trucks onto the waterfront, it doesn’t further isolate the business districts in SoDo and Georgetown.

        Magic, I tells ya.

      5. AJ , if you’re going to respond to my posts, please read them first. Nowhere have I written that I’m “presuming the waterfront will be a quagmire.” You’re cutting and pasting arguments made against road warriors, and the continuing further by trying to insult me with the “If only you were better travelled” bromide. Stop responding to straw men, please.

        My argument is that extracting a tunnel from a hostile state legislature is, I believe, the best Seattle can achieve at this time. If Mayor McGinn could wave a magic wand and allocate the money for building a surface/transit option, wonderful. But in this situation, Frank Chopp and some conservadem legislators from districts outside Seattle hold the power to decide what will be built along the waterfront. Please address that.

      6. There has not been an elevated highway rebuild after a teardown on the east or west coast for at least 10 years, probably more like 30. I’d have to look back carefully to see if there was one, but I can’t remember one within my lifetime. The only new elevated highways on the east and west coast since the 1980s ended were built with transit requirements.

        I do not see an elevated construction getting built. If the Viaduct comes down, modern politics says it STAYS down. Washington isn’t Texas or Ohio, and even in Texas they are having trouble getting funding for new elevated highways.

    2. An elevated viaduct would not cost as much as the tunnel or have the onerous cost-overrun provision. The difference in cost could be applied later to other transit, maybe, or we could tout it as “saving your tax dollars”.

      The surface option is actually not that bad even for drivers. While people may want a private freeway on the west side, what they really need is a road that doesn’t get stuck in gridlock. The proposal has three lanes in each direction so traffic shouldn’t be thicker than on the current viaduct. And I’m sure the stoplights would be coordinated so you wouldn’t hit every one.

      If the deep-bore tunnel is cancelled, it’s an open question what would replace it. We wouldn’t make that decision for a year or two, so it’s possible people might change their mind or we’d have different elected representatives.

      I know people want a beautiful waterfront, but that has to be weighed against mobility for the rest of the city, the cost, and the political cost of opposing people who don’t want to lose a highway. There are other transit and city-improvement needs that are more important than the waterfront. The reason people don’t go down to the waterfront is not because of the viaduct, it’s because there’s nothing there except T-shirt shops for tourists, and because of the steep hill. OK, there are a few things there, but not things most people need very often.

      1. I don’t think it’s an open question at all about what would replace a cancelled tunnel–it’ll be a new elevated viaduct. The State has been very clear on this. Do you think Frank “Great Wall of” Chopp is going to switch his support to a surface/transit option?

        Also, the idea that the Legislature will re-allocate money saved on building a new viaduct into high capacity transit is very, very questionable. The State of Washington does not do transit. Where’s the coalition in the legislature to spend that money on Seattle-centric transit?

        If the transit advocacy community broadly supports a replacement elevated structure, fine. But the voters need clarity about the options actually on the table if a deep bore tunnel is killed, not the pie-in-the-sky, everything for everyone assertions being put forth on this site.

      2. If the viaduct comes down before anything else starts construction, and the tunnel is cancelled, what will replace the viaduct will be *nothing*. The traffic will simply evaporate (move to I-5 most likely). There will be no replacement elevated structure.

        That’s how it works. Tear the viaduct down and after a few weeks everyone will be saying “Why did we think we needed a replacement?”

      3. “mobility for the rest of the city”

        Is the key. And that’s not necessarily Automobile mobility but instead people mobility. The tunnel is a poor use of funds to move people, better would be the Light Rail to West Seattle and a trolley to Ballard, and bicycle improvements everywhere.

      4. The tunnel funds are controlled by the state, not the city of Seattle, so repurposing tunnel funds for transit initiatives would have to be approved by the legislature and signed by the Governor. That will not happen.

        Also, regarding your point below, the dismal state budget isn’t relevant to discussion of the Viaduct replacement, because the money raised for it has to be used on transportation projects, by law. The legislature couldn’t axe a Viaduct replacement and use it to, for example, shore-up DSHS or education. The money presently programmed for the tunnel has to be used for transportation, no matter what happens to the budget.

      5. “The tunnel funds are controlled by the state, not the city of Seattle, so repurposing tunnel funds for transit initiatives would have to be approved by the legislature and signed by the Governor. That will not happen.”

        How do you know unless you try? The 18th amendment wasn’t carved in stone by Moses. The government only changes the status-quo when we make them. They are our representatives remember.

      6. Also worth noting is that Olympia would probably be happy to spend the ‘viaduct replacement money’ on some other road projects. In Spokane, maybe.

    3. I think you miss the point of this post. It clarifies what the tunnel and sufrace/transit alternative are and are not when it comes to transit.

      1. Ok. But just as the discussion of the deep bore tunnel can’t be divorced from the likelihood of cost overruns, I don’t think any surface/transit option can be fairly discussed without also mentioning the very long odds faced in getting a hostile legislature and DOT to adopt it. The political risks of scrapping an agreement already in place for the tunnel for something that has no significant political support in Olympia are enormous. There are viaduct rebuilders just itching for the tunnel deal to fall apart.

      2. “There are viaduct rebuilders just itching for the tunnel deal to fall apart.”

        So what? They won’t get any farther than the tunnel supporters who are currently on the ropes. The economy is still tanking and with it are going tax revenues. Next year the state is going to really have to crack down on expenses and a tunnel that is in dispute will be right on top of the chopping block list.

      3. If a tunnel is nixed, the state will build a new elevated viaduct. Can we name it after McGinn?

      4. If the tunnel is nixed *and* the viaduct is demolished for safety reasons before replacement viaduct construction starts, however, there will be no replacement viaduct. Just plain nothing.

      5. But a new viaduct would be NO WORSE than what we have now. Even if it is a little wider and the siderails are higher (blocking the famed view).

    4. Agree to disagree perhaps, but last I checked, Seattle was still a part of Washington, and a significant voting bloc at that. If the state is getting so much flak–hell, our whole city council minus 1 is getting tons of flak–for supporting the bored tunnel, what makes you think that they won’t receive as much or more flak for an elevated rebuild? Up until the bored tunnel was agreed upon among 3 elected officials (2 of whom are no longer in office), the I-5/surface/transit option was on the table as a legitimate option, and it was only gaining in popularity. I get the sense that it has only gained in popularity as people are starting to realize the tunnel is turning into a fool’s errand.

      1. I don’t think there’s a popular groundswell against building the tunnel, except for the McGinn constituency (for lack of a better term) largely confined to Seattle. I think transit advocates in Seattle are raising hell with the city council, but we live in such a bubble relative to the rest of the state, that we risk conflating the views popular on this site as being held by the rest of the electorate outside Seattle. Like I wrote, I think this is a very risky assumption.

  4. There is NO REASON to kill the Waterfront Streetcar to make a line on First Avenue successful–Mr. Melone said to me himself that it is possible for the two lines to coexist, even though the line would have to be rebuilt.

    1. Agreed. If the city decides to build the First Avenue Streetcar without building the Waterfront Streetcar first, I’ll file an initiative to require the city to build the Waterfront line FIRST before the First Ave Streetcar. I personally think that the First Avenue Streetcar is a loser, since there is so much traffic on that street and without any priority (like signals and taking out parking to accommodate the line), it is just as slow as a bus. Why waste the money. anyway, I sure that the Late George Benson is rolling in his grave for his waterfront line going dead.

  5. More RapidRide trips would allow Rapid Ride to be what it’s supposed to be. It’s good to see that the city/county sees this as important.

  6. Again, people are avoiding the central problem related to Viaduct replacement: it’s not what the people of Seattle want, it’s what Olympia will decide to build in our city. This is a political problem for Seattle much more than a engineering or fiscal one. That political problem will only grow if the legislature becomes more conservative after 2010–a reasonable assumption.

    What chance does a surface/transit option have if the current Speaker of the House, our own Frank Chopp, is opposed to it?

    1. You seem to be pretty tuned to politics, so let me let you in on a little secret: Seattle will wipe out the democrat hold on this state if they lose faith in its democratic leadership. And a GOP-led state will absolutely NOT spend money on a major structure in Seattle. In fact, they’ll use it to wedge away votes.

      And Seattle is losing faith rapidly. Governor Gregoire’s lost the most support in the City of Seattle, as has the City Council. Why? Well, what issue have they been pushing so hard on? The tunnel. According to SurveyUSA, Gregoire has seen a pretty steady slide in the past few months, but she saw a steep drop over the past month, going from 38 to 33% support. Support in Seattle dropped the most out of any other region in the state.

      On the flip side of the coin, Gregoire lost 5% support and McGinn gained about 7%. Raw percentages don’t tell us much, sure, but trends do. The trend is clearly a more populist and environmentalist slant in the City of Seattle.

      Talking about an oppressive state government forcing megaprojects on Seattle, first the stadia and now a relatively new type of tunnel under the city’s lifeblood? Dumping more traffic than they acknowledge? Oops, there goes the Dem hold on state government.

      Frank Chopp proposed the most ridiculous option for a reason.

      When the tunnel goes down in flames, regardless of who holds state control after the dust settles, Chopp will say “oops, guess my options were impractical and traffic adjusted itself”.

      Dems need to be wary of their positions on things. Seattle can absolutely go it alone if necessary — the city is growing rapidly, tourism is increasing, retail is roaring back to life, major corporations are interested in us. If we have to suffer the whines of exurban dems and a handful of wonks in this city, oh well.

      More transit, fewer unnecessary roads. The end.

      1. Ok, so your argument is that Dems are losing faith with the voters mainly because of pushing the tunnel (and not the economy or the normal cyclical nature of politics, especially when one party dominates), that the legislature will become more conservative, and that will lead to: 1) a shutdown of money to any state funded projects in Seattle, and 2) more funding for transit. Seattle can go it alone forever (and ignore the state’s “necessary regional infrastructure” law that gives the state or regions primacy over local zoning decision in siting infrastructure) because things are roaring back to life in the city (tourism, retail, etc.) and the legislatures from the rest of the state don’t care about what Seattle does along it’s waterfront, anyway. Frank Chopp will realize this and reverse course by supporting a bill to let Seattle spend state money on a surface/transit option.

        Is that a fair synopsis of your argument?

      2. If it weren’t for Seattle, there wouldn’t be money for the viaduct thanks to I-912. It’s our money.

        You can argue back and forth about how we are at the whim of the state, but that isn’t so. Seattle has consistently helped push transportation funding options over the edge. It has also been thanks to Seattle that people like Governor Gregoire have been elected. In the 7th District, Gregoire’s margin was about 100,000 over Rossi. Her eventual victory was about 194,000. She currently has a 36% approval rating in the 7th District.

        You can try this hokum about how we’re under constant threat of the state smacking us down, but political realities, such as they are…

      3. “Seattle will wipe out the democrat hold on this state if they lose faith in its democratic leadership.”

        Do you mean they’ll elect better Democrats, or they’ll elect Republicans? The majority of Republicans are die-hard drivers who don’t want to pay for transit and want to lower taxes regardless of whether they’re needed. If the people who should be defending transit aren’t doing a good job, you can’t just vote in people who want to destroy transit and reallocate the money to roads; that’s not going to make things better.

      4. Let’s elect better Dem’s. But really anyone who gets it. Realistically it’s going to take work in other parts of the state where the Dem’s elected have been decidedly less progressive.

        Who knows, maybe Daniel J. Evans (circa 1970) style Republicans will magically appear somewhere and advocate for an income tax and other progressive ideas and not be wolves in sheep’s clothing like Washington’s current Attorney General.

      5. I’d say “better”.

        And Seattle has kept transit and transportation running in this state. There would be absolutely no money for any state road project if it weren’t for Seattle.

  7. From the picture, it looks quite clear to me that the surface boulevard would do more for freight than a tunnel with its north porthole at Mercer and Aurora.

    Just designate a lane each way as freight only.

  8. That’s not accurate. Only about half the project is covered by gas tax. You could fit the city streets, seawall, AND all the transit in the city’s current contribution.

    1. Fair enough. The fact that the city can pay for a surface fix doesn’t stop the state from putting either a tunnel or new viaduct along the waterfront.

      1. Yes, but the looming worsening budget crunch is a strong factor. There is much to be said about the prospect of not spending 2.x billion right now.

      2. Yeah, but they can always move the money to road projects in their rural districts….

  9. Watch out for the simplification of trolleys within downtown. I seen a very early plan that would have trolleys avoiding making left/right turns on 3rd Avenue. Thus, you would see like the 2 Madrona just going up and down Seneca and Spring Sts, and the 3/4 First Hill/Madrona/Judkins Park going up and down James St, without serving the retail core for example. Don’t know if this is good or not. any comments.

    1. The thing is you need to limit the number of trolleys on 3rd because they can’t pass eachother. So if you want higher frequencies you can’t have them all overlap downtown.

  10. both the Duke and Bertolet posts are solid.

    both the deep bore and surface/transit/I-5 options would need much better transit service. the difference between the two is how the fixed state funds are spent: the deep bore spends the funds on bypass trips; both spend funds on AWV demolition; the difference is that under the surface option, state funds would have covered more of the surface arterials, while under the deep bore, Seattle is obligated to raise funds for more of the needed surface roads. the I-5 lane continuity improvements would not be funded under the deep bore.

    the January 2009 deal between the thre executives called for the state to approve the one percent MVET for Metro. today, it would raise about $110m annually. that would cover the $15m in annual service in the AWV plans, the capital, and help fill the Metro shortfall. Executive Sims saw the fiscal crisis coming. the financial crisis and recession began in late 2008. Nickels and Sims are gone. Gregoire did support the MVET portion of the deal much, if at all.

    there is a minor parallel with the big dig; Boston also failed to fund some transit projects. one example: there was supposed to be a portal allowing connection between the two halves of the Silver Line.

  11. Warren: some ETB simplifications would be great; with new Yesler Way overhead, routes 3-4 South would avoid James Street congestion and turns at 3rd and James; Route 2 could shift to the Marion-Madison couplet to improve service to the Marion Street causeway; Route 14 need not turn at 3rd Avenue either; if done well, the changes would improve service frequency, speed, and reliability.

  12. ETB overhead to Colman Dock, any more on this? this would exclusively a 12 extension? more of the capitol hill lines? diverting some of the N-S lines to split off here?

    any plans to make somewhat of a transfer hub/bus terminus at colman dock as sort of a second southern terminus of the N-S 3rd street spine (most go to KSS and Intl Dist but some go to Colman Dock).

  13. Seattlers should question the 6-lane couplet (Alaskan Way/Western) design as shown in picture. A 2-way, 4-lane Alaskan Way could be sufficient if it is complemented with a 2-lane frontage road on the east side (pre-Crunican designs). This frontage road configuration divides thru-traffic from motorists and commercial vehicles trying to park, and 3 or 4 of the planned 13 stoplights between Pike and King Streets can be eliminated. It increases capacity and speed and reduces interaction with side street traffic.

    The wide plaza promenade idea would be nice, but is it compatible with a working waterfront? This frontage road configuration creates more curbside parking and a separate bike path. It makes possible the reinstallation of the Waterfront Streetcar Line AND east/west bus lines near Coleman Dock that reverse direction via the frontage road. The seawall sidewalk can be widened 6′ to 12′, more in some places. The original ferry landing and seawall could be extended further west.

    In defense of the surface/transit option, it has less environmental impact than the DBT because it contains the displaced traffic to Alaskan Way, instead of dispersing it to South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne, the Denny Way and Westlake/Nickerson corridors. And Alaskan Way will remain a state highway eligible for state funding, not a local road as the soon to be ex-governor claims.

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