Page Two articles are from our reader community.

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

Proposal Map

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

Station Locations

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.

8 Replies to “Seattle-Everett RER”

  1. I-5 was built in the 1960s and is at the end of its design life. Taking the express lanes would require rebuilding the entire freeway. That would cost double-digit billions of dollars and is why WSDOT has delayed doing it. It’s also why Link runs on the side of the freeway, to avoid disrupting the structure which would trigger extensive rebuilding: let WSDOT pay for that rather than ST.

    It’s too late to put heavy rail in the Link tunnel because U-Link will open in six months and North Link is already being tunneled to Link specs. The ST board is seriously not going to change modes now when it has refused to do so earlier. The most you can get is a different technology north of Lynnwood and south of 200th, which would require a transfer. Express trains would require four tracks, and Link has only two tracks.

    The ST district ends at Everett and DuPont. There will be no “Phase 3” to Marysville. Expanding the ST district would require a demonstrated desire of north Snohomish, an ST board decision, discussion of whether it would really be good for the existing ST district, and perhaps legislative approval. None of this has been started. If Marysville gets a Sounder extension it would likely be a bilateral agreement between ST and Snohomish County, paid for by some transit benefit district around Marysville. It’s unlikely that that area could afford a Sounder extension on its own. In contrast, a Sounder extension to Olympia would be paid for by the entire Thurston County and/or the state, so they have more resources to consider it. But you can’t expect Snohomish (city) and Monroe to pay for a Sounder extension to Marysville, not can you expect the existing ST Snohomish subarea to. The district boundaries were decided not that many years ago as “the most urban part of the counties that need direct regional transit to each other, and where growth will be channeled”.

    1. Mike,

      As you saw with the map, between Northgate and the U-District, it would run separately in its own tunnel and be separated through Westlake. The issue would be trying to run on the other side of I-5 to Lynnwood without interfering with North Link. That decision to go via I-5 will be a plague for decades to come. That would move the issue point to Northgate and Lynnwood. The fact is Link will take at least 50-55 minutes each time which is about the same travel time as the bus without the comfort. We are already going to be spending $3 billion just to put a sub-par Link to Everett let alone all the capital spent on the HOV direct access ramps.

      In terms of repurposing the express lanes, as stated, I was assuming that would not likely happen and I am not 100% sure it would require a full rebuild if you could use the existing structure for lightweight rail equipment. If I-5 had to be rebuilt, I doubt the DOT would give that ROW up freely hence planned on going underground. I simply think between Lynnwood and Seattle LRT capacity will be eaten up quickly given the UW. If we are wanting intercity rail at some point in the future then heavy rail will have to be planned. I doubt the tribes would allow the in-fill of Puget Sound to ease the curves and reduce the slide risk along the shoreline so that alternative is out and a tunnel all the way north will simply be more cost prohibitive than Gotthard in Switzerland.

      Sure you can channel growth to within the ST boundaries but if the cities do not allow up-zones, then there is no choice but to spread out rather than up.

      1. I couldn’t tell what the alignment was from the map. At first I thought it was on I-5, but when I zoomed in it looked like it veered east to U-Village, and when I looked closer it looked like it was going through U-District Station so I assumed it was the Link tunnel.

        I can see the theoretical argument that heavy rail might have been better for a line stretching to Everett and Tacoma. But I just don’t see any way it could politically happen, especially next to a parallel Link tunnel. The fifty minutes to Everett is baked into the cake, and those who are advocating the Link extension must realize it because it’s been obvious for seven years or whenever the 28-minute estimate to Lynnwood was made.

      2. “Sure you can channel growth to within the ST boundaries but if the cities do not allow up-zones, then there is no choice but to spread out rather than up.”

        They are allowing upzoning. Lynnwood has zoned a new downtown, and TOD around Swift stations. Shoreline has upzones in the works at 185th and 145th. Seattle is debating HALA, and if it’s fully approved and implemented it will lead to a major increase in the city’s housing supply. Everett is also musing about downtown growth. It’ll take a couple decades to see how much of it is built out, but the population is rising anyway and that will force them to act. They aren’t absolutely no-growth like the Bay Area cities are.

        Spreading out is not an option anymore with the urban growth boundary, which is just beyond Marysville. So a train to Marysville would really serve just Marysville and the sparse population around it (Arlington, Mt Vernon, Stanwood). The further out you go the less dense it gets, so Marysville will never be as dense as Everett or Lynnwood, so it will never have a large population.

        Your idea may be feasable in the farther future, as part of high-speed rail in the Cascades corridor and down the coast. I’d like to see I-5 get a “complete streets” treatment, which could include high-speed rail and freight rail. But it will probably be a few decades before the state is willing to consider this. As for converting the express lanes, you’re right that WSDOT won’t consider it in this era: not when they’re busy saying that I-5 is so full we need the Deep Bore Tunnel. But in the future there might be a significant drop in driving per capita, whether due to fuel costs or environmental issues or changing public attitudes, and that may lead to fewer cars on I-5 and a greater ability to convert some lanes to something else. But that’s a long ways away.

      3. Mike,

        I agree this is looking into the long term crystal ball now. Sure it looks far into the future but I feel if we talk about it now and get it right, we will have solid plans for the future. While things may change in the next few decades, thinking about this now is a good way to look through all the hurdles to come over and that is how i see this as a gateway for HSR.

        My original idea was to utilize the express lanes but then I wanted to present an alternative that connected with UW. Having rail from the south go to Westlake would be a huge thing to have killing the transfer penalty and allowing people to transfer to bus easily to South Lake Union versus slogging downtown streets on the bus which CT schedules for 15 minutes in traffic. I laid the tunnel at 5th Ave for preserving 4th for the WSTT.

        It is politically not happening at the moment but something to keep in mind for the future. Traffic congestion along I-5 is now going from Everett to Marysville daily. That to me indicates there is too much demand at one point in time so how do we correct that? I do think the first step is look at what options we have with buses first and foremost for connecting people there.

        I do not believe I-5 will become a complete street within the next 20 years but I think reevaluating how big it is through Seattle and how to utilize rail may come of debate when it becomes structurally compromised. I-5 will be up for debate in the next 10 years if the structures were only built for 50 years.

  2. DanH – I am a supporter of this concept. Thanks for writing it up. Mainline rail is the right technology for Seattle-Everett distances, and the shoreline routing of the BNSF line will never to upgradable for high speed rail. One new set of passenger-dedicated tracks between Seattle and Everett can serve both Sounder and Cascades.

    (I support the same concept between Seattle and Tacoma – generally in the I-5 corridor but directly serving SeaTac airport.)

    It needs to happen eventually, but is unlikely until after ST3 is built out. It will probably be built by WSDOT whenever the Feds provide them significant HSR money, perhaps rolled into the dreaded “rebuild I-5” mega-project.

    1. Chad,

      Thanks, I am going to do a bit of revision to use 1900 meter curve radii for spec in order to allow for more at grade. What I’m also going to do is have another map showing tunnel, above and below ground sections. That might get a better idea of what this will look like.

      DOT has talked about rebuilding but never done for money. I would like to see the 509 and 167 money diverted to maintaining I-5 and replacing critical sections. I know many would want to tear it completely down but we would need a rail spine. If we develop an effective roll on roll off freight system, that might allow for some effective shifting of traffic especially removing freight from the roadways.

      A national policy shift would help with this but I am not putting money down on the feds for the next year.

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