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

Rainier Freeway Station, at I-90 and Rainier will close for 5 years beginning Monday, September 22, for East Link Construction. You can read Sound Transit’s explainer for more details. Most routes (111, 114, 212, 214, 216, 218, and 219) will bypass the station and head into downtown, while the 554, 217, and some 212 trips will be detoured via Rainier Ave and S Dearborn St to provide service coverage to the North Rainier area.

Needless to say the routes that remain on I-90 will be faster for riders going to and from the Eastside. Seattle DOT is, however, mitigating some of the impact for some routes by making a stretch of 4th Avenue S into an all-day bus lane.

Contributor Jason Shindler wrote a guest piece for us in 2016 previewing some of these changes and suggesting some “radical changes” that could speed up buses traveling on I-90.

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

In 2023, the station will re-open to serve East Link light rail exclusively.  At that time, all I-90 buses coming in to Seattle will terminate at either Mercer Island (with limitations) or South Bellevue.

50 Replies to “Rainier Freeway Station Closure Begins Sept. 22”

  1. The crosswalks to the S Charles stop on Rainier are non-existent despite crossing on/ramps to I90. Unsafe situation.

      1. Nobody’s walking from the old location. If anything, people used to cross the ramps to walk to the old location from the new location. Those arriving via the 7 bus can just stay on the bus one more stop.

      2. Ah, OK, that makes sense, but I’m not sure how many people do that (or would do that, even if it was safe). There just isn’t much on that side of the freeway, and it would be a long walk . On the east side, it isn’t bad (or at least no worse than what it is now). You still have to deal with the on-ramp (https://goo.gl/maps/jLyHP9xXPhM2) as you do now, while you can go under the off-ramp (via the trail). So really the only people who are hurt by our lack of crosswalks are those who are southwest of the freeway and headed to the eastbound stop (they would have to do a double cross, or run across the on-ramp you linked to). There just aren’t that many people there, though.

        On the other hand, there are a lot of people on the north side of the freeway, especially on the west side. My guess is the number of people who can safely walk to the station in, say, under five minutes will increase dramatically.

      3. Dave, that IS a pretty pathetic excuse for a cross-walk. It doesn’t even cross the main lanes of traffic, just the on-ramp, but WSDOT can’t deign to paint the stripes which cause people to acknowledge the existence of a cross-walk.

        But in fact, the existence of a bus stop is moot; this cross-walk is a continuation of the west side sidewalk of Rainier Avenue. The cross-walk should have stripes. Period.

      4. Maybe so, but my neighbors and I still plan to. A couple blocks isn’t going to change my commute strategy.

      5. @Ben, It seems like more than a couple blocks to me, but I hear you. Sometimes you just endure and walk farther (since the alternative is worse). But unless you are willing to deal with a very infrequent bus along with a transfer, my guess is there are bound to be better alternatives. You may be one of the less than 100 people who board there and ride the 554, but if you used to ride the 550, then you are out of luck. You will have to not only walk a lot farther, but also catch the infrequent 554, then transfer in Mercer island. That still might be the best option, but my guess is it isn’t.

    1. The map in this post isn’t quite right. The new stops on Rainier will actually be the current Route 7 stops just south of Charles. Advisory signs have gone up at these stops announcing impending 554 service.

    2. Ross, consider Beacon Hill riders. Plenty of us hike the hill to get to/from Rainier. Remember the pedestrian path south of 90.

      1. Yeah, but my point is the bad crosswalk situation (close to the freeway) is irrelevant. Some folks walk more, some walk less. But someone who now has to deal with that particular crossing (which is indeed terrible) probably wouldn’t make that walk anyway, now that the stop is significantly farther. Just from the bus stop to the I-90 trail (on the other side of the freeway) is about 2,000 feet. Add a few blocks to get into the neighborhood and you are well over the distance most people are willing to walk (and that is if it is flat ground).

  2. Also I was sent a flyer from Sound Transit that they will basically be shutting down Rainier Ave every weekend in October to remove part of the overpass, but have seen nothing online about this.

    1. I was just about to ask when that work would be done. Adding some daylight will make that underpass much less oppressive.That’s a big traffic impact, but I’m glad it’s happening sooner rather than later.

  3. Just figured it’s worth pointing that out the bus station is not coming back in 5 years – it’s being replaced by a light rail station. Some readers might not get that from reading the first sentence.

  4. Seems like a pretty good plan, except for one little thing. But first, some numbers. The Rainier Freeway station will be largely irrelevant from a westbound standpoint pretty soon. As it is, about 100 people a day board westbound there right now. My guess is a lot of people are taking an express into town, or simply taking the first bus. With the express service going away and frequent service on other buses, losing 550 service from a westbound perspective is no big deal.

    Eastbound it is a different story. The 550 gets 230 riders a day from Rainier, or about 4% of their eastbound ridership. The 554 gets a similar percentage, with about 81 riders. You don’t want to slow up the vast majority of your riders, but you still want to serve those folks (and not force them to go downtown and then east). The 554 simply carries a lot fewer riders, so they are the ones that take the hit. Meanwhile, folks who used to take the 550 will transfer in Mercer Island.

    Sounds good, except for one thing: The 554 is a traditional commuter bus. From Issaquah, it runs every 15 minutes or so in the morning towards Seattle. Likewise the other direction in the evening. But for reverse commuters (e. g. people who live in Seattle but work in Factoria) it isn’t very good at all, with half hour service during rush hour. This is contrast to the 550, which runs every ten minutes in “reverse commute” mode. That means someone can walk a few blocks to the freeway (or take a connecting bus from Rainier Valley) and then be at work in downtown Bellevue without worrying too much about the schedule. My guess is that represents the vast majority of those 230 riders.

    Now those riders have to wait for a bus that comes every half hour and make a transfer in Mercer Island. That is a pretty big hit. For this to work right, ST should increase service in the reverse commute direction to at least every fifteen minutes, although ten would be better.

    1. The 212 (or 214?) will follow the 554 routing for all reverse peak trips, which should help those reverse commuting, at least during peak.

      1. The 212 and 217 don’t stop at Mercer Island, and are therefore useless to people going from Rainier FS to Bellevue. Everyone who wants to go to Bellevue must either backtrack through Downtown or take the half-hourly 554.

      2. No, one could also transfer at Eastgate and take the 555/556 into Bellevue. The 555 is less frequent but not crush-loaded like the 550.

      3. That’s quite a bit out of the way. My guess is that, in practice, most people just go downtown and take the 550 – especially those already on the 7 bus (some of whom might switch to Link, since, if you have to go downtown anyway, it’s faster). The 554 will only be used by those going to Bellevue College, who need to be on the 554 anyway.

      4. Distance-wise it’s out of the way, but time-wise it’s not that different as the 554 needs to merge through GP lanes on MI but the 212 has HOV lanes all the way to Eastgate. And if the 550 starts leaving people at the ID because it’s full (which already happens occasionally, particularly if there’s a big event overlapping w/ rush hour), transferring through Eastgate might be better than fighting the crowds downtown.

        But yes, if you are doing a bus-bus transfer, it’s likely best to just say on your bus to downtown and transfer to the 550 there.

      5. Transferring at Eastgate is asking for trouble because the 555 and 556 don’t run better than every 30 minutes, even at peak. The slightest delay, you could be waiting at Eastgate awhile.

        Of course, alternative options do exist, such as the 240 or 271, but they’re slower, and you’re already detouring to get to Eastgate in the first place.

      6. >> but the 212 has HOV lanes all the way to Eastgate

        Yeah, but you still have to get back to Bellevue. Not only do you have the extra distance, but there aren’t HOV lanes from the eastern part of I-90 to I-405. At least Bellevue to Mercer Island has that.

        The main thing is, ST should increase service on the 554. I find the whole thing very weird. If ST3 lost, we would all be talking about we lost out on the little things, like getting over 200 riders from Rainier Avenue to Bellevue at a decent clip. But ST3 passed. Part of the money was supposed to go for “early victories”, which includes money for the C and D. I’m all for that (why not) but it seems like this is the part of the system that needs it more, especially since it is the ST buses themselves that are being hampered by their own project. I’m not talking about a very high level of service, just something in the fifteen minute range would be a huge step up. That means about a half dozen trips a day or what are now obviously dead heads. Sure, that costs money, but it can’t cost that much. Meanwhile, you’ve improved the whole west side/east side system. Someone headed to BCC, Factoria or Issaquah (where there are jobs, just not as many) have a much better ride. Done right, and you actually increase ridership. Sure, there are folks who refuse to transfer from a fifteen minute bus to a ten minute bus (in Mercer Island) but you make up for that with folks headed to places east of I-405 as well as a stop that is actually closer to apartments.

    2. Alternatively, if you can walk over to the 48 stop, then you can take that up to Montlake freeway station and take the 271 or 555. And the 271 is usually very fast compared to the 550, especially eastbound.

      1. Good point, but I believe the Montlake stop is going away soon, too (as part of the SR 520 rebuild). It isn’t clear yet how many buses will serve the UW. At that point, then taking Link to the UW and then catching a bus might make sense — but boy, that is well out the way — I have to think that it is faster than using an I-90 bus if you are close to I-90. I mean if the I-90 bus is that slow, then why would anyone take the 550 from downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle?

  5. Turn SR520 buses at UW station or vicinity, meeting express buses to Bellevue Transit Center? Will take at least some of the load off of what’ll be left of I-90. Buses “platooned to Montlake ramp, police-enforced, letting four buses, for instance, move as a single train?

    LINK to Sea-Tac to ST 560 to Renton and Bellevue?

    Hydrofoil ferries to Mercer Island and Kirkland? Winging this whole thing. But as usual, my call is that we’ll do as necessity turns out to dictate these next few years. We’re really guessing about most of this.
    But compared to every other alternative, we could find things that’ll get us more public support.

    One very sure bet: a lot of people working from home. And also from rented office space east of the lake. Remind me what that’s called, office equivalent of Car Sharing? Everyplace in the region. A lot of machining is already “Computer Numeric Control” meaning designed anywhere and manufactured ditto.

    If I had an espresso cafe east of the Bridges, I’d think about starting a chain..somebody .please move fast on this, before Starbucks has got everything. Because In a place as rich as Seattle, all human history shows how fast discomfort is the Mother-(six very bad letters starting with an “F”) – of Invention.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark, pretty good concept, but the agencies are not asking their riders about it. the routes will still be on the I-5 general purpose lanes. Do 62 Link cars provide enough capacity? I think so.

      1. Thanks, eddiew, but just for clarity: Are we talking about the 255 and the 540 being forced to stay on current routes between Downtown and Montlake? Why would either Agency want to keep these buses where they’ll neither pick up any passengers not move at all?

        Real disaster I can see is getting any kind transit priority between the freeway ramps to and from University Hospital. Red paint will need a lot of police footprints on top of it. With a fair number of suede desert boots and MP insignia too. With their hands on a whole battery of signals switches. We really are talking about five years of an emergency….aren’t we?

        Not kidding about platooning buses, either- under sternly- signaled supervision as DSTT intended. To me, it’s the way to create a single bus that’s four to six buses long. Meaning taking a very large load through anything reserved we can get.

        Agencies don’t like it? If we had some volunteers aboard, handing out culprits’ names, e-mail, and office addresses,, a rush hour’s worth of stubborn routing will swing any recall election in the in Seattle, King Council, and the Central Puget Sound region in a walk.

        So I really am thinking very hard about every use we can find for LINK. Think average passenger would rather change modes than loyally imitate a single-ride canned sardine. Incidentally: we’ll need a really short-headway non-stop express bus to Bellevue. No, we can’t just use the 271! It’s the wrong color.

        Mark Dublin

  6. I’m hoping I’ll get some real outrage about what I just said. What about the people who already make up huge percentage of our ridership: service people, nurses, restaurant workers, janitors, and everybody whose work makes them extremely dispensable?

    And the rest of our population who used to live in Seattle- where their jobs still are, but with a lot of their already-cramped road space soon gone? I wonder how much hardship for ridership owes directly to the massively regressive process that has brought such skyrocketing prosperity to some of Seattle.

    And how many of our calculations nowhere near include these next six years will have on the rest? Lord, I hope the wing-nut ideas I just expressed get some following among those with a Rolex pricey enough to show they can flex. Maybe removal of their cars will leave a little more room for everybody else.

    And we come up with a means that’ll allow these changed-conditions’ beneficiaries to help finance their remedy. This time, let’s call it by its right name. It’s not a tax. It’s a bill.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Subject: You spoke, we listened!
      Date: Fri, 18 May 2018 15:54:36 -0500
      From: “Sound Transit”
      To: eddiew@speakeasy.net

      After completing analysis and considering feedback received through the SR 520 Link Connections project, Sound Transit is no longer considering changes to routes 541, 542, and 545. We will continue to plan ST Express service in coordination with King County Metro and may consider changes to ST Express Route 540 (Kirkland-U District) based on the outcome of Metro’s North Eastside Mobility Plan later this year.

      Sound Transit service planners produce an annual Service Implementation Plan (SIP) that reviews ST express service for potential service changes. Any proposed service changes will be included as part of the 2019 SIP presented to the board in fall 2018.

      Due to the major construction projects in downtown Seattle starting in 2019, we will continue to monitor performance closely and we may propose ST Express service changes in response to evolving conditions.

      We appreciate the thousands of people who took time to provide their input.

      Please subscribe to receive updates about the next opportunity to participate.

  7. Combine this with the closure of a significant part of the Eastgate P&R for 7 weeks of waterproofing work, and a lot of SE Bellevue commuters are going to be unhappy campers.

    1. I had no idea the top floor of Eastgate was going to be closed & I think I got the last parking spot this morning. I had to park between two morons who couldn’t park straight and I barely squeezed out of passenger side door.

  8. Giving the anticipated mess in Downtown once AWV closes, I can’t help but feel a twinge if wondering if some I-90 buses should be truncated at a Link station south of ID. Stadium Station and Mt Baker station both come to mind.

    For example, it will take less than 15 minutes to get from Westlake to Mt Baker once the buses are gone. An express bus with stops only at Mt Baker and at I-90 on Rainier are about 5 minutes from the I-90 Lake Washington bridge.

    Similarly, it would be about 8 minutes to go from Westlake to Stadium and maybe 10-12 minutes to reach the I-90 Lake Washington bridge from there.

    I do understand how riders do prefer direct bus service — so I wouldn’t do all of them this way. Still, some of them could benefit by doing this if the Ng’s get really slow in Downtown Seattle.

    1. Trailhead Direct truncates at Mt. Baker station, and I’m not thrilled with it, mostly for reasons relating to the awkwardness of Mt. Baker transit center, relative to the station itself. The left turns to get into the station take a lot of time, as does the pedestrian crossing to get out of it.

      Of course, if the bus could just stay on Ranier, drop people off at the #7 stop right next to Mt. Baker station, and do its turnaround loop after all the passengers have gotten off, I would feel better about it. But Metro loves transit centers, even those that simply get in the way.

      1. The problem isn’t with Metro, but with ST. The Mount Baker station is simply in the wrong place. It should be in the triangle that contains the transit center, not a block away. That would mean that you would have buses that drop people off and keep going (like the 7) as well as buses that terminate there. A transit center is really not a terrible idea there. It is a funnel, with 23rd, MLK and Rainier to the north, and MLK and Rainier to the south. MLK to the south is also where Link runs. So that means basically three bus popular lines funneling into one. That would be OK if Rainier needed that kind of service, but it doesn’t. Therefore, it does make sense to terminate buses there, which means building a transit center is fine.

        Oh, and that would also mean that you would have more space to develop on both sides of the station. The building that houses the Mount Baker Center for the arts would just be one of several buildings over there.

  9. This is an unimportant bus stop. It’s lightly used. From what I’ve seen, stops like the Bellevue Library, BTC, 4th & Bellevue Way, Mercer Island and downtown, comprise 99% of the the 550 boardings. It seems like it should be a major stop, serving I-90 and Rainier Ave., but it’s not. 1 or 2 people may get on or off at peak.

    Sam. Rainier Freeway Station Expert.

    1. Dude, read my comments (or better yet, read the report yourself). It represents about 4% of the eastbound boarding. Not huge, but more than 1%. Total ridership isn’t bad in general — higher than three of the stops in Bellevue.

      1. Cry me a river. The 550 is not designed to serve Seattle residents, nor is it funded to do so.

      2. If you say 4%, I believe you. I’m just going by what I see. And what I see, as a semi-regular rider, is that the old S. Bellevue P&R was a popular stop. The BTC is a popular stop. The Bellevue Library is a popular stop. Mercer Island is a popular stop. The closest stops to Bellevue Square are popular stops. Downtown, ditto. And I’ve just noticed, even during rush hour, that very few people use the Rainier Freeway Station. I’m sure it will become more popular once Judkins Park Station is and East Link is here.

      3. @William — What? Have you seen the ridership reports? Are all those riders who leave Seattle in the morning just Bellevue residents who slept in Seattle? It is a bidirectional bus, serving both riders from Seattle and the East Side. That is the main reason it is such a cost effective bus (the most cost effective bus in Sound Transit’s system).

        @Sam — Here is a link to the report for the buses: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/2018-service-implementation-plan.pdf

      4. The 226 stopped there before the 550 was created. It’s like the Montlake, Evergreen Point, and Yarrow Point stations: you’re not likely to get an agency to skip them.

      5. >> @RossB Remind me… what percentage of the 550s budget comes from North King?

        Hard to say — it is complicated. Fare recovery on that bus is fairly high which means that the people who live in Seattle and ride pay for a good chunk of the cost. Other funding comes from taxes, which includes car tabs, sales taxes, property taxes and rental car taxes. For car tabs, North King residents pay zero. But North King residents pay some of the other taxes, especially those that commute to the East Side. The tunnel (which has allowed the 550 to run quickly for many years, thus saving ST a lot of money) was paid for and is maintained by the county (so we all chip in for that).

        Oh, and a good chunk of the property taxes are paid for by Bellevue businesses, which of course want to see their employees get to work on time. I guess that doesn’t answer your question, but it does suggest that your provincial, selfish and ultimately self destructive attitude is not shared by many of your fellow East Siders.

        Not that I would assume that would be the case, regardless of the funding mechanism. Most people want a cost effective system that works well for everyone, and are not fixated on who paid for what piece that makes it all possible.

    2. Now that Sam’s hung out his shingle, we’d better show some respect! Because tell me with a straight face that he’d be the worst consultant Transit has ever hired in Seattle.


      1. I was surprised he’s an expert on only one station. I thought for sure he’d be an expert on the Mercer Island P&R too.

  10. Is Frank’s second paragraph true? (faster?) will not the loss of the D-2 roadway make I-90 service slower? Are not the longer running times and increase in hours the reason that ST is cutting trips? Not stopping at the freeway stop will save a bit, but losing the D-2 and using the general purpose lanes will slow peak direction trips more. East Link in 2023. Slower service for the intervening five years?

    For riders traveling in the reverse peak direction, many to jobs or schools on the Eastside, transit travel would seem more difficult.

    Mark’s suggestion to use Link is good, but routes 541, 542, and 556 provide only fair frequency; Route 271 does not serve the SR-520 freeway stops.

    1. I guess you can interpret that paragraph two ways. I read it to mean that the buses that skip Rainier Avenue stop will be faster than those that run on Rainier Avenue, not that any bus will be faster than it is today.

    2. Inbound in the morning is likely to be a wash. You’re trading the Rainier Freeway station, D-2 roadway and the light at 5th/Seattle Blvd for I-90 to 4th Ave and the light at the end of the ramp. Since the traffic on I-90 is almost all in the right two lanes trying to get into downtown, the buses shouldn’t get affected by that much; you just ride the HOV lane all the way to the end and stay left. And once you’re on 4th, SDOT painted the curb lane red so that helps.

      Outbound in the morning is hard to say; the jog over to 5th took some time, and the new routing via 2nd Ave Ext to 4th is more direct. But it takes longer to get on the freeway since you have to get all the way down past Royal Brougham, instead of just hopping on the D-2 roadway at Seattle Blvd.

      Outbound in the afternoon is almost certainly slower, due to traffic on 4th Ave and the less direct routing. Inbound in the afternoon is probably a wash; the D-2 roadway was faster and more direct, but the red paint on 4th Ave and skipping the Rainier Freeway station likely makes up for it.

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