I-90 bus route September changes
Credit: Metro and Sound Transit

King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit released the September 2018 service changes to I-90 bus routes, prompted by the closure of the Rainier Freeway Station.

Construction of Judkins Park Link Station, part of East Link, requires the closure of the Rainier Freeway Station and the I-90 bus ramp that connects buses to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT). The East Link Extension and the Judkins Park Link Station are expected to begin operation in 2023. Changes to the bus routes are scheduled to take place September 22, 2018.

Of the buses impacted by the closure, some will bypass Rainier Avenue South and others, to maintain bus access to the Rainier Valley, will use a new bus stop at South Charles Street. All will continue to serve downtown Seattle

Upcoming changes to ST 550

Sound Transit 550: Starting in September, buses will simply bypass the Rainier Freeway Station and continue to access the DSTT via I-90. All downtown Seattle stops will continue to be serviced.

Upcoming changes to ST 554

Sound Transit 554: Buses traveling west will exit I-90 at Rainier Avenue South and travel north on Rainier. After serving a new stop at South Charles Street, buses will turn west onto Dearborn Street then turn north onto Fourth Street. From there, buses will access downtown Seattle via the same streets as the current route.

For riders heading to the Eastside, the last downtown Seattle bus stop at 5th Avenue South and South Jackson Street will move to 2nd Avenue Extension South and South Jackson Street. Eastbound buses will also stop at the new stop at S. Charles St. before merging onto I-90.

Upcoming changes to Metro I-90 routes

Metro 111, 114, 212*, 214, 216, 218 and 219: Starting in September, these buses will bypass Rainier Freeway Station, continuing to downtown Seattle via their current routes, servicing all subsequent stops.

For buses heading east, the last downtown Seattle bus stop at 5th Ave. S.  and S. Jackson St. will move to 2nd Ave. Ext. S and S Jackson St. Metro suggests eastbound riders wanting to access Rainier Ave. use ST 554 or Metro 217; both routes will stop at the new bus stops at S. Charles St and S. Rainier Ave.

Metro 217 and 212* (reverse peak only): Westbound buses will exit I-90 at S. Rainier Ave. and stop at the new bus stop at S. Charles St. After that, buses will then turn west on S. Dearborn St. and follow the current route.

Eastbound buses will also use the new stop at 2nd Ave. Ext. S. and S. Jackson St. (replacing the stop at 5th Ave. S. and S. Jackson St.). Buses will then stop at the new bus stop on S. Charles St before merging onto I-90.

*Quick note: Reverse-peak 212 trips refers to riders heading to the Eastside in the morning and Seattle in the afternoon.

These changes are expected to increase travel times. Metro said buses using Rainier Ave. are expected to take an additional six minutes during peak times. Sound Transit estimates that during peak travel times there will be an increase of up to six minutes for ST 554 and up to three minutes for ST 550, with reverse peak and other time periods experiencing less of an increase.

Stop times and schedules for each route will be available in August for the September 22, 2018 service changes. There will be no service changes to Metro routes 7, 9 or 106.

ST and Metro are holding several drop-in sessions to answer questions about the upcoming service changes:

  • Thursday, January 18, 2018 | 3:30 – 7 p.m. – Issaquah Transit Center
    Tuesday, January 23, 2018   | 3:30 – 7 p.m. – Bellevue Transit Center
  • Thursday, January 25, 2018 | 3:30 – 7 p.m. – Rainier Freeway Station

Details are also available through an online open house

27 Replies to “I-90 Bus Routes Changing in September”

  1. So, why does the 554 draw the short end of the stick? That left turn from Rainier to Jackson, alone, is going to eat up several minutes. Are there really that many people going from I-90/Rainier to Issaquah (and not Bellevue)? It’s not like without the 554, Rainier doesn’t have service. It does and always will still have the 7.

    1. It’s not Jackson, it’s Dearborn, and therefore two turn lanes. But yes, it’s still a left turn.

    2. It’s primarily for eastbound travel, not downtown. If you’re in the southern CD or northern Rainier Valley the I-90 stop was previously the main way to connect to routes going to Bellevue/Issaquah. Otherwise you’d have to go all the way downtown and then backtrack.

      Sending the 554 on this detour keeps this connection in place, albeit with a possible 1 seat transfer at the MI Park & Ride if you need to get to Bellevue. And it does so while inconveniencing a lower ridership route than the 550.

    3. I think the idea is there needs to be some service connecting Rainier and the I90 buses. The point isn’t just to get them to Issaquah, but to allow people to also get to & transfer at Mercer Island (to the 550) and Eastgate.

      Unlike the I90 metro routes that serve Issaquah, 554 is all day, which is why it got rerouted, rather than, say, the 218.

      1. More likely they’ll remain on the 7 to Intl Dist and transfer there. That’s a 2-seat ride, and the time is about the same as waiting for a third bus.

    4. It’s because the 21x exist to give riders a choice. The 550 has no peak-express shadow. It follows the pattern of the 71/72/73 being rerouted to UW Station as all-day routes, and the 74, 76 etc remaining as-is for those who don’t want the overhead peak hours going downtown.

      1. But the 21x routes run only during rush hour. At all other times, you do not get a choice. They could have had one of the 21x routes do the detour instead, but chose not to.

        As to a transfer at Mercer Island to go to Bellevue – unless you’re coming from Ranier and Charles directly, it’s a three seat ride your talking about. Whatever time would be saved by not backtracking into downtown would just get squandered by the overhead of the additional connection.

        This “connection” is going to be a complete joke on weekends, during the times of day that the 554 runs just once per hour. Except for the lucky few that live within walking distance of the new stop, people won’t use it.

      2. At other times traffic on Rainier and Dearborn is not bad. Dearborn is very wide because it was the connection between I-90 which ended there, I-5 which is a few blocks west, and downtown. Nowadays less than half of its capacity is used.

      3. The problem is the left turn. With all those signal phases of three streets coming together at once, it’s going to take several minutes to get through, even if the bus has the street totally to itself. If they could just implement real transit priority (which would also speed up the 7), I wouldn’t care.

    5. I think there are two opposite arguments so they had to choose one or the other. The 550 has much higher ridership so it should not be diverted because it would affect more people. On the other hand. more people in Rainier Valley travel to Bellevue than to Issaquah, so that argues for diverting the 550. But the vast majority of riders on the 550 are going downtown or beyond, so that argues for not diverting it and tips the scale.

    6. >> So, why does the 554 draw the short end of the stick?

      My guess is because the 550 is a lot more popular than the 554. About 11,000 people a day ride the 550, versus about 4,000 for the 554. The 550 has higher ridership for that stop and even a higher proportion of riders, but in both cases it is relatively small. Not so small that they wanted to eliminate it all together, but small enough to provide coverage, while retaining relatively fast service for the bulk of riders (the ones on the 550 who don’t use that stop).

      1. Right, but what coverage? The 7 already stops there, so the 554 is only really necessary to maintain coverage if Sound Transit is doing it’s service planning for a hypothetical world where King County Metro does not exist. In the real world, the 7 not only runs, but runs way more frequently than the 554 does, at every hour of every day, and takes you right to 5th/Jackson, where you can catch the 550.

        In fact, if the 550 is the more popular route, it follows that most of the people using I-90/Ranier ultimately want the 550. Which means, even if they get on the 554, they still have to transfer, so they’re not really gaining that much by it. In fact, those arriving via the #7 bus would probably do just as well staying on the bus they’re already onto and catching the 550 in the International District. Only the lucky few who live near Ranier/Charles and commute to Issaquah (not Bellevue) really gain by having the 554 stop there.

      2. Coverage in terms of service to the East Side, not coverage to downtown. Perhaps coverage isn’t the right word. It is a stop that has over 300 *eastbound* riders each day. That isn’t huge, but it more than the Issaquah Highlands stop, and way more than all the stops after that (South Sammamish, Redmond Fall City, etc.). That makes the compromise (slowing down the less popular 554, while still providing a decent connection to the East Side) a reasonable one. If riders at that stop switch to using the 554 (at least initially), the stop will represent about 10% of the ridership on that line.

        Of course you can go the wrong direction (towards downtown) to take the 550, but that is true for lots of buses. A trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue in the middle of the day isn’t that popular, but we aren’t asking people to just transfer downtown.

  2. What weird maps from Metro. They don’t get the geography of 4th or 5th Aves S correct at all. It’s actually kind of hard to tell from the maps what routing the buses are going to use.

    1. The stop on Rainier Ave near Charles also looks so close to Dearborn that west bound buses (northbound on Rainier) wouldn’t be able to move two lanes to make the Dearborn left turn.

  3. This is the routing the Bellevue and Issaquah routes used before I-90 was extended from Dearborn Street in the late 80s. The Bellevue and Issaquah buses got off at Rainier and stopped at the red brick building on the right that was Black Manufacturing and sold down jackets and other down products. My family got bags of scrap down for 50 cents and made a beanbag chair with them. I got off the bus there and took the 7 south to Value Village, which was a block north of Mt Baker Station. Then there was just the concrete walkway over the roads, the valley was generally decaying, and most of the busineeses on MLK weren’t there yet. (They appeared over the next decade as Vietnamese immigrants settled down and started businesses.)

  4. It would also be nice if Sound Transit could use the extra stop as an excuse to boost all day frequency on the 554. Fat chance of that happening.

  5. was the map from Metro? Seattle Boulevard is missing. Turns are being reconfigured at 5th Avenue South.

    should ST fund more trips on Route 554 during the off-peak periods?

  6. What exactly is the market for route 217? It doesn’t really work as a North Issaquah-Seattle commuter route because it’s reverse-peak. Seems like maybe a deadhead route, but then it doesn’t really make sense that they would run it with the extra stop and travel time on Rainier. Is there a large job center in north Issaquah or something?

    1. There’re some office parks in North Issaquah, some more around Eastgate, and more in Factoria. It’s a commuter route to those places from Seattle.

    2. I occasionally ride the 217 in the morning. A reasonable number of people (I suspect 5-10, though I normally don’t try to count them – my nose is often buried in a book) get on at Rainier. It is a reasonably full artic (but almost never anyone standing) when it crosses the floating bridge. It seems that about 40-50% get off along SE36th in “greater Factoria”, about 30-40% at Bellevue College or in Eastgate (a couple of people usually board at the Park-and-Ride), and the remaining 20% or so get off in north Issaquah.

      Again, since I’ve not planned on writing this post, I haven’t bothered to make careful counts. These numbers may be a ways off, but I don’t think they are too bad.

  7. Safe to say everything here is highly provisional, and website and all other service-change information should already be cranking up to turbine speed for the duration. Especially in DSTT.

    But also, should be a lot of lobbying to the Mayor and City Council to have SDOT combine these East-Side service adjustments with the ones between West Seattle and the Waterfront. As a single integrated network. Any chance traffic signals have a central control? If not, good reason to get one.

    Not worried about the Routes in Red- RIR! Sounds like a diesel, doesn’t it? Because let events take their course and screaming mobs will be pushing fish-trucks over on their sides just to prove how little difference these events will make if GP car traffic is left uncontrolled.


  8. The Judkins link station will provide service to the Eastside for the immediate area + people who transfer from the 7 (also the 48) so I think it’s important to maintain some Eastside service in the area during the construction. I’m concerned that the transfer on Mercer island could be tough at certain times when there is a line of people waiting for the bus there.

    I’m hoping there is some coordination between Sound Transit and SDOT as Dearborn is scheduled to be repaved this summer along with improvements to the bike lane and a new bike signal at Dearborn and Rainier.

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