Branding for the Stride buses on I-405 and SR 522 (image: Sound Transit)

Bus Rapid Transit on I-405 and SR 522 is likely to be delayed. Only the Burien to Bellevue service is now expected to open on time in 2024. Expectations for service on the northern part of I-405 and SR 522 have slipped into 2025.

The delays were first publicly shared at last Thursday’s Sound Transit Board meeting. (though implicit in the latest financial plan from last Fall where 2024 BRT ridership expectations were dramatically lowered).

In Bothell, Sound Transit intends to open a bus base by 2023. The update to the Board flags some issues with permitting and right of way acquisition. If the base can open by 2023, however, that will open the way to an on-time start of service on south I-405 between Bellevue and Burien in 2024. Other construction on south I-405 is mostly being conducted as part of WSDOT’s expansion of express toll lanes in the area and is on schedule. Sound Transit is in final design for the in-line stop at NE 44th in Renton and was about to start construction before the COVID-19 delays intervened. Pre-construction work is underway at the planned transit center in South Renton.

Planned bus base in Bothell’s Canyon Park (image: Sound Transit)

The risk of delays in opening north I-405 service were highlighted by staff last August following a major change of scope in that area. In the 2019 session, the Legislature approved funding to add a second express toll lane roughly between SR 522 and SR 527. This included direct access ramps at Canyon Park and SR 522. To take advantage of the expanded express lanes, Sound Transit must fund an in-line station at Brickyard too. Absent Brickyard center ramps, the BRT would have to skip Brickyard or only use the outer lanes north of SR 522. The state-funded express lane expansion stops just short of Brickyard.

This improves I-405 BRT service in the area because it will allow the BRT to operate in the express lanes rather than the mixed traffic outer lanes. But it exposes the BRT schedule to the risk of any delays in a tight WSDOT schedule, and has required extensive fresh design work. Sound Transit will need to make a decision this summer to fund those ramps. Design work is ongoing for the Brickyard ramps and appears more complicated than initially expected. The cost of the inline station at Brickyard was initially estimated last year at about $75 million, of which about half would be recouped through savings elsewhere. But it’s worth it. Moving to the express lanes with inline stations is an important part of why Sound Transit has been able to reduce expected travel time on the north corridor by one-third vs the ST3 conceptual project.

On SR 522, there is even greater uncertainty. Currently, construction is trending toward a 2025 service start, but Sound Transit is not yet committing to that date. The challenges are around an unexpectedly complex design and property acquisition process. BAT lanes exist along much of SR 522, and another section is under construction near Bothell. But the remaining parts are mostly where it was not easy to build in the past. That means more structural work than originally anticipated, and about 100 property acquisitions.

Sound Transit prefers to have substantially complete lines before commencing revenue service. While it would still be possible to run a limited service open on all lines in 2024, it’s preferred to wait until each line is far enough along so the line can open in its entirety.

On a more cheerful note, we did get a closer look at the livery of the new coaches last week. The attractive palette, termed “BRT wave” has white and ‘wave blue’ primary colors. Secondary colors are ‘golden ticket’, ‘soft teal’, and light gray. It’s a distinctive look not likely to be confused with other local agencies. (As Bruce noticed, the mix of colors is similar to New York City’s MTA Select Bus Service). The station branding was shared last year.

Despite some apparent concerns about cost increases in the Brickyard area, the overall projects are trending below ST3 estimates. An update to the Citizen Oversight Panel last year indicated a likely $140 million saving over the representative BRT projects. Those are conceptual estimates only, with a budget to be established during final design, but leave the agency well placed to handle any new costs at Brickyard.

40 Replies to “ST3 BRT projects delayed”

  1. This is why ST3 should have funded boosted operations on existing ST Express service in BRT corridors. I-405 north:

    -Every 30 minutes off-peak
    -Every hour evenings and Saturdays
    -No service on Sundays

    Now until 2025.

    On the bright side, the delay is because we’re getting something more out of it.

    1. I live near downtown Kirkland, so regardless of brand, I-405 buses won’t be of much use to me until the 85th St. Station opens. For the moment, the entire I-405 freeway functions effectively as a tollway to me, in that, it is nearly impossible to use the freeway at all without paying for either Uber, Lyft, or a rental car. The minimum one-way fare for any trip involving I-405 starts at around $15-20. (Once in a blue moon, I can catch the 560 coming home from the airport, if the timing of the hourly schedule happens to line up with when I get off the plane).

      I do envision myself using the I-405/85th St. station, especially if the freeway bus runs more often on weekends than the 250 (which, last I checked, is eventually the operations plan). I plugged the walking route into Google Maps; it’s about 0.8 miles (mostly down the CKC) with just one stoplight. With a bit of hustle, that seems like about 10-15 minutes. Once on the bus, it looks like about 5 minutes to Bellevue Transit Center, definitely faster than a 5-minute walk to the 250, followed by a 20-25 minute bus ride.

      1. One thing I hope they will be able to do is open the 85th street station in 2024 as planned, and open the freeway station there for use on the 532/535 (and other I-405 service). Little things like that (and definitely one of the advantages over rail) can make it so that even if the line as a whole is delayed, bits and pieces of it can open on time (or even early if construction is done early).

      2. It is strange that neither Metro, nor ST runs a bus from the Kirkland TC to downtown Bellevue via 405. Yet ST is going to spend a fortune on a bus stop whose main value is that trip, as a two seat ride. It will add other value (for folks going the other way) but that can be done via Totem Lake (albeit slower).

        In general it shows how the biggest need for these areas is better bus service, not grand projects. A lot of the 405 BRT is worth it, in my opinion, but I think a bus route from Juanita to Kirkland TC to downtown Bellevue (via 405) along with a frequent route from Kingsgate to Totem Lake to Redmond would be a better value than that station. While we are at it, run a frequent all-day bus from Bothell UW to the main UW campus via 405. I would also run a bus matched up with the 255, that continues on Juanita Drive (serving the apartments across from Saint Edwards) and then continues to Juanita and on to Totem Lake, increasing the frequency between Kenmore and Totem Lake to 15 minutes while adding needed coverage. Speaking of Juanita, I would …

        (you get the idea).

      3. One thing I hope they will be able to do is open the 85th street station in 2024 as planned, and open the freeway station there for use on the 532/535 (and other I-405 service).

        Yeah, I agree. As soon as it is open, all the buses that go by there should use it (just like other freeway stations). Even though it was designated as part of the BRT project, there is no reason for it to be used exclusively for that, or wait for it.

      4. I agree too. Although, at hourly frequency, I’m not sure I’d use it. Even going north, the 230 and 231 are quite a bit more direct than what proceeded them. The 230 and 231 are also hourly on weekends, but at least they run at all on Sunday. That’s something.

      5. One thing I hope they will be able to do is open the 85th street station in 2024

        Highly unlikely. The “plan” is still very much in the cartoon stage. It’s a huge undertaking to rebuild that intersection while keeping the freeway open. Figure minimum of three years construction. And once they put this out for a design build contract (probably two years from now) there’s going to be a severe case of sticker shock. This is going to be a billion dollar baby given the demo/temporary bridges/triple decker roadway and all the “enhancements” Kirkland is going to demand for NE 85th. In the end I expect ST will come to grips with reality and concede this is a terrible idea.

      6. It’s a $350M baby. I think WSDOT already moving into procurement. Both the 85th and 44th interchanges were already in WSDOT’s project pipeline as a part of the HOT network, so they were pretty “off-the-shelf” during ST3 planning and WSDOT has been moving full speed ahead since ST3 approval. For both projects, WSDOT owns delivery & ST just writes the check.

        This is in contrast with the interchange rebuilds in Bothell, which were in WSDOT’s long term HOT network but *not* funded by ST3, so WSDOT had those planned several years further out and are only being pulled in with toll revenues coming in higher than planned.

        The Kirkland enhancements are already taken into account (mostly sidewalks). The widening of 85th to add a BAT lane has been descoped as it was prohibitively expensive (basically needed a new bridge over the ERC)

      7. Double the original guesstimate is routine. This NE 85th project is anything but routine. I’d like to see an example of the multi-level freeway flyer stop with center HOV access that’s been built anywhere. Feature creep is routine; look at all the goodies Bellevue is getting in Bel-Red the Spring District. You’ll have to look in person because they’re not shown anywhere on the project website. The open question is how high does the price tag have to go before ST says “To rich for me”.

  2. Bummer about the delay, but the benefit of leveraging WSDOT’s investments to have center running buses all the way to Bothell is a huge improvement so it is worth it. If the 85th street interchange opens earlier, can it be served by STX/KCM routes on 405?

    Any word on whether the buses will be hybrid or all electric? The branding images look like diesel, but that could be just stock photos. When I was at ST, staff was worried that a 2024 start date was just a wee bit too early to fully commit to an all electric solution, given the teething issues of the new technology. I wonder if a full year delay gives staff the confidence that a vendor can provide a fully electric solution (both base & vehicles).

    It makes sense that the few locations missing BAT lanes on 522 are the most difficult ones to implement. Will be interesting how that impacts the bus restructure when Lynwood Link opens, if Stride isn’t ready at the same time.

    1. That is why the 522 BRT route should open with Lynnwood Link, even if the BAT lanes aren’t all complete. The bus routes will be restructured for Lynnwood Link. The SR 522 corridor needs bus service, and it would be silly to restructure the routes, then do it again a few months later, just because they added some additional right-of-way.

      With 405 it gets trickier. How do you serve Brickyard? Looking at the existing data, Brickyard has interesting numbers. On the 535, about 120 people board heading south, and about 20 heading north (quite respectable). Hardly anybody uses the stop on the 532. There is no other bus stop that has such a big difference in ridership, and I’m not sure why. My guess is that the 237/342 picks up most of the rush hour service, and the 535 (which runs all day) does everything else.

      This suggests that ST might be able to get by with having the new BRT skip Brickyard during rush hour, but use the stop outside it. That would likely save a considerably amount of time during peak hours, and not cost much when traffic is light. But that runs into the same dynamic — Metro is likely to restructure based on the 405 BRT. That could mean that Metro could restructure most routes, then restructure the 237/342 once Brickyard gets 405 BRT rush hour service (a somewhat confusing situation). Along with the 237/342, there are a other ways in which people can get from that stop to downtown Bellevue, especially during rush hour. Riders could take the 257 or 311 from there to Totem Lake (which aren’t likely to change), and then transfer to the 405 BRT.

      The other, simpler alternative is just to serve the Brickyard stop, even though it would initially slow down most of the riders (from Lynnwood, Alderwood, etc. to downtown Bellevue).

      The third option is to delay the BRT project until work is complete, since a restructure is not based on Link (but on the BRT project). The big drawback there is having everyone wait for good bus service, all because one section is not optimized. That seems silly, especially since that level of service wasn’t part of the original plan.

      1. Seems like for 522, with the Lynwood restructure you just have an STX route that mostly matches the Stride route, and then you launch the Stride route once the stations and vehicles are ready. Agreed that a few BAT fill-in projects can occur after opening.

        For 405, one of the alternatives studied included Stride skipping Brickyard and serving it with a dedicated STX route, so while it burns lots of service hours I suppose you could do this as a temporary service. But I think you stick with STX service on 405 until you can use the full HOT lanes, to not dilute the brand. You can certainly the stops as they come online with existing STX buses, and switch over once you have a full set of stations with off-board payment ready to go.

      2. Seems like for 522, with the Lynwood restructure you just have an STX route that mostly matches the Stride route, and then you launch the Stride route once the stations and vehicles are ready.

        The “stations” are merely bus stops, with off board readers (which are common throughout our system). They will be ready. The buses are just like any other bus, except a different color. So yeah, if they had enough regular colored ST buses to run the route, but not enough of the special “BRT” colored ones, then by all means, run the regular ones.

        But my understanding at that the fancy colored buses will be ready, but some of the bus lanes won’t. In that case, it would be silly to run the other buses (which they likely don’t have) just to preserve branding that no one cares about.

        I really think the branding is stupid, and probably has not led to a single additional rider. It might help if you are standing there, and aren’t sure if that bus in the distance is a ‘C’ or a 128, but that being case, each bus should have its own unique colorful signature (plaid, stripes, polka dot, etc.).

      3. I live next to Brickyard, so I can comment about the routes here. There’s simply not much traffic going north – most (all?) people around here have to have cars and the major reason for buses is commuting. There’s little reason to live here and commute north because it’s more expensive for little gain.

        In terms of routes, the 535 and 311 are the primary ones here. The 532 only stops at Brickyard in the off-peak direction (hence, no one uses it). If you’re going to Bellevue, the 342 is much, much slower than the 535/237 since it has to get out of the ETL’s to get to the 70th St stop. The 237 is used, but it runs three times each way per day and most of those runs are on the early side.

        Using the 311 to transfer is a possibility, but the 311 has its last southbound run at 9:09 AM from Brickyard. That means you’re still going to have to re-route the BRT to Brickyard after 9 AM, and there’s still tons of traffic then.

      4. When Northgate Link opens the 522 is planned to get truncated to Roosevelt. That’s a more substantial change than moving the truncation from Roosevelt to 145th street.

        Either way, 80% of the 522 route is the same. Makes sense to reroute it to 145th as soon as Lynnwood Link opens, especially if Metro will simultaneously need to restructure around Lake City to compensate.

      5. The 532 only stops at Brickyard in the off-peak direction (hence, no one uses it).

        Ah, that explains it.

        Makes sense to reroute [the 522] to 145th as soon as Lynnwood Link opens, especially if Metro will simultaneously need to restructure around Lake City to compensate.

        Yes, that’s my point. Moving the 522 is a major change for Lake City, since the highest ridership occurs there (Kenmore is a distant second). Metro will have to backfill service, making significant changes. Metro will also make big changes when Link gets here. That leaves three possibilities:

        1) Delay the entire restructure until the 522 work is complete.

        2) Make a big change when Northgate Link opens, and then more big changes a few months later.

        3) Just move the 522 to 145th and make all the other changes when Northgate Link opens. Whether the 522 is still called a 522 (or called Stride) is irrelevant.

        The third choice makes the most sense.

      1. Ross, suppose the late BAT lane work is on NE 145th Street and not on SR-522? the enclosed slides were ambiguous.

    2. “Will be interesting how that impacts the bus restructure when Lynwood Link opens, if Stride isn’t ready at the same time.”

      I had that same thought process. Of course, your point may be moot anyway if Lynnwood Link is delayed until 2025 (an ST2 project….yikes!) which is how that project was trending BEFORE this public health crisis arose. There were considerable underspends versus budget in 2018 and 2019 due to the lack of progress in project elements and not due to any significant cost savings. From Dan’s coverage here, it appears that these STride projects were already running into some of these same timeline issues long before our current crisis. But, hey, ST has plenty of experience at taking advantage of an economic downturn to cover up preexisting troubles, i.e., muddying the waters enough to spin the narrative.

  3. Dan, and the rest of STB, really appreciate your work. But given events of the last few days, let alone weeks, I think you can make things easier on yourselves if you take a different tack on your coverage.

    Complaint that delay is mainly one more failure in a long tiresome string-putting it gently as I can, there’s one thing pretty much guaranteed. Everything we don’t like is going to change. Luckily, internet communications give us a chance to, without physical exposure, affect the direction so as few people as possible get hurt.

    For the foreseeable future, however sharp our foresight, we’re all emergency workers now. Only possible problem with those buses: against a slant-striped pastel yellow, navy, turquoise and white background, they’ll be invisible.

    Mark Dublin

  4. A few years ago when I was at school at Lake Washington Technical Institute, I took a few really interesting walks along the trail I think they call “The Cross Kirkland Corridor” between South Kirkland Park and Ride and Totem Lake.

    Beautiful bike and hiking trail that used to be a working freight railroad – whose perfect grades and curves are still there. Read somewhere that laid-out for rail means “bike friendly.” Leaving me with an idea there’s no hurry about, but definitely has a future.

    Bellevue Way between Downtown Bellevue and South Kirkland P&R would be perfect for streetcars with their own lanes and signals. Thinking caliber of First Hill/Connector/South Lake Union. Which could roll to a stop at the kind of sideways elevator that carries mining railcars up a very steep hill, and be on the Trail in thirty sec.

    And from there, past the Google Building, across the east side of Kirkland about a half mile up, and on to Totem Lake. Spur to Downtown Kirkland possible, though more than one existing bus line will cross. But in addition to a ride, the streetcar is really intended to be a rolling bench for tired hikers and bikers.

    The politics? This is why Nature first decreed what always happens to older and younger generations. Before their inevitable departure from the voting rolls, Homeowners have… Grandchildren! Lake Washington Tech? UW? Should be budget to commission a survey of the average two-to-eight-year-old’s choice of transit modes. Truly have seen stroller-riders who can’t talk yet, but will start pointing and demanding when they hear a train bell at the top of the Westlake Station elevator to LINK. Buses? Ok, check that too.

    And the budget should also have seed money to give the Kirkland public schools a generous and ongoing field trip program. Timing for Eastlink just about perfect. The eighteen years it takes for the stroller set to both vote in Kirkland and get elected to the State Legislature can be well-spent.

    Since fines have now been cut and left on the floor to die- thanks, Mike Orr- Fare Enforcer’s sharp uniforms are always a natural draw for kids. If Star Trek’s still there, hope it’ll stay compatible. Little stuffed “Tapmunks” trailing plastic tear-drops to shame violators could fund a complete information re-do.

    But best of all could be the Tech school. Merging of Funerals and Precision Machining could create not only a source but a tradition of affordably gorgeous art for new Link stations from New Westminster to Oregon City.

    And will say one thing: However the COVIDPOLITICALECONOMIC cards fall, and just pray that if they’re mahjong blocks at least they’re not dominoes…..there’ll be something in this for every conceivable interest and the other 99% of us too.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I’ve got to say that I always thought that 2024 was overly ambitious. When property has to get acquired or when concrete bridges around freeways that have to be done as part of a bigger project (HOT lane), it’s going to take several years to design, clear environmental and legal hurdles, and then get built. If anything, the issue isn’t the current timeline but is instead the timeline pitched to the voters in 2016.

    1. +10 I totally agree. The timeline AND the overall costs of ST3 were both understated (deliberately imho) in Sound Transit’s 2016 sales pitch to district voters.

      1. The timeline was aggressive. But North 405 is late because the scope changed in 2019 (and is a much better product for the scope change). And overall costs of BRT are trending below the projections from 2016.

      2. @Dan Ryan Yes, I caught that part of your original post regarding the STride cost trend. That’s why I referred to the “overall” costs in my comment above, meaning the entire ST3 capital program. But I appreciate your clarification nevertheless.

  6. In the case of 522, I’m not yet convinced that the NE 145th St/ NE 148th St and 5th Ave NE area won’t be a big bus congestion problem. Even if it takes more money, more property and more time, I think it’s more beneficial to do it right to prevent bus delays For those last few critical blocks more than do it cheaper and faster.

    Consider how many turns buses have to make, and how the station entrance/exit is shared with the parking garage and the drop off area to understand my concern.

    1. I’m a little more optimistic. I also could see it evolving over time, such that problem areas go away. It is also possible everything works out just fine once the thing opens.

      If you are headed to the station, it is important to keep in mind that all the buses turn on 145th. Every single one. So that means the far right lane should be transit-only, not BRT, between 5th and 6th (and 6th is a minor street). On 5th (northbound), it is a little bit different. Right now there are essentially three lanes heading northbound, although the right lane is used for parking. The left lane is an on-ramp for the freeway, where most people are headed. Thus the biggest issue should be easy to take care (you don’t necessarily need anything for 5th). It is possible there will be congestion getting into the park and ride. If so, it can be handled in a similar manner. There is enough room for two lanes there (https://goo.gl/maps/DqfC45bmfNBJzQcf6) and the left lane sends everyone to the park and ride. The right lane is straight (for cars) but also allows a left turn for buses. It is possible this won’t even be needed, since 145th will essentially be a huge “jump ahead” street.

      Southbound is even easier. It is an usual configuration — but you can see that to get to the exit at 148th, you need to to be HOV (https://goo.gl/maps/Ti7KtVfKc1MF7HgW9). That means that you don’t have to worry about freeway traffic north of 145th. You merely have two lanes leaving the Park and Ride, which then become three (https://goo.gl/maps/y8rtRT8myoBEAyXf6). The left lane should be left turn only. The middle lane should be bus-only, while the right lane should be right turn only. (No one will be allowed to go straight, because SDOT is not allowing southbound traffic on 5th between 145th and 130th). So that means that the far left lane is general purpose traffic turning left, onto the left lane of 145th. The middle lane is used only by buses, and goes into the far right lane, which will be bus-only.

      I think it will work out fine. Like a lot of people, I’m not thrilled with the station being so far away from 145th, let alone the additional turn that the bus will take before letting people off. But I think it will work out fine. I think the key is *not* do that with 130th, allowing the two transit corridors to complement each other. 145th station is a terminus for buses, while 130th has the station in the middle of the route.

      1. “145th station is a terminus for buses, while 130th has the station in the middle of the route.” – Exactly. 145th is a transit center, with layover space & whatnot for both KCM and ST. It will be a major terminus, as KCM’s LRP also ends several routes here. So a slightly inferior transfer but provides other important operational infrastructure. OTOH, 135th will be “on the way” for KCM routes.

      2. It will also have through routes. The prototype 65 extension turns north on 5th and west to Shoreline CC. On the west side the Greenlake-Meridian-North City-Mountlake Terrace route also goes on 5th past the station.

    1. Too bad I lost my address on the voter rolls, Jordan, but you’d better get with your Boardmember. Especially for intercity highway driving, with certain scenery in the background and certain other sunlight or weather, and at certain speeds and distances, that paint-job could be camouflage. There are certainly websites showing generations of vehicle livery. Send your “rep” a link.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Right! Global Warming inflaming Subarea Rivalry!

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta3CEg2mTcg

        Really wouldn’t sweat this one. Body-wrap instead of paint makes changes do-able, doesn’t it? Would write my reps one thing though:

        State Police ought to testify before the Legislature on what it’s like to be patrol coming on-scene and having to try and see through the whole Nevada desert to see who on board’s got a gun!

        Mark Dublin

    2. The livery is fine. It’s the least important issue. What matters is how frequent, fast, and reliable the bus is. The station concept looks almost exactly like Swift. I fail to see much difference between Stride and Swift. Both are frequent, limited-stop lines on highways. Many people assume Stride is more freeway-oriented, but 522 Stride isn’t. It’s simply that the Eastside has a north-south freeway but Kenmore and Bothell don’t have an east-west freeway.

      1. Yes – design IS objective. I never said it was less important than the items mentioned. However design is what I do for a living so I’m more critical.

        People will have to look at this for years to come and while the engineering of the bus, stations, and route design are more important, it’d be nice to have a paint job not demonstrate a trendy marketing effort from a mediocre design team with an agency that has no interest in the human and experiential design of the built environment.

        It’s take a smidge more effort to make a bigger impact, but the practical always get in the way of the experiential. Do you prefer Penn Station of Grand Central Terminal?

        I digress.

  7. As one of the affected property owners on 522, there are limited options affected by ground topography that make the current design impossible to do.

    If slight changes were incorporated, and if the intent is just to get a BRT lane, then it us doable.

    An environmental impact study still needs to happen before the east side falls into the lake by construction for new lanes.

  8. Those images at the top from Sound Transit~ is that REALLY the livery of the coming Stride coaches? The final selection, or just something to get a conversation started? What a horrid-looking mashup of colors and confusion!

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