Let’s be honest, the spine will get built in one way or another with rail from one end to the other. However, we are continuing to focus on poor light rail alignments and using a technology not suited for the distances. So what do we currently have?
Sounder: North Line currently has a run time of 59 minutes with two stops at Mukilteo and Edmonds. These stations connect ferry commuters and locals in the area but ridership simply does not fill the trains. The reliability during the fall and spring leads to many cancellations therefore fewer people ride it. It does serve a different purpose than a Link
Express Bus Routes: If you look at current travel times from Lynnwood to Seattle and Everett to Seattle not just during rush hour but from rush hour until 7 to 8 pm at night. The 512 still takes an hour to travel downtown but reliability is affected by freeway performance and traffic on Seattle’s streets. After utilizing the 545 from Redmond yesterday, we were allowed to deboard before Pine and I made the decision to use the bus tunnel to avoid all the traffic at the surface on 5th. One accident is enough to increase travel times to more than 60 minutes from Lynnwood. Many times on Twitter, you will see alerts for buses being delayed from accident and congestion.
What Is Needed:
1) Reliable travel times-rail does this having a fixed guideway system and grade separated.
2) Frequency-a fixed rail link during the day need to have departures at least every 15 minutes or better, for this corridor, we should aim for every 10 minutes.
3) Travel time reductions from current modes. It is possible to reduce travel times; there can have a 110 mph alignment in the I-5 corridor with one overpass bridge and a few short tunnel segments. Tunneling from Northgate to Seattle would be required unless part of the I-5 express lanes were utilized. However I am not assuming WSDOT will allow that usage without concessions.
What is Proposed: (in the Hopper)
There are three LRT options with two likely ones being Paine Field and I-5. I-5 has the shortest travel time at 22 minutes from Lynnwood-Everett. Ridership is projected at 32,000 to 43,000 with no TOD potential except around Everett station. This would allow an hour or less travel time into downtown Seattle every trip, but it serves existing ridership that uses park & rides. The cost would be $2.36-$3.19 billion. Part of the new issue is the plans for 1,000 new parking spaces at the station. This takes away valuable TOD land for more cars.
The Paine Field alternative adds an entire 11 minutes onto overall travel time. The purpose of this alignment is to serve Paine Field and Boeing, the base ridership has 4,000 more than I-5 and 1,000 more than an SR 99 alignment, but it tops out at 50,000 riders. It is not faster than the current 510-513 buses that travel the corridor currently from the diversion to Paine Field. I have strong reservations of serving Paine Field for the extra cost of at least 190 to 230 million dollars, especially given Boeing and tax breaks from a political sense. From a transit sense, airports and industrial areas do not produce the ridership justified for fixed all day rail transit. Paine Field also has NIMBYs to contend with, limiting potential airport ridership.
Unfortunately, County politicians are opposed to an SR 99 alignment with TOD potential, 4 minutes less travel time, less cost, and much more TOD potential along the corridor to redevelop. It will be a matter of time but the questions become the following.
My Proposal: Sounder Regional Express
Sounder Regional Express would extend from DuPont to Marysville/Tulalip. The goals are the following
35 minute travel time express from Everett-Seattle with stops at Lynnwood, University District, Westlake/ SLU, and King St. Station
45 minute travel time local with stops at Everett Mall, Ash Way, Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood TC, Mountlake Terrace, Northgate, U-District, Westlake/SLU and terminate at King St.
60 minute travel time from Marysville/ Tulalip with all stops.
Why Travel Time?
This one question always had me stumped. As someone who lives in the bedroom community of Bremerton, I do have a bit of travel time perception given any Seattle venture outside of downtown involves transit. As someone who recently once went over to Redmond by car, I absolutely hated it due to driving the 405 and being stuck in congestion versus taking a ferry and bus. The travel times are about the same, just a matter of walking up to 3rd Avenue, get to Convention Place, the 545 over and with an ORCA card, makes it easy. I honestly regretting taking my car but because I missed the boat due to my fault with parking selection (connecting transit doesn’t usually work out and I save only $1 versus convenience of having a vehicle available upon my return). Fact remains is when transit is easy and convenient, I am more likely to take it.
When it comes to the geographic reach of infrastructure, the faster it is in this section, the more it can reach. This does go against trying to have more people live in downtown Seattle but also realizing the fact that there will be people that choose the suburbs and having an option that makes it attractive to leaving their car for local trips and reducing the pull to use it on I-5 to travel to downtown Seattle it becomes important. Everett Link if it goes via SR 99 or Paine Field will take an hour plus each time. During the weekend when traffic isn’t as bad in downtown Seattle and parking is cheaper and more available, keeping travel times competitive is important in making a decision, especially if transfers are involved.
Why Rapid Rail?
Comfort. You are likely to have a seat on a rapid rail train for the entire time. With the ability to have power and USB ports and the vehicles meant to support the function of sitting for the ride, there would be draws for commuters who instead of driving can utilize travel time to catch up on sleep, check e-mails on their laptops. There are likely Link commuters that do this but being on a one hour trip really makes the conveniences go the extra mile.
In terms of infrastructure, this potentially would benefit a new high-speed connection to Vancouver, BC and Bellingham. This would cut off 20 minutes from the current travel time between Everett and Seattle alone. Given the straightness and limited curves between north of Bow, WA and Mount Vernon along with Mount Vernon-Everett, the 20 minutes reduction would make trip times by rail more competitive by adding this one high-speed segment.
Also, this would allow through service from Tacoma with a regular frequency, making more trips possible to the north of Seattle
There have been dilemnmas given most of the north stations are located along I-5. At the same time, it will be cheaper to use the WSDOT right of way rather than tunneling for 28+ miles between the two cities. The first vision was to re purpose the I-5 express lanes for rail although those negotiations would not be as easy as it was for I-90 and the current express lanes on I-5 carry much more traffic at 46,000 AADT at the Ship Canal midspan versus I-90’s 14,000 AADT at midspan. The other idea was connecting UW to a regional rail spine given the large employment base versus forcing a transfer at Northgate. This would require another tunnel between Northgate and DT Seattle but also an interline at Westlake or downtown seems needed since bus commute routes currently go into the tunnel, get off at Steweart, or Cherry and Columbia. Having everyone travel to King Street to go north makes the rails less attractive hence the thought of a stop at Westlake. I would consider a potential stop at SLU but whether geography will allow, I do not know. SLU does need more fixed rail transit than just the trolley.
North however many locations do not have that great locations to go without making a massive tunnel over to 99. (Aurora Subway)
In the end
I think this is much better than Link and I know this would be expensive depending on how much tunneling would cost. That is likely the make or break cost. It is hard to determine if a two track railway along I-5 would cost as much as light-rail but if using California’s estimate of $100 million per mile, for an extra $1 billion you get to Marysville. I would say use Tacoma-Everett as Phase 1 of the regional rail spine, extend to Marysville and Lakewood as Phase 2, and Phase 3 would go towards DuPont and potentially Olympia later. That is a discussion for another day.
For now though, I would welcome station consideration on why or why not for all stations if there would be some recommendations for the northern stations being further from I-5, for stations in downtown, why or why not SLU and Westlake? I would like to see one location or another in the northern section of downtown with feeder traffic from somewhere.