It’s nearly done. Forget the questionable process by which it came about, the undeniable lost opportunity for transit investment instead, or the coming tax bill for litigation and overruns. Bertha will likely break through in the next few days, and there will by a highway bypass tunnel underneath Downtown Seattle two years from now. It’s time to try to look at the bright side.
The Viaduct will be gone. The Waterfront will be opened up. There will be a continuous cycle path along the waterfront, and widened sidewalks to boot. The surface highway that replaces it will be far too wide, and too many concessions have been made for car ferry access, but the net reality on the ground will be undeniably better than the Brutalist monolith above Alaskan Way today.
The question for transit advocates is how much lemonade can be squeezed from the highway lemon, if any? Just a few years ago, the highway bypassed what most considered “Downtown”, but in the intervening years Downtown has growth into South Lake Union to such an extent that direct service to Republican Street now seems like a plausible transit use.
Partially because of the tunnel’s disutility for transit but mostly due to the anticipation of West Seattle light rail, Metro’s Long Range Plan includes just one SR 99 tunnel route, “Corridor 2003”. The route would combine parts of Route 21X and Rapid Ride C, serving Arbor Heights, Fauntleroy, and Alaska Junction before running express to South Lake Union.
These sort of boomerang routes have a long history in Seattle due to the Columbia Street express ramps. Routes such as the 79 from Lake City are long gone, but many routes from the north today still serve the south end of downtown first, including Route 355 and a number of Community Transit routes. Similarly, routes such as AM Route 577 serve Seneca, 4th, and Pine Streets before turning down 2nd to serve South Downtown.
But though Metro doesn’t anticipate such a route until 2040, access issues are perhaps most acute in the next few years, when the shiny new tunnel will lie unused while the surface streets suffer all number of constraints. Maybe we should look at such routes a bit sooner?
Consider that the traditional approach from West Seattle to Pioneer Square will continue to be served by Rapid Ride C and Routes 21 and 120. There is a good case to be made for supplemental peak service that serves SLU and Belltown first. “RapidRide CX” could run from Fauntleroy to SLU, perhaps replacing Route 116. “Route 126” could run from SR 509 to SLU, providing bypass service for Burien and complementing Routes 121 and 122. These routes could terminate in SLU, or more likely could continue into the Central Business District via Dexter/7th/Bell/3rd or Westlake/Lenora/3rd.
Such route designs deserve study going into the One Center City years of “maximum constraint”. We’ll have a huge new tunnel that we’re afraid not enough people will use. Let’s put some buses in there.