Sound Transit is preparing a multi-year effort to replace aged escalators in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Poor conditions in the DSTT and escalator reliability problems at UW station have prompted an extensive evaluation of Sound Transit’s planning for vertical conveyances. The latest financial plan adds $555 million to State of Good Repair, anticipating more robust expenditures on maintaining and replacing this equipment through 2041.
We reported last month how Sound Transit would focus on improving the poor state of vertical conveyances in the DSTT as it takes ownership in 2021, somewhat delaying efforts to remediate the UW station escalators which have recently been performing better. The latest budget sets aside $96 million for DSTT capital improvements through 2025, much of that for escalators, but also upgrading lighting, ingress and egress improvements, and general safety and security issues in the tunnel. There is another $45 million for escalator modernization at UW station, and upgrades to emergency egress stairs at UW and Capitol Hill.
A condition assessment of DSTT conveyances in late 2019 detailed problems facing Sound Transit as it took ownership of the tunnel. Elevators were in generally fair condition, but were 32-34 years old creating issues with future serviceability and acquisition of materials. Several elevators were out of service due to vandalism and misuse.
With a single exception, escalators in the tunnel stations are of similar age, and well past their optimal life. Their condition was assessed as poor with a high level of wear, and most require major repairs. The consultants called out that “there is a lack of repairs that is required for the escalators to maintain a level reliability for a transit station with high pedestrian traffic”.
The conditions review recommended a long list of urgent corrective actions for both elevators and escalators, and a nearly full replacement of escalators in the stations. To minimize impact to an individual station, they recommended only one escalator be removed from service at a time, a schedule that could extend through 2027.
The adverse customer experience at UW and the news of higher costs in the DSTT prompted Sound Transit to reassess long term plans for maintaining and replacing vertical conveyances throughout the system. By the time ST3 is fully built out, Sound Transit expects to own 575 elevators and escalators, with costs on the order of $60 million per year.
To stay ahead of problems throughout the expanded system, the latest financial plan adds $555 million to State of Good Repair estimates through 2041. SOGR expenses are those that keep capital assets in good working order, or replace the capital assets as they wear out.
Sound Transit is appropriately anxious to not repeat the experience of some other transit systems, where deferred maintenance has inconvenienced or endangered riders. Most notably, the conveyances at WMATA in Washington DC were neglected before a 2010 incident where riders were injured by an escalator that accelerated dangerously, and some stations had to be closed for several months for repairs.