Pierce Transit has released a new virtual open house for its bus rapid transit project, which is in the middle of final design. The bus rapid transit line will travel along 14 miles of Pacific Avenue (State Route 7) from Downtown Tacoma and Tacoma Dome Station to Spanaway, replacing the popular Route 1. The agency hopes to begin construction next year and open in 2023, which remains unchanged at the moment despite the pandemic and its financial effects.
The Pacific Avenue bus rapid transit line, which has not been named or branded yet, will take some cues from Community Transit’s Swift lines rather than RapidRide. Stations will be spaced a quarer-mile apart and feature off-board fare payment (including ticket-vending machines), allowing for all-door level boarding from its raised platforms. The buses will have on-board bicycle racks, more capacity than normal Route 1 coaches, and come at a frequency of 10 to 15 minutes.
The buses will also benefit from exclusive lanes and BAT lanes that run for about 7 miles in the south Tacoma section of the Pacific Avenue corridor. Transit priority signals are also in the works, which would provide overrides for buses and allow for the addition of queue jumps at intersections outside of the exclusive lane corridor.
The project is estimated to cost $150 million and will be funded by a mix of grants from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Sound Transit, the latter part of the ST3 package for the Pierce County subarea. Sound Transit approved its $60 million share in August, while Pierce Transit has reportedly secured $30 million in other funding. This leaves a Small Starts grant from the FTA to cover the remaining $60 million, which Pierce Transit has already applied for.
The BRT service will have 33 stations from Downtown Tacoma to Spanaway, mainly staying on the Pacific Avenue Corridor. A new transit center will be built in Spanaway with a small park-and-ride, but the service is otherwise meant to serve local demand. Buses will divert to serve Tacoma Dome Station and also switch to Market Street in Downtown Tacoma, which is two blocks uphill from the Commerce Street transit mall. Riders from regional services like ST Express and Tacoma Link will be able to transfer at Tacoma Dome Station and the north end of the Commerce Street transit mall, where BRT buses will loop around and terminate.
Buses will generally run in mixed traffic on sections of the route in Downtown Tacoma and on the south side of State Route 512, totaling 7.5 miles. A BAT lane will be used around the Military Road junction in Spanaway and on S. 26th Street near the Tacoma Dome. The section between S. 121st Street and S. 34th Street will have buses serving stations in the median of Pacific Avenue, alternating between mixed traffic (1.3 miles) and exclusive median lanes (3.9 miles in total). The street’s overpass over State Route 512 will feature a bi-directional exclusive median lane for buses to compensate for the limited width on the bridge.
The use of stations and exclusive lanes in the median is a fairly new concept for BRT in the Puget Sound region, but has a proven track record nationally. The Emerald Express (EmX) in Eugene, Oregon, uses a network of exclusive median lanes, which also includes specialized signals for turning traffic. The median option is feasible for suburban streets as wide as Pacific Avenue, which is generally 80 feet with five lanes. However, Pierce Transit will be removing some street parking and expanding the street’s right-of-way to make room for the exclusive BRT lanes.
As part of this month’s survey, Pierce Transit is also asking for feedback on two station designs that are inspired by local landmarks.
The Suspension design, pictured above, is an obvious reference to the county’s bridges. While the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is the most famous in the area, the station concept uses a cable-stayed design similar to Tacoma’s SR 509 Bridge. The preliminary design has a small bench integrated into the column.
The Mountain design is inspired by the silhouette of Mount Rainier and is painted in blue with a light green accent. It has two columns, one of which is slanted in a manner that would be ideal for leaning, and a separate bench.
All station designs feature a real-time arrivals sign, ticket vending machines, ORCA card readers, and prominent lighting for visibility. The survey includes a section where other features are ranked, from noise buffers and seating to parking. A third option, called “Ripples”, was brought up at community meetings in March but is absent from this survey.
Pierce Transit is taking feedback on station designs, station amenities, and bus features via its website and its normal customer service hotline.