STB has been on the 23rd Ave electrification beat since 2011, and the last update was via CHS in 2016, when trolleybus service was projected to begin in 2018. The street repaving and pole installation described in 2016 is long ago complete, and 2018 was a while ago, but Route 48 is, alas, still plied only by diesel hybrids. I contacted King County Metro for an update on this project, and here’s what I heard (emphasis added):
We completed the Alternatives Analysis phase of the project in Spring 2021 and are currently evaluating firms to complete the preliminary design. We expect to have a 30% design by Spring 2023 which will provide us with a clearer picture of the expected cost and schedule for the remainder of the project.
The current estimate for substantial completion is Spring 2026, subject to change pending the 30% design baseline.
The most recent project budget is $14.5 million, subject to updates and review after we are further along in design work.
The Route 48 Electrification project plans to install new trolley Overhead Contact System (OCS) infrastructure (i.e. trolley wires, poles, and switches) along two segments of 23rd Avenue and at the Mt Baker Transit Center. Each 23rd Avenue segment is just under a mile long.
The northern segment is between East Jefferson Street and East John Street and includes new northbound and southbound wire along 23rd Avenue, as well as new switches/turns between E Jefferson Street and E Cherry Street. The City of Seattle previously installed OCS poles along 23rd Avenue in this area, but additional poles may be needed to support the westbound right turn at the intersection of E Jefferson Street and 21st Avenue.
The southern segment is between S Dearborn Street and Rainier Avenue S and plans to include new wire and poles along 23rd Avenue, as well as new switches/turns at the 23rd/Jackson intersection. This segment will connect to existing trolley infrastructure on 23rd Avenue north of S Dearborn Street and on Rainier Avenue.
The project also plans to install additional OCS infrastructure at the Mt Baker Transit Center to support Route 48 layover operation using trolley buses. The existing Mt Baker Transit Center currently only has one trolley bus layover space, but the Route 48 needs at least three layover spaces. Therefore, additional trolley layover spaces will need to be provided within Mt Baker Transit Center.
In followup questions, Metro indicated staffing constraints were the primary driver of this schedule. Funding is $9.7M federal (CMAQ and formula money), $1.8M state (WSDOT Green Transportation grant) and $3.0M local.
Obviously, I’m happy that this project is advancing, and I appreciate the efforts of staff to keep it advancing despite the many other calls on their time. A delivery date of about four years out does not spark joy, however. This really is not a big project, especially when considered in the context of Metro’s commitment to 100% clean energy by 2040, which will require siting and constructing numerous bus charging facilities across the county. It seems to me that if our local agencies were as invested in the clean energy transition as our elected officials claim to be, this would be a project that happened in months, not years.