Tolling in the new Highway 99 tunnel has finally started. Today is the first regular weekday commute to feel the impacts (as yesterday was Veterans Day).

WSDOT is encouraging tunnel users to avail themselves of the Good-to-Go Pass, by giving pass users a $2 discount. (If only someone could explain this principle to King County Metro and/or the County Council…)

Tolls are as follows:

  • $1.00, weekends and 11 pm to 6 am
  • $1.25, 9 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm
  • $1.50, 7 am to 9 am
  • $2.25, 3 pm – 6 pm
  • $2.00, for not using the Good-to-Go Pass

Let’s talk about what you see happening today. Are there any impacts to your bus route?

One thing that will impact bus routes today will be the Sounders’ MLS Cup Victory Parade, which will take over 4th Ave from sometime before noon, when the parade is scheduled to start at Westlake Plaza, until 1:30 pm, when the parade terminates at the Seattle Center.

If you haven’t already signed up for travel alerts specific to your route, now is a good time to do so.

This is an open thread.

51 Replies to “First regular weekday of tolling in the Highway 99 tunnel”

  1. The rain will likely mess up traffic to some extent as well. That said I noticed on Monday they had added “last exit before toll” signs to 99, well before the actual exit. Though that didn’t stop one idiot I was behind from travelling in the left lane until the last moment before cutting across all lanes to make the exit.

  2. I took a glance at Google Maps during rush hour yesterday to see how the tunnel was, and it was all green, I think the whole time. I’m looking on Google right now at 7:26 am on Tuesday, it’s ALL green! If this traffic pattern holds up, Metro would be crazy not to run a C-line express to SLU via the tunnel, by taking maybe 4 trips per hour from the regular C-line.

    1. A big problem with transit West Seattle is that you have to fight downtown traffic to get pretty much anywhere in the Puget Sound region, whether you’re actually going downtown or not. A lot of this is fallout from the legacy mentality where the sole purpose of transit is to go downtown, and everybody expected to own a car and drive for whenever they want to get anywhere else.

      But, some of it is because the regular C-line buses are packed, and redeploying some of them to SLU express buses could be risky – if people don’t switch over to the new route, the regular C-line gets overcrowded and starts leaving people behind. The SLU express experiment would be safer in the context of new service, rather than a redeployment of existing service.

      1. If you’re one of the people on the C-line going to SLU, it takes you 40 minutes (based on the schedule, so it’s worse if the bus is late) to get from Alaska Junction to SLU. If you have the express as an option and it saves you 20 minutes (certainly a possibility), then I don’t think people will object to moving over, even if they need to wait a little longer for the express. The service hour savings might even be significant enough to increase the number of total trips (e.g., to get 4 express trips per hour, they might only need to take 3 regular trips because the express trips are faster and more efficient).

      2. Would there be much in the way of service savings? I guess I don’t understand what exactly you have in mind. I could easily see how reversing the order of downtown coverage (i. e. go from West Seattle to South Lake Union, then go all the way south) would be great for some riders (and bad for others). But I don’t see that as saving much of anything from a service standpoint.

        I can imagine various possibilities that would save service hours, but only if you avoid a downtown layover. A bus could run through downtown one direction, essentially making a live loop through downtown. The problem is that I think such a route would be too time consuming. Most of the West Seattle buses spend a lot of time in West Seattle. The route that probably has the most promise is probably the 56. You might be able to run that route one direction, like so: (Although even that seems a bit too time consuming). That would make sense as an alternative for the middle of the day, when you have demand both directions. Unfortunately, the 56 doesn’t run in the middle the day, so it doesn’t really gain anything.

      3. I thought about this some more. The first thing is that C is fairly frequent (and I assume fairly crowded) during rush hour. It runs every 8 minutes. This opens up the possibility of running a truncated version at that time. Unfortunately, the only existing layover spot I see is the junction. I think is a bit too far “upstream”. I think the ideal truncation spot would be around California and Morgan. Anyway, assume that this bus starts at the Junction. It would make sense to then travel in reverse order, hitting South Lake Union first. This would ease the crowding of the C , while saving some riders a lot of time.

        Some riders would welcome it, while other riders wouldn’t care. You might even get riders that lose time, but don’t want to wait for the next bus. The 309 is like this (I know people who prefer the 312, but just take the first bus). You might get people who transfer to it, although it is hard to say. Doing this would be cost effective. As an estimate, you would run the C every six minutes (still pretty frequent) while this other bus runs every six minutes as well. This means a bus every three minutes instead of four, and that is because of the savings from the truncation.

        The issue is whether stops at the Junction (and between there and downtown) make up the bulk of ridership. You would be cutting into service for those further south. As a result, you might end up with more crowding, not less. You might end up with an uncrowded new bus, and a crowded C.

        There are other ways to do this. The simplest would be to just have a version of the C that served downtown in opposite order. Again, some people would love it, a lot wouldn’t care, and others would hate it. With service every 8 minutes, that approach seems reasonable. If you have a strong preference for one over the other, you can time it. I don’t think we have anything in our system like that. The 77 used to serve south downtown first, then go back up north, but that was an independent route. We have express overlay routes, but those still serve the same downtown locations. This would be a very different thing — it is certainly worth considering.

      4. The SLU express bus should probably just go east/west through SLU and call it good. There is no point in backtracking to the south part of downtown – that is what the regular C line is for.

      5. Route 55 also goes from the Junction to downtown, starting from the Admiral District. Consider what would happen if that were re-routed to SLU via the tunnel. I’m not sure it saves any service hours (which is pretty much a necessity to be on the table post-I-976), but even with the lesser frequency, a customer’s average trip time to SLU might still be comfortably shorter.

        A similar exercise could be done from Burien TC, changing some 121s to a new 126 to SLU. But, of course, if they are looking for service-hour savings, a much better option is a peak express from BTC to TIBS, and also re-routing route 122’s local tail to TIBS instead of BTC. The express going the other way could be a palatable alternative to the F Line for getting to jobs in downtown Burien, but the F Line already does a pretty good job with that market.

        Still, the largest opportunity to save platform hours is deadheading some routes through the tunnel, which, I suppose, might already be happening.

      6. @RossB,

        Actually the C-Line runs every 4 minutes at peak of peak, or 15 trips per hour. So if take 4 of those and make them express, you get an express every 15 minutes and a local every 5-6 minutes, with the express saving probably on the order of 20 minutes.

        And I was thinking exactly the same thing with the express serving downtown the other way. It would express to SLU, and turn around and become a *southbound* local C-Line (maybe with a schedule asterisk to signify appropriate time, since it would live loop and head south). That would allow riders to experiment and see which bus gets them there faster (it’s certainly possible that it is a faster way to get to 3rd and Pike, for example).

      7. The SLU express bus should probably just go east/west through SLU and call it good. There is no point in backtracking to the south part of downtown – that is what the regular C line is for.

        OK, yeah, a bus like that would likely be a terrible value. The 309, for example, which goes right down Fairview (serving a good chunk of South Lake Union) AND to First Hill, still lags the 312/522 in terms of ridership per bus. Many riders take it to downtown, even though it requires a longer walk, just because the main bus is full. For a handful it saves them a lot of time, but overall, it isn’t a great bus. My guess is this bus would be worse. It would serve less of downtown, and you wouldn’t really be covering anyplace new. Every new stop is a fairly easy walk to an existing stop. That means that unlike the 309, you aren’t reducing the number of transfers — you probably would do the opposite. Either the existing C gets more crowded (now running every 8 minutes), or most riders end up transferring to get towards the rest of downtown. A trip to 3rd and Virginia, for example, goes from being somewhat time consuming to being a pain (and it is worse for stops like Third and Pine, Third and Seneca and Third and Madison which likely make up the bulk of the ridership).

      8. Arg, yeah, I meant to write that the C runs every 4 minutes. I was extrapolating from there (in my head I started imaging a regular C running every 8 minutes, while a C Express to SLU runs every 8 minutes). Sorry for the confusion.

      9. Route 55 also goes from the Junction to downtown, starting from the Admiral District. Consider what would happen if that were re-routed to SLU via the tunnel. I’m not sure it saves any service hours (which is pretty much a necessity to be on the table post-I-976), but even with the lesser frequency, a customer’s average trip time to SLU might still be comfortably shorter.

        Right, but their time to the rest of downtown would be much worse. Hard to see how that would be better, really. It is not like south downtown lacks employment density (

      10. This is a bit different from the 309. To get to SLU on the C, you have to slog through all of downtown. To get to SLU from the 522, you only have to slog through less than half of it. Or, you can take take a 15 minute walk from Pike St.

        First Hill on the 309 is a bust for an obvious reason. Meandering through SLU takes longer than just getting off at 6th and Pike and walking. In other words, the extra service hours spent meandering to First Hill are a waste. If you don’t go to first hill, that argument doesn’t apply.

      11. Should also mention that I see the need for a West Seattle/SLU express mostly as a stopgap until West Seattle Link opens, as a workaround for the C line taking so long to get through downtown. With Link, the slog through downtown becomes a lot quicker, and we don’t need a separate bus to bypass it anymore.

      12. Right, but their time to the rest of downtown would be much worse.

        It would be worse only if route 55 moved backward through downtown, and riders made the mistake of getting on it instead of the C Line.

        Granted, those on California Ave who catch the 55 and want to go to the Central Business District would still have to transfer, either to the C or 56. But the C is a non-painful transfer, and the 56 is fast, at least until the West Seattle Freeway.

        The SLU 55 would be about serving riders trying to get to SLU and nearby areas that could be served faster that way than from the C Line. No, it is not as dense employment-wise as the Financial District, but it is clearly underserved by transit, from many directions, which is why ST 544 will be happening.

      13. So if take 4 of those and make them express [serving SLU first], you get an express every 15 minutes and a local every 5-6 minutes, with the express saving probably on the order of 20 minutes.

        Right, but then it is quite possible you get into the situation I described. Ridership to the SLU bus is low (since it costs *most* people time) while riders on the traditional C are crowded.

        If the bus became a southbound C, then you mitigate those issues. Except what does it do, exactly? Does it turn around at Fairview and Minor? Even without a layover, that would substantially delay someone who wants to go south of Denny. With a layover — which is likely required — it would kill through-ridership. So the service time savings would be significant, but ridership would be low. Given that the service time savings would still be a relatively small portion of the overall route time (most of which is spent in West Seattle) I don’t see it paying off.

        The other option is to just run it south after getting to Westlake. But that would mean skipping a couple of stops on your way to south downtown. The bus would then layover at the south end, and likely deadhead back to West Seattle. I could see that working as a rush hour variation, even though you wouldn’t save any service time. Each bus would run every 8 minutes, for a combined 4 hour service. Riders who time their trip would pick the one they prefer.

        Interestingly enough, you could do that with a lot of buses that go on the freeway. You could have a version of the 41 that serves Cherry first, then goes north. That would save those in the south end of downtown quite a bit of time. Same with the 522/312. In that case it would be easy, as you wouldn’t have to come up with a different bus number — you could just have one of them do things in reverse order.

      14. Express runs would have to have a different number than C. The promise of RapidRide is simplicity: all buses go to the same stops every 5-15 minutes. In an alternate universe there could be a “C Express” brand but it would have to be systematic: the go-to solution for all RapidRide lines, not an ad-hoc solution for a short-term problem on one route. The time period of express runs matches the time period of peak-only routes, so it makes more sense to reroute the 55 or such. There would be significant opposition to moving any route away from downtown, both justified and unjustified. Metro does plan an express route after West Seattle Link opens, on Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU. But that depends on Link replacing the inner part of the C.

      15. I think the plan to add the express after Link replaces the C is backwards. The point of the express is to bypass the C’s long, slow slog through downtown. When Link replaces the C, travel through downtown on the regular route gets much faster, and you don’t need the express anymore. It is before West Seattle Link opens that the time savings of the express is greatest.

      16. Theentire “Blue Streak” series used the “reverse loop” which is the reason for the Fifth Avenue contra-flow lane. For the first decade af/we the service name was dropped, the “X” versions which succeeded them did the same thing.

        I’d do it as an overlay like you suggest Ross, but start farther south, probably to include High Point somehow.

  3. If only they had put a bus only lane in the tunnel with a station or two in the tunnel itself…..

    Unfortunately that would have required a level of mobility-system planning that this region does not have.

    1. Yeah, it is crazy that we spent so much for something with so little — quite possibly nothing — in the way of transit benefit.

    2. It’s roughly 200 feet below the street at Pike and Pine. Shades of Washington Park. Also, you can’t have a station without a station box to replace the tube. What a hole to dig in downtown Seattle. It would have had to be mined as Midtown will have to be.

  4. No mention of the classism inherent in the travel alert system? Those least likely to have a smartphone are those most impacted by mass transit delays. Emails and SMS texts are no replacements for signs at stops. Yet Metro thinks as long as they push a travel alert update, that’s good enough. I doubt when I walk to a bus later today there will be any sign even mentioning this parade and the delays it will likely cause.

    1. I don’t have a smartphone. I don’t begrudge Metro for having an alert system that makes use of that technology. Lots of the working poor have smartphones. Sometimes, people with smartphones will tell other people without smartphones at that bus stop what is going on with the bus. I’ve been a beneficiary of that advice. I see no downsides to having an electronic alert system.

      Furthermore, those with old-fashioned flip phones (like me) can get texts. I simply turned texting off on my phone, by choice.

      I’ve seen plenty of plastic alert signage at stops for many short-term or permanent re-routes. Granted, they don’t always get the correct sign on the correct stop, but I’ve phoned in some mistakes, went back a couple days later, and seen the mistakes corrected.

      Sound Transit is usually slow in getting alerts out about emergency service disruptions and re-routes. I guess that makes them less classist, since everyone is equally annoyed (and yet, nobody benefits when nobody gets informed).

      1. Lots of the working poor do not have cellphones. The Obama era subsidized cellphone system has been gutted by the current administration. The last estimates I saw had transit user cellphone ownership at between 50 and 60 percent. Leaving 40 percent of customers in the dark is a horrible business practice.

        Plastic alert signage is very hit and miss. I haven’t seen one for today’s parade anywhere yet (I’ve got more stops to check still). Electronic alerts with plastic signage is fine. From my experience, what we get today is electronic alerts with no plastic signage. That’s a problem.

      2. Nothing on Pine, the road/routes that would be most impacted. You’d think if any road would get plastic warnings, this would be the one.

      3. That doesn’t mean their cell phone has SMS messaging. Only 81% own a smartphone. With a greater number of low income users than the regional average, 40% of transit not having a smartphone is quite achievable.

        Having been eligible for a Lifeline phone, I can tell you the ones offered to me did not have SMS messaging.

      4. Why should cell companies’ data plans be a required middleman for transit information? And everybody at the bus stop looks it up individually in parallel rather than having one person look it up and announce it to everyone else. The cell companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

      5. Mike, SMS does not require a data plan, only “voice and messaging” which comes even with burner flip-phones. Perhaps nine years ago when “Obamaphones” were first made available, there were special models which had no SMS, but today it is not possible to buy any phone without it.

    2. Despite what A Joy says below, a federal government program that provides subsidized smartphones and talk/text/data for those who qualify (LifeLine) still exists, funded by the universal service fee we all pay as part of our bills. Several companies offer free phones and free plans with no credit or payments required. There’s no real financial barrier to having a smartphone or service that would enable you to receive transit alerts. There’s a paperwork barrier, for sure, and probably a language barrier. But if one wants a smartphone, one can get a smartphone.

      That being said, signs at stops are just better. There’s no question about whether or not you’re reaching your customers, and it requires next to no effort from the customer to be informed of goings-on.

  5. Looks like my bike commute was 1 minute longer than Friday’s. The Burke-Gilman was less busy than usual.

    1. The 99 tunnel was a bad political decision. Adding a bus station in it would be a bad decision on top of a bad decision. Just because a tunnel is there doesn’t mean it’s in the right place. This tunnel has a niche expressing from south of downtown to SLU, and a few routes could use it. That doesn’t mean we should design our transit system around this tunnel and distort the network.

  6. For the cost of this stupid thing, $2 is a ridiculously tiny toll. The Narrows Bridge is around $6, and I’m pretty sure that was a bit cheaper.

    1. This tunnel is short and doesn’t connect two entire cities, so it’s hard to see how people would tolerate a $6 toll. Plus the fact that I-5 is a close parallel and free.

    2. The Narrows has no realistic competition. A driver from say Bremerton to Tacoma has 3 choices; use the narrow, drive around the sound or take a ferry to Seattle then drive south on I-5.

      Driving around more than doubles your transit time. Taking the ferry costs $12.35 to 15.75 (depending on car size) and still increase the total travel time.

      So the $6 isn’t high, its actually very cheap compared to the available alternatives.

      Like Mike said the tunnel is $2 because I-5 and surface streets are right next to it, are free, and offer very similar travel times.

    3. 15th in Ballard has been backed up past 65th at 7:30 in the morning, which is not typical. I’m sure holiday hiring has a small role, but I would be dollars to donuts it’s mostly people that are willing to add 15-20 minutes to their commute to save $2.

  7. Considering how few want to use the piece of current junk; how about making one lane going each way for light rail, the other for buses & freight only? That way Sound Transit 3 can go way faster, buses get bus lanes and freight gets some speed. Might even make it easier for the Port of Seattle to swallow a SoDo Arena.

    [dude, stop it]

    The logic behind the above being this: Tax money is tax money. Why waste valuable tax dollars and time building a fourth tunnel thru downtown Seattle when one isn’t being used? Why?

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