Snowy I-405 in downtown Bellevue

The Sound Transit Board approved $45m for the early acquisition of two properties for the future I-405 Bus Rapid Transit Project during Thursday’s meeting.

Although the project development phase for the BRT project has not yet begun, ST wanted the board to approve the acquisition of the land today while both properties are currently on the market and therefore at risk of being developed.

One property, at the corner of Rainier Avenue S and S Grady Way in Renton, is the potential site of a new transit center and parking garage. The other parcel, a potential bus operation and maintenance facility, is located at 21516 23rd Drive SE in the Canyon Park area of Bothell.

The future I-405 BRT project system will connect riders between the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Burien Transit Center via I-5, I-405 and SR 518.

These two sites were the representative sites ST used during the I-405 BRT development stage for the ST3 package. The purchasing of these properties allows the agency to keep these sites as options while the project goes through an environmental review process, the agency said.

Sound Transit acknowledged there was a risk in acquiring the property before the board selects the final sites for the BRT facilities and prior to the completion of a preliminary engineering and environmental review, which could deem one or both of the parcels unsuitable for the project. The agency says alternative sites for the BRT facilities will still be considered as the project moves forward.

There was little discussion as the board approved the $45m purchase.

Dave Upthegrove, ST board member and King County Councilmember, emphasized the value of BRT to the city of Renton during a previous Capitol Committee Meeting where the property acquisitions were discussed.

“The risk of losing this property, I think, will be devastating to the vision there in that community, in particular since this (BRT) is our most significant investment in that corner of the county,” he said.


The meeting also updated the Tacoma Link Expansion. A plan at the 90% design stage is expected to be presented to the Board in September with a complete design ready by the beginning of 2018. The agency hopes to receive a $75m Small Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the project. The City of Tacoma will also be contributing funding to the project and will perform in-kind services including utility work and design reviews. The project is anticipated to be completed in 2022.

The 2.4-mile-long project, with six new stations, runs between downtown Tacoma and the Hilltop neighborhood, at-grade and share lanes with traffic. This is a significant change from the current light rail system in the city which runs at grade but in transit-dedicated lanes, except for one short segment.

Board members, concerned about collisions with cars and impacts to transit speed and reliability, asked if the agency was making any modifications to the design.

“We have been working with the city to mitigate as many impacts as we could with the system running in the street,” said Madeleine Greathouse, Tacoma Link project director for Sound Transit.

This includes increasing awareness and public education, and working with the city on a signal design to address the impacts of a system running in the street.

“Public education is generally my one, two and three in terms of being able to impact keeping drivers from doing stupid things,” said Peter Rogoff, Sound Transit CEO.


The Board also officially approved permanent station names for the Lynnwood Link Extension; Shoreline South/145th; Shoreline North/185th; Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood City Center. A previous STB post dove into the naming process.

33 Replies to “Sound Transit to Buy I-405 BRT Land Early”

  1. Anybody who calls a City of Tacoma Design Review an “in kind service” clearly hasn’t worked with the City of Tacoma’s reviewers. It’s a service in the same way that bulls service cows and banks service clients who have a mortgage.

    1. Anonymous, since I’ve only been spending serious time around Hilltop for a couple of months, I need some project history on the streetcar. Does the project face a lot of animosity from City of Tacoma itself?

      Will the streetcar have to run in mixed traffic on the steep climb up Stadium Way? Will there be any stops on that stretch? And serious questions about sharp turn and very steep climb to business neighborhood at First.

      If I were anybody important wanted to kill the project, looks like all I’d have to do is demand that up-bound streetcars have to wait, and go through the light, in mixed traffic. I think there are systems that give regular streetcars cable-grip assist on some sections.

      Any good sources on plans for technical problems like this? Mortgage bankers or nearby cattle ranches?

      Mark Dublin

  2. The Renton property sounds like the old Sound Ford location, which has been vacant for years and years. Peak-hour queues to get through the Grady/Rainier intersection are insane in every direction. Expanding the P&R to include this property could allow buses to bypass the intersection and get directly to the transit lanes on Rainier, assuming a signal is added at Hardie and Rainier. If 405 BRT includes a S. Renton P&R stop, this could be a good timesaver.

    Still, I’m not too thrilled about the (potential) installation of a new parking garage at this location. It seems like we should be encouraging commuters to mode-switch further out, rather than bringing more cars into what is already a congested car sewer. Here’s hoping they end up selling at least some of the property for non-car-related uses. Maybe get rid of the ~400 space surface lot once the garage is built.

    1. A garage at this location would be ideal. It is at the intersection of all of the “car sewers.” Grady, Rainier, 405, 167. Better than the current “transit center” which draws more cars into a dense-ish downtown, which should be walkable. It also give ST the versatility of providing intersecting bus routes at an intersection of multiple freeways and major arterials. Yes, the traffic is bad. Have you ridden on the 565/566/567 series of buses from Kent to Bellevue. That’s painful. Stoplight after stoplight after stoplight, with a trip of going around the block to stop over at the downtown transit center. This would give some versatility of getting buses quickly on and off of the freeways and hopefully someday directly into HOV/HOT lanes.

      All that being said, to get people to mode switch further out, we need to encourage general transit use by improving time efficiency. Many of the riders of today who endure the slowdown through Renton would be willing to take local routes to connect to it if the express trip was faster. People who don’t currently take transit might be enticed if the trip was fast and parking spaces available. Just some thoughts.

      1. You’re right, S. Renton P&R is a way better location for a parking garage than Renton transit center, which is located in a bonafide walkable downtown. But when I think of places that I would like to drive to at rush hour, Rainier & Grady is not one of them. I’d rather something on the south side of 405.

        WSDOT is currently building center-to-center HOV/Transit ramps between 405 and 167, which is going to seriously increase the time advantage for east valley 56x buses to skip Renton entirely.

        It seems to me that RTC is such a high-value/high-ridership stop that any bus already taking the time hit to get off the highway that close will probably go the extra ugly mile into downtown Renton, even if there were HOV ramps directly to the P&R. I suspect it’s all-or-nothing – either live with connections to RR-F at the Landing and/or Longacres, or drive right through the heart of Renton.

      2. @Lack – my understanding is the 405 BRT will stay on the freeway in Renton. So 405 BRT is really serving commuters trying to get to Bellevue or SeaTac, while RR-F will be left to do the heavy lifting getting people in, out, and around downtown Renton.

      3. There will be an in-line freeway station. I’m not familiar enough with the area to say how the park n riders or theoretical station-area residents will get to it, or how convenient that is compared to other stations. I’ve been to the P&R several times for transfers or to meet a local resident, but I haven’t paid much attention to where exactly 405 is.

      4. I would argue that a better location would be a place where drivers and buses aren’t going through the Grady/Rainier intersection. It would more strategic to have a garage just south of I-405 that is adjacent to 167, with direct access ramps into the garage from 167 to/from the south as well as a short walkway to a 405 median station. If this site is to work, direct aerial ramps to get drivers and buses out of this horrible intersection seems to be the most logical way to solve the problem, and doing that is much more expensive than it would be to buy another piece of property in a more reachable location for both parking commuters and I-405 BRT riders.

    2. ST3 is moving thectrabsit center to the South Renton P&R at the City of Renton’s request. It wants fewer buses “downtown” (the few walkable blocks around the existing TC, representing Old Renton). Renton is prioritizing P&R access and transfer access to Bellevue and Kirkland over making walkable downtown the center of a regional+local network. It has not yet addressed what kind of local bus network and land uses it wants in the central shopping district and eastern residential areas to complement the BRT.

      The best possibility is that they’re working on it and will add some small blocks and mixed-use near the station. The worst possibility is they’ll do nothing and leave it as is.(I’ll reiterate that Northgate North has several big box stores stacked on top of each other with an attached garage. That could be a model.) It’s troubling that Renton never made a transit plan before ST3 or Metro Connects, them it complained at the last minute that ST3 doesn’t have enough Renton projects and shame on ST. Well, Renton hasn’t said what it wants! It hasn’t shown any indication of wanting more walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods that don’t depend on driving. There were promising signs with The Landing and downtown, but where’s The Landing’s supermarket and other everyday things a neighborhood needs. You can’t watch movies and buy clothes and computers every day.

      1. ST3 is moving thectrabsit center to the South Renton P&R at the City of Renton’s request. It wants fewer buses “downtown” (the few walkable blocks around the existing TC, representing Old Renton).


        In light of that, the sound ford acquisition makes perfect sense. Endgame is two big hubs on either end of town, with RR-F connecting them for downtown service. Future 56x will make the Landing their renton stop, once the 8th ramps are built.

        I guess the giant parking garage taking up a half block at the downtown transit center should have been a clue that Renton wasn’t 100% on board with the transit + walking paradigm.

  3. I have a concern when we buy BRT station property not adjacent to the 405 right-of-way without determining what the access design will look like. I would be more supportive of early purchases of property if they were actually physically next to where the buses will run through stations in Renton and Bothell. Trying to get station access to these sites in the middle of the route will be hugely expensive — much more than if the sites were right next to 405. These sites will be albatrosses for the actual BRT design and operation.

    A more strategic site purchase would make ST look strategic and brilliant. These sites look more like a political favor and makes the ST Board look horrible! I would not be surprised if the Eyman folk make it a campaign issue.

    1. I suspect it will end up resold at a later date. Possibly to King County Metro if/when Sound Transit decides this location is not helpful to Sound Transit.

      I understand the logic – property values are going up so they’re basically guaranteed not to lose money if it goes unused, this site is available and vacant right now, requires little demolition, and is adjacent to an existing fully utilized KC Metro park & ride. But the traffic dynamic of the area means it’s a terrible place to route any “rapid” bus through.

    2. I don’t think these purchases are for stations. The Renton purchase is for a P&R and TC, not the BRT station per-se, which can be a 5 minute walk away along a pedestrian bridge (for example)? The Bothell purchase is for a bus base.

    3. As it says, “at risk of being developed”. It won’t remain on the market for five years, and the new owner may have built something by the time ST gets around to finishing the EIS, so then it would have to take out a new business.

    1. It’s going to use the I-405 express lanes and BAT lanes on SR 518. There’s no political appetite for exclusive bus lanes, so this is as good as it’s probably going to get.

      1. Except that buses will have to merge right to get to stops at Brickyard, Canyon Park, etc. Between Kingsgate and Brickyard, northbound buses will have a half mile to merge four lanes. From Lynnwood TC to southbound 405, it’s not even possible with the current pavement markings. WSDOT will need to restripe Lynnwood and the express lane exit/entrance lanes to give buses a chance. Even then, it’s still going to be a lot of weaving buses.

      2. New median stations or ramps are being considered at:
        * Brickyard
        * Kirkland 112th
        * Kirkland 85th
        * Bellevue 112th
        * Renton NE 44th
        * Renton N 8th
        * Renton Oakesdale

        Planning has barely begun, so this list will change as things go on.

      3. I don’t believe the ST3 documents guaranteed center stations north of Totem Lake. I’d imagine Renton 44th will be center running because they need to completely rebuild that interchange anyways.

        I really hope Brickyard & Bothell will have a median stations, but that wasn’t called out in the ST3 materials so it’ll be at risk through the whole design projects. Hopefully the operational cost savings pencil out to prove the capex spend is worth it.

      4. My understanding is that most stations will basically get a copy of the RapidRide stations (at least the ones used by RR B here on the East side) or just real-time signs + off-board payments for the ones that are already more than a a simple shelter (like Totem Lake). 85th St and 44th St are the exceptions, where they’re actually building new stations/ramps.

        If you want reliable, fast service on the north end of 405, you need to put direct access ramps for all the stations. Otherwise the bus will still get delayed somewhere like it does nowadays. Unlike 85th/70th, I believe the northern stations could get ramps without too much trouble, but it’s still a significant chunk of cash. And you’d still have issues with the single express lane north of Brickyard, which won’t be remedied without re-building a good chunk of the 405-522 interchange from my understanding. There is a master plan with a lot of preliminary work into ramps for all these stations, but no funding to build it.

  4. The interfacing between 522 BRT, terminating at UW Bothell, and 405 BRT, with a freeway station at exit 24, needs to be thought through. That’s a solid 15 minute walk that’s a gap in our HCT grid. Any word yet on if this is being thought through?

  5. Tacoma Link looks like a complete waste of money. The existing section has low ridership. The new segment is a big U shape, apparently running without a dedicated transit lane. Who is going to ride this thing?

    They should just cancel this project.

    Seems like the first hill streetcar all over again, where a bunch of political compromises results in spending millions on a system no one uses.

    1. The U shape actually isn’t a flaw unlike the other stuff, since it takes in a lot of hospitals and other major employers.

    2. I don’t think the route is a mistake, though there’s other routes that male sense too, but running in with traffic may be a bummer in Stadium District by the Thriftway. If they don’t do something with the stoplights there, it is going to negatively impact the entire line.

    3. Tacoma Link only sucks until you’ve tried to use the local bus service in the same area. Unprioritized, with horrible stop spacing, and horrible reliability. Just getting from the UW campus to Tacoma Dome Transit Center to is a nightmare on buses at peak time, and both PT and the city seem to actively ignore the issues.

      Once you get a few blocks up the hill and away from the freeway backups, the mixed traffic situation isn’t all that bad. MLK in tacoma is not anything like Broadway or Jackson in Seattle. With appropriate channelization and signal priority, it should be able to run smoothly and reliably.

      Of course, with the same improvements, bus service could be perfectly adequate here. However, rail seems to be a political prerequisite for getting any reserved ROW or signal priority in Tacoma. This is the same town that delays rush hour express buses for 15+ minutes in mixed traffic on Pacific, in order to preserve a couple blocks of angled street parking.

    4. This extension will connect what I’m pretty sure is the most densely populated neighborhood in Pierce County (Stadium District) and one of the largest private employers (Tacoma General Hospital) to downtown and the regional transit center at the Tacoma Dome. That segment from MLK & Division to the Tacoma Dome is very direct and much higher frequency than any bus service. It also cuts out a transfer that would be required on Pierce Transit to reach the T-Dome. It will significantly increase ridership over the downtown to T-Dome Tacoma has now. I think it will be one of the higher permoming streetcars in this country once that segment opens (maybe that isnt saying a lot). Once the line turns back south down MLK it becomes more of a community revitalization project than a serious transportation system, so I agree with some of your criticism, but the project has its merits.

  6. Spending fair amount of time lately within a few blocks of Wright Park. Today, made a couple of round trips driving what I think will be the hardest part of the Tacoma LINK expansion. At least I hope there’s nothing harder.

    At the top of the long climbing scenic balcony called Stadium Way, the streetcar will have to simultaneously make a very sharp 90 degree left turn, through a much-steepened climb of a block or so to major intersection where the tracks on First Street will cross North Tacoma Avenue.

    If an up-bound streetcar has to hold behind a block of traffic, it’ll be stopped on a slope I’m not sure a loaded trolleybus could climb. So because I believe in this project, I’d seriously like the public to be publicly shown how street rail can handle this climbing curve without cogway or cable-grip assist.

    At this stage of MLK development, since it’s not really a long through street, I think the streetcars can handle mixed traffic. Favorable signal treatment still mandatory. Though the whole line should be designed for easy conversion to train-only when time comes.

    But speaking of trolleybuses, the very long and heavy-hauling Route 1, that’ll cross the MLK tracks on 6th Street a block from Wright Park, is definitely a candidate for both wire and signal pre-empt where it can’t get reserved lanes.

    Extremely long route, extremely steep climb from Pacific Avenue downtown to Hilltop, painfully rough and slow. Major artery service, maybe most important in the system. Would be excellent partner for the streetcar- bringing it passengers from miles down SR 7, the busy 6th Street neighborhood, and TCC Transit Center.

    Direct transfer on Pacific at UW Tacoma, and the State History Museum. I get the sense that after about 40 years’ abandonment, Hilltop and Downtown Tacoma will soon re-populate. Always something of a suddenly-abandoned Sci-Fi city about it.

    So one pre-gret (being sorry about something that can and should be prevented before it happens):

    Steam-cleaned bricks are good warning that either apartment rent should be in range of less affluent people than now. Or, preferably, Tacoma will start to offer prospective tenants the pay to afford to live near a streetcar stop.

    Mark Dublin

    1. How about a Page 2 article about the places you’re finding in Tacoma and how well the city’s new (not New) urbanism is going. I’m planning to go to Wright Park on your recommendation, maybe today. Last summer I walked the TLink extension route, viewing the Commerce St segment from above at Broadway (with the requisite visit to Sanford & Son antique store which I discovered on my previous walk, and which spans the hillside between Commerce and Bwy). I went west on Division Street and south on MLK to 19th (where ST2 ends and ST3 begins), then walked east to Tacoma Dome. I skirted the edge of Wright Park but did not go inside. MLK with its hospitals feels like Tacoma’s First Hill; I agree TLink will have a guaranteed ridership floor because of that. I don’t like the mixed-traffic plan on Commerce and MLK, but people will probably tolerate the 10-minute overhead of going around vs waiting for a 30-minute bus, and Commerce Street is so narrow it’s hard to see how exclusive lanes could be approved. By the way, I’m a big fan of Wendy’s vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant in Freighthouse Square, and I noticed that the west end storefronts remind me of the lower floors in Pike Place Market.

  7. This is perhaps more a pet peeve than anything, but since when do we allow an expressway express bus to be called BRT? It’s a park-and-ride express bus that happens to make more stops. An upgrade over traditional point-to-point express busses for sure. However, at some point doesn’t going along with the branding of express busses (and even RapidRide) as BRT make it more difficult to ever get a full BRT system in the sense of “light rail on wheels”?

    1. BRT implies 10-minute frequency rather than the usual 30-60 minutes, which makes it easier to hop on anytime, and means you don’t have to cancel your plans because you can’t get there and back in the time you have. It can also imply 1-2 mile stop spacing which is what it will have like Link does. And it will have inline stations, which not every bus route does. All this makes it BRT-like. And the name “BRT” is just a placeholder until it gets some kind of “Rapid” or “Swift” brand. Everyone knows there are multiple levels of BRT and some people think the lower levels aren’t legitimate. But it positions it as “something better than ST Express”, whatever that is.

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