While 2019 will be a quiet year for transit openings, there’s plenty of upcoming events for transport aficionados to look forward to, whether we’re ready or not.
January–February: The viaduct, the tunnel, and the apocalypse
It’s been covered to death locally, ourselves included, but in case you’ve been under a rock for the past year: the long-overdue closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is upon us. On Friday, January 11, the last drivers will pass over the structure and the three-week “Seattle Squeeze” will begin while the ramps to the new SR 99 Tunnel are readied for opening day.
On February 2, the viaduct and the new tunnel will be opened to pedestrians for an official inauguration event, with plenty of activities at both portals, all free of charge with an online ticket. A paid-entry bike ride is also happening the following day.
March: BRT and New Bus Networks in Everett
To coincide with the opening of Paine Field’s small (and hard-fought) passenger terminal, both of the local transit operators in Snohomish County are preparing to debut new routes.
On March 17, Everett Transit will revamp their bus network, reducing service for some areas and laying down the foundation of a less chaotic system. Route 8 will serve the Paine Field terminal, bringing with it a direct connection to Everett Station, while the circulator routes in South Everett are straightened out into normal neighborhood collectors.
The following weekend, on Sunday, March 24, Community Transit will snip the ribbon on its second bus rapid transit project: the Swift Green Line. Running from a new transit center near the Boeing plant in Everett to Paine Field, Mariner Park & Ride, Mill Creek, and Canyon Park in north Bothell, this route will create a new frequent service trunk for the county and patch a small gap in Everett Transit’s new network.
March 23: The last tunnel bus
Seattle’s older, less-problematic downtown tunnel will see a major change of its own on March 23: light rail trains will overtake buses as the sole users of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.
One of the most unique experiments in North American transit, running buses and trains through the same tunnel and set of stations*, will come to a close after just under ten years of joint operations. The last remains of Convention Place Station and its temporary bus ramp will make way for a massive expansion of the convention center, while Sound Transit wishes to speed up trains that are slowed by the quirks of joint operations.
You’ll still be able to catch the 41, 550, and other beloved tunnel routes, just on the ever more crowded downtown streets. Expect a somber transit party for the very last trip, which should leave just after 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 23.
* Pittsburgh has its own train/bus tunnel, but it lacks stations.
Spring: Lynnwood Link Breaks Ground
With federal funding secured and demolition already underway, the stage is set for Lynnwood Link to break ground and begin construction. While visible construction won’t be as impressive this year, Sound Transit does offer a convenient viewing platform: a double-decker bus (of which there will be more delivered in 2020) barreling down I-5.
Construction is still ongoing on three other ST2 Link extensions, at various levels of progress: Northgate Link’s stations now reach above street level and work has shifted towards systems installation and trackwork. East Link has rails in place on Mercer Island, viaducts built in Bellevue, and a completed tunnel “bore”, but visible work on the Seattle section is only just starting. The Hilltop Link project in Tacoma broke ground recently and has kicked into full gear, with street closures for utility relocation.
Meanwhile, the status of two more ST2(ish) projects are still in limbo. Federal Way Link is the next target for FFGA lobbying while also awaiting the signing of a design-build contract. The Downtown Redmond Extension of East Link will also use a design-build contract and is expected to begin construction in 2020.
Spring: Amtrak returns to Point Defiance Bypass
Pending the completion of the NTSB’s investigation into the December 2017 derailment in DuPont, WSDOT and Amtrak hope to resume Cascades service on the Point Defiance Bypass this spring. PTC testing has been underway for several months along the route and have been deemed successful enough to wind down. The bypass will add reliability to the Cascades schedule and shave a few minutes off travel times, but the stated advantage of being able to add more trips has been offset by a shortage due to another derailment last month that requires extensive trainset repairs.
Spring: Viaduct demolition
If all goes as planned, the bulk of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be demolished between March and June by WSDOT contractors in a seven-step process with conventional equipment. The gradual transformation of the freeway into rubble (bound for filling the Battery Street Tunnel) will be a spectacle worth seeing a few times, though hearing protection is recommended.
Summer and Fall: First glimpses of new Link trains
Sound Transit’s ST2 order of 152 light rail vehicles from Siemens will bear fruit sometime this year, with the first car scheduled for testing and commissioning during the middle of the year (more details on that are forthcoming). As it will be in testing between and around normal light rail trips, the Siemens car may make unannounced visits to a station (or railyard) near you. While full relief isn’t expected until 2020, the two-car rush hour light train may soon become little more than a distant memory or an irregular annoyance.
September: North Eastside Restructure
Metro and Sound Transit plan to unveil a new bus network in September for the “North Eastside”, roughly covering Kirkland, Woodinville, Bothell, and Kenmore. Route 255 will be caught in yet another major change, as its riders will instead be dropped off at an improved UW Station in lieu of downtown or the shuttered Montlake Freeway Station. Other local routes will be shuffled and reorganized into a more coherent network with fewer I-405 crossings and consolidated schedules.
A few other transit happenings are sprinkled throughout the year, so there will be more good fodder for the blog.
Sound Transit’s promised upgrades ($) to the escalator situation at Capitol Hill and UW stations will start this year with new access to emergency stairways and a replacement for a set of lower mezzanine escalators.
Several other downtown projects, including the Colman Dock renovation, KeyArena rebuild, and the construction of new office buildings at Rainier Square and Amazon HQ1, will also continue through the year, providing new surprises for passersby as traffic is interrupted for short periods of time.
Martin H. Duke also contributed to this post.