To establish a north/south link in the heart of the county, Pierce Transit is weighing the potential of high-capacity transit (HCT).
These systems, designed to carry a larger volume of riders with greater speed, reliability, and frequency than a standard fixed route bus system, can operate either on a dedicated track or lane, or on existing streets in mixed traffic.
With a goal of increasing bus speeds and ridership, in February the Pierce Transit launched a HCT feasibility study along Pacific Ave South (SR 7) between downtown Tacoma and Spanaway. The transit agency said ridership and cost will determine the most appropriate HCT mode, which could include rail, streetcar or bus rapid transit (BRT).
Building a high-capacity transit along this corridor has been in Pierce Transit’s plans for many years, said Alexandra Mather, a government and community relations officer for the agency.
“The economic downturn in 2008 required the project to be put on hold,” Mather wrote in an email. “Fortunately, with sales tax revenues up in Pierce County and successful funding out of the state’s 2015 Connecting Washington package, as well as a $60 million capital commitment for transit speed and reliability in the corridor from ST3 (Sound Transit Three), the project was made a priority for the agency.”
Currently, the 14 mile-long corridor is served by bus route 1, which has the highest ridership in Pierce Transit’s system with an average of 5,950 boardings each weekday. In 2016 route 1 carried 1.7 million passengers. But delays as high as 21 minutes plague the route.
Mather said HCT service will benefit riders by providing more frequent service.
“High capacity transit by nature provides faster, more frequent bus service to the community, such as every 10 minutes or less,” Mather wrote in an email. “By comparison, our current route 1 service — the most heavily utilized of all 36 Pierce Transit routes — runs every 15 minutes.”
The study area, which runs between the Commerce Street Transfer Center in downtown Tacoma to 204th Street E in Spanaway, along Pacific Ave, is home to nearly 55,000 people — 6.7 percent of Pierce County’s population, according to Pierce Transit. The number of residents living along the corridor is forecasted to grow almost 25 percent between 2010 and 2040 with jobs forecasted to nearly double during that same time period.
According to Pierce Transit, average bus speeds in the study corridor have been decreasing, with some segment averaging as low as 6 mph. And with poor service reliability, AM and PM peak trips on an average run 8 to 15 minutes behind schedule.
Mather said this line will connect downtown Tacoma to the Tacoma Dome Station, a transportation hub servicing the Sounder Train, Sound Transit Link light rail, Sound Transit and Intercity Transit regional express routes, Amtrak, Greyhound, and local Pierce Transit service to the south end of Pierce County.
Pierce Transit anticipates choosing a locally preferred alternative (LPA) plan for the corridor by spring 2018. The agency is holding several open houses (September 13, 14, 19 and 20) in Tacoma and Spanaway to present the project to residents.