A rendering of the future Judkins Park Light Rail Station Credit: Sound Transit

With no plans to add any new service in 2018, it’s back to maintenance mode for Sound Transit. Instead, the agency will concentrate on two large-scale Eastside bus restructures to be implemented in 2018 and 2019, according to the recently released draft of 2018 Sound Transit’s Service Implementation Plan. The plan combines five-year service planning with in-depth route and corridor performance data.

In 2017, the agency added two new Sounder round trips and invested 15,000 annual bus hours into ST Express.

Highlights from the proposed 2018 SIP:

Eastside bus restructuring

Construction will start next year on Judkins Park Station, closing the Rainier Freeway Station and D-2 Roadway, and requiring changes to bus routes that cross I-90. Sound Transit anticipates the board will consider service changes in early 2018 with implementation later that year. According to a spokesperson for Sound Transit, plans for I-90 bus route changes are not yet final but could be released as early as January.

Changes are also coming to buses that cross SR 520, but not until 2019. Next year, Sound Transit plans to continue public outreach on restructuring proposals for SR 520 buses. Preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, King County Metro and Sound Transit want to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the Link at the UW Station. Earlier this year, the agency presented two possible service options changes including re-directing most or some buses coming from the Eastside to the UW light rail station and expanding service to South Lake Union and Children’s Hospital.

No New Long-Term Investments in ST Express

Next year ST Express service hours and miles will continue to rise, as the 15,000 hours added in 2017 operate for a full year. But beyond 2018, no new investments in ST Express are expected.

Expanding Fleet

More trains will be added to the system over the next five years. In 2016 the board approved the purchase of 122 additional light rail vehicles from Siemens Industry, Inc. The new trains are expected to begin trickling in starting in 2019. An additional 30 were ordered in 2017 and are scheduled to arrive within 18 months after final delivery of the previous order. The additional railcars should alleviate crowding on many Link trips.

Ridership Growth

Sound Transit expects Link ridership to continue growing, with annual ridership growing 7.6% over 2017, exceeding 25 million by the end of 2018. New Sounder trains added in 2017 are expected to push up ridership 8 percent over the last year. Meanwhile modest ridership growth is anticipated on ST Express buses and Tacoma Link — two percent growth is projected for ST Express with Tacoma Link ridership remaining flat.

By 2023 Sound Transit predicts system ridership will jump 62 percent, with much of that increase coming from new Link stations, spurring a 115% rise in boardings.

24 Replies to “Sound Transit Planning I-90 Bus Restructuring for 2018”

  1. Does ST3 really provide zero money for more ST Express trips? I thought there was at least something.

    1. Besides 405 BRT, the Bus money is flat but with Light Rail doing the heavy lifting in the Core it should free up the buses to serve more places at better frequencies for the same dollar amount.

      1. Yeah, in the short run it is bad, but in the long run it should be fine. That is pretty much the theme with transit around here.

      2. I thought ST3 had money for “interim” bus service on future Link corridors. So, where is it?

    2. I think there’s something but it’s over the lifetime of ST3. The ST2 Sounder runs were only added in the last few years. ST3 has a set of “early deliverables” which include contributions to RapidRide C, D, G (Madison), and Pierce Transit 1S (Pacific Ave), bus on highway shoulder lanes, “Bus capital improvements in East Pierce County” whatever that means, two stations for future 405 BRT, and several P&Rs. ST Express is just listed as general support with no indication of when or where it might be enhanced, although we know restructures will come with Link.

      The ST3 Plan Project Phasing sheet says “ST EXpress: Approximately 600K annual ST Express hours to continue providing interim express bus service in future HCT corridors.” When STB discussed ST Express planning in 2016, the scenarios outlined three levels of service: 490K, 610K, and 820K service hours. So the ST3 budget is slightly less than the middle scenario. The article also seems to say that 2015 service was 732K hours, which is halfway between the middle and high scenario. That suggests that STEX will be cut from current levels when Link is extended. However, with the truncations for Link the total transit service may still be “more transit to more places more often” even if the STEX hours are cut. There’s no indication of what STEX might do in the next ten years; it looks like it’s in a holding pattern around the ST2/3 Link restructures. No indication of particularly more service. Maybe a few more runs every year as the population and tax base increases.

    3. ST3 funds ~$600K hours of annual service, primarily as feeders routes to Sounder and Link stations from cities in the ST service area that aren’t directly served by Link or Sounder

    4. I just realized, the planning scenarios were based on ST2 Link, so 600K hours is not “slightly less service” than the 610K in the middle scenario. Link to Everett and Tacoma will allow deleting the Everett-Lynnwood buses and Tacoma-Federal Way buses, which would free up significant hours for Snohomish and Pierce Counties. King County is less clear; presumably rolling the 405 STEX hours into 405 BRT, and some changes in Issaquah which could take several forms.

    5. My understanding is that ST will reduce the number of service hours once Link starts to take over current routes. That is to say, when Federal Way Link opens for example, that (presumably) the 577 will be deleted, and 578 (probably 594, 592, 590, & 595) will be truncated. But the resulting service hours saved will NOT be reinvested into other areas or for more frequency.
      I think this is a great shame as service hours that used to go to Seattle could then be focused toward Bellevue and Tacoma as secondary job centers (One rationale for this is that a Tacoma-Bellevue trip, which would require an excruciatingly slow trip on Link to Seattle, would also require a transfer to East Link, which would make it take a ridiculous amount of travel time. This is not something we want as many commuters are moving to Tacoma to escape high housing prices).
      But then, as you know, ST decided that they want a single route from Burien to Lynnwood to replace all service on I-405 because… I guess a one-seat ride from Burien to Lynnwood on I-405 is more important than a spine on the east side connecting Auburn (or south of Auburn) to Bellevue. Still holding out hope that I-405 BRT will be a couple different routes branching off to both Burien and Auburn. Ideally Puyallup and Tacoma as well.
      Some other things that ST express service hours should be reinvested into include a DuPont-Lakewood-Tacoma Link connector (basically a truncated 592) every 15 minutes, A Puyallup connector (every 15 minutes) that connects Fife Station to downtown Puyallup, branching off into 3 routes to South Hill (every 30 minutes), Orting (60 minutes), and Bonney Lake (60 minutes). (Those are off-peak headways btw)
      Of course that part only applies to Link in the south end, but if there was the will to do so, ST could provide this kind of holistic universal Link and bus arrangement where nearly every city in the ST taxing district has usable 7-day service to Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. It would certainly help the “what will I get out of ST4?” kind of argument from edge cities as well.

    1. STB has a post about that a couple months ago. ST3 never guaranteed that these new trips would happen immediately, and as ST negotiated with BNSF, they agreed that track improvements were needed first. So, they will come, but not until these improvements happen.

    2. Has BNSF committed to an acceptable rate for night and weekend trips yet? Not that I’ve heard.

      The ST3 Sounder improvements were always tentative pending an agreement with BNSF. If ST can’t get the agreement at an affordable price, then it would do something else instead. It hasn’t said what that might be. I can’t think of what ST could do instead within the confines of ST3 except more ST Express or BRT in the Kent Valley corridor. I can’t see ST adding Link in the Kent Valley without another vote.So it would either spend the money on something small, or save it for an ST4 vote on something large, or discuss with the subareas whether to cancel the Sounder improvements and end ST3 early.

  2. Need some help here. D-2 link above took me to a 2011 study suggesting that permanent rail-bus joint-use was being considered south of IDS. Had some pretty serious nightmares early this morning, so want to be sure I’m still asleep.

    Would still keep the 550 and the 41 in the tunnel long as possible. But long since added qualification “only if it won’t interfere with trains.” Kind of hoped my cult had gone back to being life coaches and IT professionals.

    A lot could’ve happened since I went up into the Catskills to go bowling with those little Dutch guys in 2006. Don’t sweat, not going to link “Rip Van Winkle”, but just sayin’. Maybe hangover from all those M&M’s last night, but hope Dr. Van Helsing put a stake through this one’s heart.

    Whether of not Mankind Was Ever Meant to Know: has a Joint Use D-2 gone back to Hell from whence it came?


    1. Mark, I think you’re confusing the D-2 and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The D-2 is a roadway going between the Rainier Freeway Station and the DSTT, and is only for buses. That is what is closing in 2018.

      1. “Eastside bus restructuring

        Construction will start next year on Judkins Park Station, closing the Rainier Freeway Station and [D-2 Roadway], and requiring changes to bus routes that cross I-90. Sound Transit anticipates the board will consider service changes in early 2018 with implementation later that year. According to a spokesperson for Sound Transit, plans for I-90 bus route changes are not yet final but could be released as early as January.”

        Sarah, link I’m referring to I’ve indicated [ ]. It’s dated 2011, so linked idea is probably preventing breakage in a gift-box somewhere. But the “P” in front of the “TSD” can also mean as “Pre…”

        I was a strong proponent of joint use for the DSTT from outset of project that finally got it built, and advocated the idea about seven years before the Bredas were here to drive.

        Still believe our phased approach has a lot of value for critical projects that carry many complications and much uncertainty.

        But most important lessons are, like, have your own mechanics design, and maintain a new idea for at least five years before you buy it.

        You’ve probably long since noticed also that Europe’s horrible Wars of The Religions still echo in discussions between Bus Rapid Transit and Light rail devotees. Monorail believers are probably wheeled Rosicrucians.

        No secret I always thought Metro was being unforgivable lazy in failing to use the really expensive signal and communications systems spefically designed into the DSTT for joint use. Wasting at least an ST-‘s worth of operating time.

        But the joint operations were always meant to be temporary. Stage we’re at now, best possible average platform stop for a bus at Westlake will slow following trains all the way to UW. Out on D-2….whether or not Mankind was ever meant to in the monster movies…You Don’t Want to Know!


  3. The delay on the 520 restructure makes sense. WSDOT hasn’t completed the design yet, nor do we know what things will look like during construction. I could easily see ST and Metro delaying things further, depending on how things go. It doesn’t make much sense to send all the buses to the UW, when getting there will be even worse than it is now. Likewise, I could see a delay just because it makes sense to wait until getting there is much better than it is now, even though that would mean delaying until 2022 or so.

    1. The forcing factor is going to be the closure of Montlake Freeway Station. You can’t force all the evening/weekend eastside-> u district traffic to detour to downtown Seattle.

  4. There are several big projects that are about to occur in this city. I’m not sure about the timing, but I’m pretty sure they overlap. All of these will screw up transit, but at least some of them have an end date, while other improvements will make the problem obsolete. If anyone knows the exact timing, please share, but here they are, to the best of my memory:

    1) SR 99 moves from being above ground to underground. The road will have fewer lanes, and no exits at Spring or Seneca. That alone will send lots of cars through downtown on surface streets, even if they didn’t toll the new tunnel (and they will).

    2) The streetcar project will rip up First Avenue.

    3) The buses will be kicked out of the tunnel before the train gets to Bellevue or Northgate.

    4) You have the “D-2” change mentioned above, which will likely make I-90 bus travel significantly worse.

    5) The 520 rebuild project reaches Montlake. This could involve all sorts of (temporary) changes that make getting a bus to the UW a lot more difficult.

    Anything else I forgot? There is some good news, though:

    1) Drivers (and buses) will be able to cross over Aurora between Mercer and Denny. At least one street will likely be a bus lane, which might speed up the 8 (if they reroute it). Speaking of which:

    2) Small bus lane improvements will be made here and there, like the change to Denny for the 8 (close to the freeway). Madison BRT doesn’t comes on line until 2020, and it is pretty much tangential (Madison BRT). Like speeding up the 8, it will be nice, but not really deal with the main issue.

    3) Whatever changes go into One City Center. This is the probably the biggest positive change — or at least the change that will mitigate the other problems the most, even if what they end up doing is not enough.

    It looks like it will be a very tough time for transit, and it will be a major challenge for the next mayor to deal with it all. I can see some easy ways to improve it (like delaying the Convention Center expansion until after the train gets to Bellevue and Lynnwood) but I’m not sure whether the new mayor (or anyone else) will be able to do that.

    1. It’s great to mention these things! It inspired me to look a little closer at this SIP.

      One area of major concern that I see is in Link. There is not a significant change in train platform hours of light rail until 2023. With Northgate opening in 2021, the 2022 number should be higher, simply because an additional 7 or so minutes of travel time and going from 14 to 17 stations (guessing it’s about 15% more time) to today’s train route. I see the higher number of vehicles in use, but the number of trains allocated doesn’t really change.

      Related to this, Northgate Link opening is see a general higher demand for the segments north of Westlake. Certainly, the four-car trains are operating in 2022 and this may be enough — but I’m not sure that it will be. I was actually expecting to see that the SIP would initiate an early “short blue line” to handle this extra demand, possibly turning around at Stadium or SODO. I would even be curious if there was a way to have the partial blue line operations up and running a year or two earlier, say to Judkins Park or South Bellevue. I could see systems testing keeping this wishful early start at bay, but it sure would be nice!

    2. In addition to what you mentioned, the closure of the viaduct also means that the Alaskan Way rebuild can begin, presumably pushing more traffic up into downtown. Madison BRT construction will also likely have a significant impact on mobility during this time (assuming the federal grant is received and construction actually starts). The near-term recommendations of One Center City are the attempt to mitigate all of these projects happening concurrently.

      1. Thanks, I forgot that Alaskan Way also has a construction segment (duh). Hopefully it won’t be as big of a problem.

        Madison also has a construction segment, but I see that as being largely independent of these other problems. Everything else just seems to be piling on, and will make north-south travel through downtown nasty. Even the change to the East Side buses are that way. The problem is not on the bridge (which will run better than ever) but on the part that is running mostly north-south (from Judkins Park north). Madison just seems like a separate problem. Traffic will be forced to east-west downtown streets (Pike, Pine, Union, Cherry, etc.) but at least it will leave the north-south ones alone.

    3. “ways to improve it (like delaying the Convention Center expansion until after the train gets to Bellevue and Lynnwood)”

      In 2019 ST will install a maintenance turn track for East Link at Intl Dist that will somehow preclude buses in the tunnel. This was the issue before the Convention Center was fast-tracked, and I haven’t heard that it was changed. So we can’t just wait for Northgate Link in any case.

  5. Better results possible, RossB, but best of them is fact that none of them will happen. What’ll happen is that for anything to move, agencies and people will have to make them happen. Mostly “winging” like a cloud of the pigeons that used to share the DSTT with alleycats.

    Good practice for everything from a ‘quake to an even much more destructive real estate market. Real danger in declaring even routine disaster in advance is that when the idea sinks in (I forget, is that a “meme”?) perfect excuse to not even try, let alone prepare, to keep work moving.

    Which in itself has the value of making the things in the way of the work at least move. Word to Everybody That’s Got To Help Whether We Like It Or Not.


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