This week, I’ve sketched out an Eastside package Sound Transit should consider for ST3 funding. A key element of that is the BRISK network that would connect the Eastside with fast, frequent and reliable HCT service. Today, I’d like to discuss what it might cost and what needs to happen to make it a reality.

Assuming a $15 billion dollar ST3 package and subarea equity, all of the lines described can be built. The complete portfolio of capital improvements described may, depending on the accuracy of the cost estimates, is roughly in line with the projected east subarea revenue. The cost estimates are based on Sound Transit’s corridor studies, augmented with guesstimates for additional capital investments not in their corridor studies. Those estimates are derived from actual costs from comparable projects elsewhere in the region, but some of those estimates are necessarily speculative.

No funding from the cities, WSDOT, or the Federal Transit Administration is assumed. However, Congress has shown interest in supporting high-quality BRT services as part of ongoing Federal Transportation Bill discussions, so it’s possible future funding may be available.

While the projects are somewhat differently arranged, all of the corridors proposed have analogues within combinations of corridors studied by Sound Transit in 2014 (plus the East Link extension). BRISK matches Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan with HCT or BRT as an identified service for all of these corridors.

Their mid-point capital costs from Sound Transit’s corridor studies are:

ST Corridor Study Alignment Capital Cost ($ 2013)
East Link from Overlake to Redmond $760M
I-405 BRT (Alternative A3B, I-405 Study) $800M
UW to Totem Lake (Alternative B1a, UKR Study) $210M
UW to Redmond via 520 (Alternative C1, UKR Study) $55M
Totem Lake to Issaquah + Highlands Extension (Alternative B1, B1a, KBI Study)


By Sound Transit’s numbers, that would mean a total capital investment of $3,230M. Arguably $200M or more of I-405 BRT costs should be assigned to Snohomish County, commensurate with ridership. The remaining $3,030M would fit very comfortably within a fully funded ST3 package. However, network I’ve described is more robust than the corridor studies assume. Major additional elements include direct access ramps and inline stations to improve access and travel times. These add incremental capital costs could add roughly $820M, for a total of $3,850M. That’s slightly over one-fourth of ST3 projected revenues, so just on the edge of what’s possible.

On the other hand, the least expensive rail line from Totem Lake to Issaquah, with all of the compromises inherent in the studied alignment, would cost $2,300M. That’s as much as all of the non-EastLink BRT project estimates from ST combined, with much lower ridership, and would leave many places on the Eastside unserved. The more robust version of that line described in “A Better Eastside Rail” would deliver better outcomes in several places, but at considerably higher cost.

This proposal deserves thorough study. Sound Transit, and local agencies, should focus their attention on building out a network of transit investments across the Eastside. This package of investments would provide a wider set of local and regional connections for transit riders than other ideas considered thus far. This can be reinforced by careful integration with Metro. With stepped-up Sound Transit investments in core routes, Metro can reinvest operational savings into next-priority routes.

22 Replies to “Making “BRISK” a Reality”

    1. Not to speak to Dan, but I would say, it is cheaper and covers a broader area. I’m guessing that plan would cost somewhere around five billion (or more). I don’t think that subarea could pay for it, nor do I think Seattle voters would want to chip in for any of it (including the sections that would be in Seattle).

    2. The statement of Better Eastside Rail being more expensive than the ST study needs more evidence as there are factors that both increase and decrease costs. With interlining though Bellevue that would greatly reduce costs in comparison to the study costs. The diversion in Downtown Kirkland and crossing the Mercer Slough/405 would be expensive but I think that it’s too early to make the statement the Better Eastside Rail end cost would be more expensive than ST study. Dan, I think your BRISK solution and the Better Eastside rail should be the two finalist of what to-do on the East Side.

      1. Without another crossing of the lake, I don’t think the “Better Eastside Rail” gets you much. As I said, I don’t think Seattle is willing to spend a dime for another crossing. Maybe after various other parts of the city get service, but right now they don’t want to pay money for it. Just the crossing would be really expensive, although you are right, we don’t have any hard numbers for it.

  1. So, what, exactly, does this buy? I always get confused with this. With light rail it is obvious — you are paying for a new line (which often involves tunneling) as well as operations. With express buses you are just paying for service.

    But with BRT, I have no idea. Does that include new stations, roads, etc.? If so, where? UW to Redmond costs 55 million (a bargain) while Totem Lake to Issaquah + Highlands Extension costs almost a billion and a half. Pardon my ignorance, I’m sure it is there somewhere, but I think a summary would be nice (especially if this is the package we go with).

    1. Ross: So it buys a few things. Some obvious stuff like buses and stations. In the case of the ERC, it would build out the busway.

      In the case of managed lanes (HOT or HOV-3) or other infrastructure where they benefits are shared by transit and non-transit users, it buys a portion of that expense. WSDOT and the cities build the stuff, and Sound Transit contributes a portion of the cost. The best discussion I’ve seen of it is in the I-405 BRT study documents. The “full” approach is costed at about $600 million more than the “phased” approach. But the sum of the incremental project costs runs into the low billions. (Hence why ST is only really contemplating a phased approach; they have to wait for WSDOT to catch up in order to get to the full approach).

      ST contributes to a lot of infrastructure projects that are helpful for transit. They even contributed to recent work on NE 85th St in Kirkland which is no longer a corridor they serve (maybe they still had the 540 running that way when the decisions were made).

      I don’t know all of how they come up with a division of costs. Probably a mix of science and haggling. For our number-crunching, we took the ST assumptions for any project element that was in a corridor study. We assumed ST would pick up the full cost for any additional elements we’ve recommended as the stations and ramps are more transit-oriented than the highway lanes. But if WSDOT did pick up any of those costs, it would help stretch the ST budget.

  2. I think the political part of Making it a Reality needs to be fleshed out. The costs aren’t the hard part of BRT, Actually getting the money (convincing people to vote for it) and getting it implemented is the hard part.

    I think getting center transit only lanes and the signal priority necessary to make it work from all the jurisdictions would make Bellevue/East Link look like walk in the park. Remember it was only by getting North King to pony up and get Link off the surface (the worse than useless tunnel) that allowed the project to move forward.

    And that was for a mile and change, through the most urban Eastside city, and for an actual train. You’d be taking on the entire Eastside at once, not just Bellevue, for miles and miles of ROW and for what to most people in that jurisdiction would be ‘just a bus’.

    After that you’ve got WSDOT. See Martin’s post from this weekend. WSDOT is openly hostile to transit outcomes. Do you honestly think they are going to turn an about face and start managing the HOV lanes so that they are useful for transit?

    1. As far as this corridor is concerned, I don’t think that is much of an issue. This part of I-90 moves fast and 520 (I assume) will continue to be HOV 3. Meanwhile, we will, presumably, get HOT lanes on 405, which, if they work properly, are supposed to keep things moving. It is really just I-5 (and maybe the I-90 east of 405) where the HOV lanes don’t work very well.

      I was thinking the opposite as far as WSDOT is concerned. While WSDOT has not been very strong when it comes to making sure traffic in the HOV lanes move, they have spent a fair amount of money on them. Would Sound Transit be spending money on highway infrastructure that WSDOT was eventually going to build anyway? Could this be like Seattle spending money on Metro, which simply allows them to spend money elsewhere? I’m not sure I buy any of that, but I think it is a concern politically. With rail (or a bus tunnel) you don’t have that problem, because people know that WSDOT isn’t going to build that.

  3. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see the numbers for adding the downtown Kirkland deviation from the ERC. None of the ST options considered that from what I know. The previous part skipped over a specific routing, but maybe the cheapest one would be (northbound) using Kirkland Way to head west to 3rd st, then north to 7th Ave, and then back east to the ERC. You could probably convert the curb parking lane on those streets to a bus lane (except for the northern half of 3rd St, but that’s not high traffic anyway). Still wouldn’t be cheap though, if even possible (the turn from ERC to Kirkland Way would be very sharp).

    1. You could avoid that sharp turn by taking the more direct ERC-6th-Kirkland-3rd, or even ERC – 7th South – State.

      1. 6th Street would definitely be better, but there’s no room to add any kind of bus lanes there. State St is doable since is has parking lanes right now. But 7th would have to be widened and upgraded since its a minor residential street right now. Might be the best option though. It would also allow you to skip upgrading two bridges, which would save money.

      2. So there are a few options for the Kirkland last-half-mile problem, some of which I like more than others. I very briefly described some of this in yesterday’s post.

        (i) The ‘best’ is a tunneled alignment from somewhere between Google and the 6th St crossing, northwest through downtown, then northeast to a portal north of Central where the buses could get back on the corridor around 7th Ave. That would be about a mile of tunnel, and we have not recommended this on grounds of cost. Of course, if you were to get rail into downtown, this is the only option. I think that’s one more argument against rail in Kirkland. I just don’t think they would do it. Downtown Kirkland’s a little too small to get that level of investment, so you’d be stuck with a ‘downtown’ station too far from downtown.

        (ii) Have the bus go straight up 6th St to 7th Ave, then back to the corridor. That minimizes traffic conflicts, particularly if they are smart about signal priority. It also gets the BRT close to where the future downtown development is likely to be concentrated.

        (iii) Have the bus turn on Kirkland Way to get down to the Transit Center. Better access to riders, but more potential traffic conflicts. Hence our suggestion to study that trade-off carefully.

        (iv) Have the bus exit the corridor by Google, head down 7th Ave S to State St. I don’t think it’s workable, but others have mentioned it. Too many neighborhood impacts, narrow streets, and congestion on State St. It just might be possible to get enough of the auto traffic diverted to 6th to make State St move faster. It’s already much slower than 6th St. There’s not enough ROW on State St for a good bus lane. There’s just enough room for a bus to fit on most of the street if you take out all the parking and the bike lanes. But even then, it’s very narrow and won’t accommodate turning buses or turning traffic generally.

        So our suggestion was to study the tradeoffs between (ii) and (iii), and how they can be mitigated.

      3. @Dan: I though the whole idea of a BRT was to avoid traffic and have reliable schedules. State St is completely congested (moving at 5 mph probably) during rush hour. Even if 6th St is a bit better, it will only get worse if Kirkland densifies more and Google expands. By the time the BRT is built, 6th St (and Kirkland way, if it can’t have bus lanes) may be unworkable.

        Not that you haven’t looked for a good option. I just don’t think there is one short of elevating (will never get support due to aesthetics and cost) or tunneling (too expensive).

      4. Just stop at Sixth and the ERC and build a trail alongside the creek. Maybe it needs a cover, but it would be a quiet, pretty walk.

      5. I think all of the alignment options through Kirkland could be done with bus only lanes, median even.

  4. The ultimate goal is to connect the different parts of the Eastside to each other. If we want people to choose transit and stay on their own side of the lake, and to use Link whenever it’s in-direction, then there has to be a robust transit option between Eastside cities and to Link. A slow 234/235 is not it, a half-hourly 554 is not it, and minimal bus stops without next-bus displays is not it. The advantage of this and similar proposals is they serve many of the Eastside’s needed trip pairs right away.

    A complete solution would serve all significant activity centers, and others have pointed out that Factoria is left out. But only so many projects can fit into ST3. It’s worth making a comprehensive plan now and prioritizing the projects. Then the first N projects would get into ST3, the next N projects would be first in line for ST4, etc. That would give areas like Factoria some assurance of when they’ll get onto the regional transit network, rather than just hoping it won’t be never. That in turn would make Factoria-area residents more willing to vote for ST3.

    1. I just posted a revision to this plan in the other thread, which allows for Factoria service at some cost to Issaquah: Cut the Red Line back. It now starts at Bellevue College, heads down Snoqualmie River Road to Eastgate, and takes 36th-132nd-38th to Factoria. Then it heads north on Factoria Blvd to Lake Hills Connector and downtown Bellevue.

      1. I don’t mind the cut to Issaquah service, but I’m not sure if I’m thrilled with the rest of it. It connects to the north part of East Link just fine (via the Bellevue TC) but is not very good for connecting to the west part of Link (Seattle). So a Seattle commuter working in Factoria would basically go right by the nearby stop (South Bellevue) and keep going to Bellevue TC, then head south again until they get to work. Meanwhile, someone from Seattle going to Bellevue College has an even more round about way of getting to the school.

        Wouldn’t it just make sense to go from Factoria to the South Bellevue station? That means getting on and off the freeway. I have no idea what traffic backups exist for buses heading that direction (or what HOV lanes exist). But it seems to me that this is the sort of thing that warrants investment (HOV ramps and lanes). If this does connect to Bellevue TC (and I think you can make a good case that it should) then connecting via Bellevue College would be better. So, basically, you have a bus that starts at South Bellevue Park and Ride, then goes to Factoria, then over to Eastgate, then Bellevue College, then Bellevue TC (and back again). No one would ride it end to end, but lots of people would ride it for the various pieces. I can’t think of a combination either direction that wouldn’t be reasonably popular.

      2. Metro route 241 already goes from Factoria to South Bellevue P&R. While it’s not an official “BRT” route, I-90 is pretty fast, and with the 241 suddenly becoming a feeder route for Link, rather than the 550, I can hardly see it going away.

        Today, it doesn’t get better than one trip per half-hour, even at rush hour, but it is conceivable that if ST takes over some Metro corridors like Kirkland->Seattle, Metro could have money available to run route like this more frequently.

  5. I think for this to work that some routes when ridership justifies light rail along the route the transit ways will be convert to rail transit. For routes that don’t need light rail they would become a full BRT with exclusive lanes for buses.

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