Map of East Link / SounderBruce (Flickr)

King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci recently penned an op-ed to the Seattle Times arguing for East Link to meet its commitment of a 2023 opening, but only on the Eastside.

But what if we opened an Eastside-only light rail line connecting Redmond to Bellevue, or even to Mercer Island, in 2023? Could we provide high-quality transit service to thousands of riders while repairs are completed on the rest of the line? In short, we can and should. 

On-time opening of an Eastside-only starter light rail line would honor the preparations that Eastside cities have been making for years, with complementary investments in transportation, trails and transit-oriented land use planning. Bellevue alone is investing more than $230 million to fast-track 12 transportation projects to match the 2023 deadline.

King County has worked tirelessly alongside several cities and communities to make progress on Eastrail, a 42-mile trail that will connect Eastside light rail and businesses like never before. And Bellevue has also partnered with Sound Transit to build up to 500 units of affordable housing with direct access to light rail in the Spring District. Both Redmond and Bellevue have been busy planning for additional transit-oriented development, including affordable housing, at most light rail stations along the East Link Corridor.  

As was previously reported, Link expansions are delayed across the board but the Eastside extension has been pummeled by construction mishaps, pushing service start to 2024 at the earliest. The construction rework is primarily taking place between Seattle and Mercer Island, raising the prospect that the rest of what will be the 2-Line may finish on time.

We’ve always been supportive of early openings when projects are completed ahead of time, and it makes sense that a massive project like East Link stands to benefit from incremental openings. That said, Sound Transit would likely need to draft a thorough maintenance and operations plan, which should consider things like maintenance capabilities at the Bellevue OMF (Operations & Maintenance Facility) and service operations based on intra-Eastside ridership patterns.

Whether the Sound Transit Board will take this up remains to be seen. At minimum, the high-level calls to mitigate frustrating delays is an encouraging sign.

119 Replies to “Balducci wants intra-Eastside Link to open on time”

  1. I agree. If part of the line can be opened early, it should be. It complicates a bus restructure, but at most it just means they leave things alone until the train gets to Seattle.

    1. If just Bellevue to Redmond opened early, would there even be a bus restructure? I’ve viewed the Bel-Red corridor as creating a new travel corridor, rather than enhancing/supplementing an existing bus corridor. The RR-B would still run as-is.

      1. Yes, the restructure should definitely happen. Trips to Downtown Bellevue and Downtown Redmond will be easier for me, at least, since I won’t have to take the slow and unreliable B anymore.

      2. Redmond Link is also delayed, though not so much as East Link. Probably mid-2025 vs the scheduled December 2024. So this is only an Overlake to Bellevue (or Mercer Island) line.

      3. There have been two rounds of route proposals and feedback; we’re waiting for the final proposal. I only remember a few of the routes. They can be divided into Eastside-Seattle and intra-Eastside.

        As of the last proposal, the ST Express plan is to delete the 550; replace the 545 with the 542; and reroute the 554 to South Bellevue Station, Bellevue Way, and Bellevue TC with 15-minute frequency.

        The 271 would move to north Bellevue Way and be renumbered to 270. The eastern half to Issaquah would probably be split to another route. The B would be split (east-west and north-south), and there would be changes to 12th, 20th, 148th, 112th SE, Bellevue-Kirkland, and Bellevue-Renton, but I don’t remember the details.

        RapidRide K won’t be ready for this, but I think it was revived and is proceeding slowly. It would serve Totem Lake – Kirkland – Bellevue – 112th Ave SE – Eastgate.

        In Issaquah and the far east, the 554 would run every 15 minutes from Bellevue TC and South Bellevue to Issaquah Highlands P&R (and I assume Issaquah city hall). The 208 would run half-hourly express from Mercer Island to Issaquah Highlands P&R (not city hall), and every third run would continue to North Bend (90-minute frequency). All Issaquah-Seattle peak expresses would be canceled I think.

        For Renton, the 240 would be rerouted in the Factoria-Eastgate area. STB commentators had mixed reactions to this. The 111 would become an all-day express to South Bellevue (or Mercer Island?).

        Stride 1 (Burien-Bellevue), 2 (Bellevue-Lynnwood), and 3 (Shoreline-Bothell) will open separately in the next few years.

        For the 566 (Auburn-Redmond), I don’t quite understand ST’s intention. Maybe it will be truncated at Bellevue. Maybe in Renton with Stride 2. Or maybe it would go away, but that would leave Kent and Auburn without good access to the Eastside.

      4. Yeah, truncating the 566 is the type of change I was thinking could happen early. Most of the other changes are directly or indirectly dependent on the train going across the lake.

      5. Mike, so the Issaquah service will be split between MI and South Bellevue? That’s fine westbound, a rider just gets on the first bus and changes where it connects. It kind of sucks eastbound, though. It would be better if it were all South Bellevue. Maybe they don’t have the bus turnback space there, though.

        I guess this is a way to separate Metro and ST service.

      6. “Where did you see that Rapid Ride K (Kirkland) has been revived?”

        I think it was in a news article this year buried under other Metro changes and budget issues and East Link restructure. I’m not certain it was revived, but it sounded like they were at least talking about it again and getting it ready for revival. Or I may be imagining it, since I can’t remember any details or concrete steps.

      7. RapidRide K was fully put on hold with COVID, but there was some later money to revive the planning. Some $600k. I think. It’s expected there will be a more substantial budget request with the County budget this Fall. There was a ‘restart report‘ that went to the regional transit committee in April this year.

      8. Interesting report. There’s a chart of the general RapidRide development phases, with specific copies for the K (Kirkland) and R (Rainier) showing at which point they were mothballed and revived. It also says:

        Re RapidRide R: “Even with depressed ridership in the near/mid-term, the R Line will remain highly competitive for Small Starts funding due to the population density along the route. At present the Route 7, which the R Line would upgrade to a RapidRide route, has the second highest daily ridership within our system behind only the RapidRide E Line.” (I think “our system” means all Metro routes.)

        Re RapidRide K: “Without further ridership recovery, the K Line could be less competitive for FTA Small Starts grant funding under current FTA guidelines. The K Line is in an area of the County that is experiencing a more substantial short/mid-term shift in transportation demand and mode choice. With the increase in the prevalence of work from home and telecommuting, ridership has dropped more in the Bellevue and Kirkland area compared to other parts of the County (e.g., Southeast Seattle and South King County). Due to the sudden onset of these changes, it will be years before the region fully understands the long-term implications for travel patterns within King County. Prior to the pandemic, the K Line would have been a competitive Small Starts project. Today and into the future, the K Line’s overall competitiveness for Small Starts funding is likely dependent on transit ridership recovery. However, if transit ridership stagnates or depresses further for the eastside cities, the K Line’s competitiveness may be marginal and will need to be further evaluated as new trip patterns emerge and FTA guidance is updated. In 2022 as part of the additional technical work being performed, the K Line’s competitiveness for Small Starts will be broadly assessed using a variety of transit ridership recovery scenarios.”

        Re RapidRide H (Delridge): “Ultimately, receiving Small Starts grant funding is not a requirement to implement a RapidRide line. The H Line was implemented without a Small Starts grant. However, there are no other known or anticipated
        grant sources that could match the value of a Small Starts grant. If, in the future, a planned RapidRide line is determined to not be competitive for a Small Starts grant, then the County would have to determine if it should increase its local funding to account for a loss in planned federal funding or reduce project scope.”

        There are also maps of the K’s alignment so far. It would be on 124th north of 85th, then 108th between Kirkland TC and South Kirkland P&R, then 116th to 10th, then 110th to either 4th or Main, then 116th and the Lake Hills Connector to 140th & SE 8th, then 145th Place to Bellevue College, then hooking around to 148th (Mormon temple) and the Eastgate P&R.

        Earlier I said it would be on 112th south of Bellevue TC, and I thought it would serve both South Main Station and South Bellevue Station. That turns out to be incorrect. One alternative (via Main Street) serves South Main Station, another alternative (via NE 4th Street) doesn’t. No alternative serves South Bellevue Station: it firmly goes to 116th and the Lake Hills connector instead.

        The G (Madison) and H (Delridge) are under construction. The J (Eastlake) is being funded by Seattle after Metro paused it, and I haven’t seen any construction yet. The I (Renton-Kent-Auburn) is at some level of progress.

      9. The ELC project suggests that the B Line deviation to 152nd Avenue NE be ended. The many translake bus hours provide an opportunity to improve the network. On SR-520, the opportunity has been present since March 2016. The network could connect the network to all the Link stations.

    2. RossB and Mike Orr commented on Route 566. It was not included in the ELC scope even though it would duplicate Link between BTC and Overlake (RTS).

      1. That’s my point – if Link ran only from S Bellevue to Overlake, I don’t see KCM deleting any routes, as all the ‘new’ hours to invest in a restructure come from truncating cross-lake routes.

        Same on the Seattle side; opening Judkins part will be wonderful, but the SE Seattle bus network would remain the same?

  2. Opening as many stations on the Eastside as possible would help ease the amount of strain on resources within ST to bring stations online in 2024. If OMF-E can handle it, then as many have said here before, it should be done.

    1. The only place I know of which ST could move operator staff from to staff intra-east side light rail would be from eliminating the Bellevue-to-Redmond portion of STX 566, which has already withered to peak-direction-only.

      1. That would be a no-brainer, but since the route is rush hour only, it wouldn’t help in terms of freeing up drivers the rest of the day. Ultimately, doing this without causing a lot of pain for bus riders would require hiring additional drivers, but if this is only temporary for a couple of years, it wouldn’t have much impact on the long-term budget.

      2. It will never happen, but if push comes to shove, running Bellevue-Redmond Link by pulling bus drivers off nearby coverage routes (e.g. 249, 226) still seems like a net win for transit riders as a whole, even if it does violate the Hyppocratic Oath of Transit Service.

  3. With so many new stations, opening an Eastside-Only Link is a good way to make sure all the systems are working before opening a complete second line. However, I would not suggest implementing the new bus restructures by Metro until riders can use Link completely across Lake Washington. I would offer no better than 15 minute service either.

  4. A rationale for the ST Connections 2020 project was to connect East Link LRV with the South Forest Street base for major maintenance. Without the bridge piece, that connection would not be available. Is that a major issue for ST? How much maintenance can be done at the East base?

    On Google Earth views, there appear to be crossover tracks west of East Mercer Way and west of the Judkins station. So, could the Balducci intra Eastside line could serve the Mercer Island station and not just South Bellevue? For the I-90 market, MI is a better intercept point than South Bellevue. So, could the Judkins station also be served early? The intra Eastside line might be better off with very short trains and short headway and waits. A Judkins line might be better off with evenly spaced headway with the South Line.

    1. The plinths at the I90 bridge are a major source of delay, so if the train can run between Judkins and MI, then I think at that time the full East Link will be ready.

      1. I think eddiew’s advocating for Judkins Park to be served connecting to the International District, which’s a good idea if the service patterns on the north-south line allow.

        (So under that plan, all of East Link except for the floating bridge would be served.)

      2. Ah, OK thanks for the clarification.

        That could be a great idea, though there may not be a large enough fleet at OMF-C to run trains Northgate-Judkins at a regular frequency?

      3. yes, WillimC is correct: I suggested two interim lines be considered: East, MI-RTS; West, Judkins-Northgate. the east line might have short consists and short headway. The west line should have the same headway as the south line, six or eight minutes and the two should evenly spaced. The consists might be shorter as well. The combined short headway and waits would be attractive to riders. The interim west line may be easier than the east one as it would have a connection with the South Forest Street maintenance base. The east line could be complemented by a bus line(s) between downtown Seattle and Eastlake, Issaquah, and the Highlands. ST will have many cost and engineering considerations. One issue is the length of time between the interim implementation and the I-90 bridge Link opening; this may not be known or knowable.

  5. In the past ST told us it had to open East Link in its entirety due to the electrical system. No idea if that is true. I also wonder if the line from Bellevue to Redmond will be able to open in 2024. ST usually doesn’t reveal issues or potential delays until the last second.

    I think Ross is correct that if part of East Link opens the bus routes will stay the same. The intercept on Mercer Island is not set up for buses coming from the west and turning around, in fact just the opposite, although current bus routes that stop on MI but continue east are still doable. Basically an East Link from S. Bellevue to Redmond (or MI) would be a show ride and supplement buses even though bus ridership is low.

    What strikes me is Balducci publishing an editorial in the Times. She sits on the Board and was chair. Obviously she didn’t need an editorial in the Times to communicate her idea to her brand new CEO or the other Board members.

    My guess is she is feeling embarrassed about the delays to opening East Link even though the subarea doesn’t seem worked up, or she knows the bridge issues are much more serious than admitted, or other Board members don’t think parts of EastbLink should open before their lines, or some other reason. Who knows, maybe Bellevue and Redmond are interested in an intra Eastside only line anyway. As I have noted there is quite a bit of concern about trains running from Seattle with no fare enforcement.

    But the real question is why Balducci felt she needed to publish such an editorial, which usually comes down to political self interest for a politician.

    1. My guess is she’s trying to guage interest in opening the line in phases, a lot of Eastside people I assume read the Times and is likely a decent barometer for guaging said interest in the idea.

    2. It’s free campaign advertising for Balducci. Otherwise, her effort would have been to only raise the issue at a Board meeting or behind the scenes.

      She is channeling an emerging sentiment that ST is running without enough accountability.

    3. A major change like this should have broad public debate, so if Balducci didn’t write an article somebody else probably would. She’s the most qualified politician to write it, since she’s been on three sides of East Link planning (Bellevue, county, ST), and many Eastsiders trust her more than they trust most of their politicians. Of course the ST board would be more willing to consider it if the cities and public are pushing for it. The most effective way to jump-start that is to publish an opinion article in the Times as she has done.

    4. The I-90 translake service is the major source of hours for the East Link restructure. A Balducci intra Eastside line and a Judkins spur to and from the west could trigger restructures. The agencies would have to smart and nimble. East Link could be powerful. A robust service would be needed between Mercer Island and downtown Seattle; it might be different from today’s. The efficacy of the concept partly depends on the time gap between when the Balducci line could open and the expected opening of the intended East Link; neither seems known today or perhaps knowable. To Daniel’s point about MI buses: the buses could serve MI and extend to Eastgate, Issaquah, and the Highlands, as they do today. Again, the agencies could figure it out.

    5. We could call it the Balducci Line. The 550 could be truncated at Mercer Island. I don’t know how likely that is. It would make Issaquah-Seattle a three-seat ride (554 to South Bellevue, Link to Mercer Island, 550 to Seattle). That might delay the 554 restructure. You could terminate the 550 at South Bellevue to transfer to the 554. A short overlap on the East Channel Bridge would be easier to swallow than a long MI-Bellevue overlap on service-hour-gobbling Bellevue streets.

      1. The interim Balducci line may call for an interim network with different routes 550 and 554 and Metro routes. Balducci: MI to RTS via East Link. Judkins: to/from the west and north. Route 554: Issaquah to south downtown Seattle via MI. Routes 532-535 to South Bellevue via BTC. Therefore: Issaquah to Seattle direct trip. If the Balducci line is implemented, the agencies could figure it out.

      2. 550 and 554 would need to change at the same time, otherwise bus service on Bellevue Way would get deleted, and I don’t see the 554 changing until Link can service Seattle-S. Bellevue. I think neither would change under a “Balducci” line.

  6. I hope this happens. As it stands, I go to Seattle maybe once or twice a month, but I would ride this Bellevue to Redmond section nearly every day.

    The bus reconfiguration would have to change a bit, but quite a lot of it has nothing to do with going to Seattle, and those portions should still be implemented.

    Ridership on the 545 and 550 is still pretty weak, so I don’t think the Bellevue-Seattle section is all that crucial at this stage.

  7. If I had to guess Balducci is trying to get in front of bridge issues. I never thought the plinth issue was a construction error but a design error, and there is a pretty good chance opening the bridge span will be later than 2025 (which is three years away which is already a long time), and number of trains and frequency will be reduced from 4 car trains every 8 minutes, if at all. Building light rail across an existing floating bridge has been one novel issue after another. In the end it comes down to the density of the concrete (including pontoons) and the vibrations from the trains, not a good combination on a floating bridge whose original tensioning was never designed for light rail trains.

    If East Link is open and running on the Eastside it is going to be easier for Balducci to sell more delays or changes in capacity and frequency to the bridge span.

    Probably the biggest detriment is to west side riders going east if they have to transfer to a bus or smaller train at Judkins Park and the loss of frequency on East Link trains from CID north to Northgate. I don’t think Eastside ridership westbound will ever return. If it does I have always thought 630 type buses would complement East Link even at full capacity. Most eastsiders would prefer a one seat bus ride to Seattle anyway, especially areas not served by East Link.

    But East Link was paid for and built for the Eastside so if East Link is running intra Eastside when news of further delays or reduced capacity across the bridge is released (many years from now even though my guess is ST already knows but wants East Link running on the Eastside before announcing it) it will be more palatable to Balducci’s voters, although I still remain amazed she was chair of the ST Board.

  8. Presumably, this is technically feasible. I’ve never observed Claudia Balducci to pursue lost causes, so she’s surely hearing from staff that it could happen.

    Where’s the ridership? This is a truncated commuter line, and the residential end of the commute is mostly in Seattle or DT Redmond, neither of which will be served by the starter line. There’s a lot of residential development in the pipeline in Bel-Red, sure, but that won’t add riders either until it opens. Much of the bus restructure will be unworkable because riders whose routes are truncated to Link will have to get off the train again to take the 550 across the lake.

    How many Microsofties or Eastside Amazonians are in the office most days anyway? Won’t this be an awkwardly empty train?

    1. I think ridership will be decent — maybe 20,000 or so. Even at 10,000 it is probably worth it.

      1. Even 10,000 seems aggressive on my back-of-the-envelope math. (somewhere in the 5-10k range would be my guess). I appreciate that you’ve taken a position on a number. Anybody advocating for a truncated line should be ready to take a position on how many riders it will have in the first year.

      2. The number of riders on a truncated East Link line would presumably mirror current ridership on the 550. If the 550 continues its route on the Eastside concurrently with the “Balducci Line” I think daily ridership on East Link will be lucky to get to 5000 because why would a cross-lake rider get off the 550 to catch East Link when the only stops are MI to Overlake and the 550 covers most of those?

        I suppose ST could truncate the 550 on the Eastside to force riders onto Link. The only logical location is S. Bellevue, and forcing riders to get off the 550 and onto East Link for a few stops that doesn’t even include Bellevue Way seems abusive for even ST. In that situation riders will likely just drive.

        Maybe some riders will drive from the Issaquah region to S. Bellevue to catch Link to Microsoft but I would think that number would be low and most would just drive to Microsoft where parking is free.

        The reality today is most of the stops — S. Bellevue, Wilburton, The Spring Dist., Overlake — are not destinations eastsiders go to anyway, even with free parking. These stops are predicated on future development (pre-pandemic).

        So my number is 5000 whether the 550 truncates at S. Bellevue or not, which I believe is still higher than the 550 so I may be high.

      3. “The number of riders on a truncated East Link line would presumably mirror current ridership on the 550.”

        It’s not like the 550. The 550 runs from downtown Seattle to Bellevue TC. The truncated line would run from Mercer Island to Redmond Tech. The only overlap is between Mercer Island and South Bellevue. It’s in a different corridor between South Bellevue and Bellevue TC. Between Bellevue TC to Redmond Tech it’s a new faster service that never existed before. So it would get the Seattle-Bellevue riders who are willing to transfer to Mercer Island, and the few MI-BTC or South Bellevue-BTC riders. It would lose the Bellevue Way-BTC riders. It would add riders between Bellevue and Redmond Tech, who would otherwise take the B or 226 or drive.

      4. The only way it makes sense to get off and transfer is if the grade separation makes taking Link significantly faster.

        For Judkins Park to downtown Seattle the traffic is enough of a mess it might make sense for many riders.

        I’m not sure how much sense this makes from Mercer Island to Bellevue. How much time does the 550 spend stuck in traffic or at traffic lights, etc?

      5. The bulk of the riders on a truncated line, I think, would be Bellevue to Redmond not Bellevue to Seattle. In fact, if service hours are scarce and a truncated Link line needs to run alongside the 550, it may even make sense to just turn the train around at downtown Bellevue station and let the 550 (unchanged from today) be the only service between Bellevue and Mercer Island.

        I don’t think ridership would be super high initially, but I think it is important to start the process of building it up. Even if the train initially runs only every 15 minutes, that’s still a huge improvement over having to slog it out a long distance on the B line.

        I guess the other question is what’s the status of construction on the downtown Redmond end. Microsoft to downtown Bellevue, alone, may not be enough ridership to make it worth it, with so many fewer people in the office. The line really needs downtown Redmond as an anchor on the other end to perform well.

      6. The bulk of the riders on a truncated line, I think, would be Bellevue to Redmond not Bellevue to Seattle. In fact, if service hours are scarce and a truncated Link line needs to run alongside the 550, it may even make sense to just turn the train around at downtown Bellevue station and let the 550 (unchanged from today) be the only service between Bellevue and Mercer Island.


      7. At least go to East Main? Seems odd to serve the TC and not include East Main, unless there is an issue with the DT tunnel.

      8. Redmond Link is not scheduled to open until 2025, or around the time East Link is scheduled to open across the bridge, according to AJ. So a “truncated” East Link will terminate at Overlake. There won’t be downtown Redmond to downtown (at least 112th/110th) Bellevue.

        I would assume a truncated line would include S. Bellevue because of the 1500 stall park and ride and because the 550 stops there in case anyone on the truncated line wanted to continue to Seattle, unless they caught the 550 at BTC. One issue is MI is popular for those heading to Seattle because every bus including the 554 stops on MI so frequency is very good. If just relying on the 550 at S. Bellevue the transfer time could be long if continuing into Seattle. But today ridership to Seattle is very light.

        I could see skipping Mercer Island since there won’t be buses truncating there from the east until the restructure is implemented, and it would take years to permit and build a “bus bridge” from the west. Most Islanders would prefer the 550 eastbound unless going to Microsoft because it accesses Bellevue Way between Main St. and 4th. Worst case an Islander could drive and park at S. Bellevue and catch Link if going to Microsoft unless they just drive to Microsoft. Otherwise the truncated line does not access destinations that are popular today.

        My only questions are whether trains can reverse at Overlake and S. Bellevue, and when is the earliest a truncated line could open. Testing is usually nine months and I don’t think testing has begun on all parts of the truncated line.

        I am also a little concerned about the extra cost for the subarea from running the truncated line concurrently with ST buses because the improvement in mobility seems very small to me over buses today. ST has burned through around half a billion dollars on the bridge so far, and spends around $62.5 million/year on Eastside ST buses.

      9. asdf2, I too agree. But turn at South Main to include the entire Bellevue CBD and intercept buses from Lake Hills for riders headed east of the city.

      10. Tom: the crossovers for East Main are all the way down at Surrey Downs park. Currently they only turn trains at stations where the crossovers are before the station. So, operationally, I don’t think ST will allow trains to turn at Main. It’s probably either Bellevue or Mercer Island, unless they can be convinced to do longer segments of counter-directional running than today.

    2. Commuter line? The commuter ridership is primarily across the lake. A train running S Bellevue to Overlake will unlock the non-commuter ridership that was never able to emerge along the RR-B because that bus is too slow. The Balducci line is basically a beta-test of East Link intentionally excluding the peak commuter ridership in/out of Seattle. Ridership really depends on the amount of TOD built in Spring District, Bel-Red, and Overlake by 2024, rather than a development pipeline that mostly extends into 2028~30s.

      I would actually expect the 550’s ridership to grow modestly with a Balducci line – catching the 550 at S Bellevue to get to/from Seattle is much better than catching it at the Bellevue TC – rather than riders switching from 550 to Link (unlike Danile, I think riders actually would add the transfer during peak, though during midday I would just stay on the bus).

  9. I’m sure the economics on this would suck. Doubling the testing and demonstration phases while operating at reduced ridership wouldn’t be good for the bottom line. And my understanding is that some LRV maintenance functions would still need to be performed at the S Forrest St base. That would produce even more inefficiency, if it is even possible.

    But hey, if they can do it, and if the dollar hit isn’t too bad, or if the Eastside wants to temporarily kick in some ops dollars, then why not?

    One issue that would need to be resolved for an Overlake-MI line would be the bus intercept on MI. This gets a lot more complicated and a lot busier when you are attempting to intercept buses from both the Westside and the Eastside. Metro would probably need more space for buses, both for operations and for additional layover space.

    This could probably be accomplished by taking over more of the MI street grid, which shouldn’t be that problematic or costly. I’m sure as a temporary measure MI wouldn’t object.

    And if MI does object, then the rest of the region should simply overrule them.

    1. Lazarus, if you understand Mercer Island’s town center after the roundabout for the bus intercept that is under full construction on N. Mercer Way then you understand there is no way for an articulated bus from Seattle to turn around and return to Seattle. There is only one entrance westbound on I-90 from the town center and that is a general lane entrance at 76th (the plinths make the center roadway unusable for buses).

      The whole purpose of the intercept is buses would not be crossing the bridge span (unless they originate on the Eastside like the 630 and don’t technically have to turn around). If a bus is not already pointing west when it reaches MI it is going east.

      I am sure MI would love another bite at the SEPA apple, this time without a mayor who signs off on the permits without cash and mitigation in hand.

      It makes much more sense to originate buses to Seattle at their point of origin, like today, if East Link can’t cross the bridge, and I have always thought one seat buses from the Eastside to parts of Seattle would complement East Link even though that is not in ST’s plan, but neither was a bridge span that can’t accommodate light rail.

      Or I guess we could accelerate Issaquah to S. Kirkland and postpone WSBLE.

      The solution if the bridge span is not usable or capacity is permanently reduced is to continue many of the bus routes today: for example the 554 (plus a 554 to Bellevue Way) and other one seat buses that stop on MI like today but don’t turn around and return west. Using MI as a bus intercept that requires a transfer never made sense because no one goes to MI. It isn’t a hub. And a 550 from the 1500 stall park and ride at S. Bellevue. These terminal points are where buses can turn around.

      I agree cost would be an issue, and agree with Dan Ryan the meager ridership on East Link would be a public relations problem, and maybe even more embarrassing for Balducci than waiting to open all of East/Redmond Link at once when today almost no one cares about the delays on the Eastside. Ridership from MI to Overlake today would be minuscule.

      I think people need to start thinking about a permanent solution if East Link is limited on the bridge span. The good news is east—west travel today is very low, and there is more than adequate capacity on buses, which have the benefit of one seat rides and accessing more large park and rides.

      Do we really need a light rail system from Overlake to MI until 2025, and more importantly is there ever going to be East Link across the bridge span? Post pandemic nearly every reason and assumption for East Link is no longer valid. Even a fully functioning East Link will have a tiny impact on the Eastside.

      My guess is all of East/Redmond Link is delayed, or until ST comes clean on the bridge span which at the earliest is 2025. Balducci’s plan to open East Link from Overlake to MI is so unwise there is something more to it.

      1. Ah. So much silliness, so little time. Where does one begin?

        The on and off-ramps to serve a Seattle to MI temporary bus-bridge are already in place and in operation. Everyone knows this, you know this. The problem is that they are not optimal for the purpose of a bus-bridge.

        But that is exactly why Metro would need to do make some temporary restrictions in and around MI town center. Things like parking restrictions, increased layover space, maybe even restrictions on regular vehicle access to certain streets. It all could be done, and it would all be temporary.

        As per turning an artic, they actually turn pretty well. And if it really does prove impossible to turn an artic due to some deficiency in the MI street grid, then Metro always could run more 60 footers instead. It would be less efficient, but would result in higher frequency. And everyone on this blog LOVES increased frequency.

        And nobody is even remotely suggesting putting buses back in he center roadway. That train left the station decades ago. Time to move on.

        And please stop with your disinformation campaign about East Link not being able to cross the bridge, or somehow being restricted when it does.these are construction issues, not operational issues. There is exactly zero indication that Link will have any issues at all using the bridge once it is properly repurposed. None.

        And for clarification, the problem on the floating portion of the bridge isn’t the plinths, it’s some nylon fasteners where about 1% of them have been stripped out. The bulk of the plinth problem is between the floating bridge and IDS, with a smaller amount east of the floating bridge.

      2. Buses connecting Seattle and Issaquah via Mercer Island and the Eastgate freeway station need not turn around on MI; they could go through as many routes do today. The bus routes would connect with the hypothetical Balducci line fine.

      3. I agree Eddie. I think if the “Balducci Line” were opened bus routes would remain the same. A temporary restructure would be too difficult to serve such a short line with low ridership.

        Cost would be an issue. According to the 2021 subarea report the E. KC subarea paid $62.5 million for ST buses in 2021. I don’t know what it would cost to run a partial East Link with little farebox recovery on top of that.

        The Balducci Line strikes me as political theater. According to AJ it will/can only run to Overlake. Without cross lake travel the route and stations between MI and Overlake won’t lure many riders. ST has VERY high ridership estimates for East Link, 52,000 riders/day. If the Balducci Line has closer to 5000 riders/day and public reports show a very high cost per rider mile for around two years that could backfire public relations wise. God forbid there were issues on the Balducci line.

        There is very little anticipation for East Link to open on the Eastside. It is already four years behind schedule but few if any care. I would let sleeping dogs lie.

      4. “But that is exactly why Metro would need to do make some temporary restrictions in and around MI town center. Things like parking restrictions, increased layover space, maybe even restrictions on regular vehicle access to certain streets.”

        Metro doesn’t have authority to modify city streets. It would have to ask Mercer island to do so. Mercer Island may or may not be willing.

      5. It would make more sense with the downtown Redmond extension. Otherwise it would get Microsoft riders but not Redmond riders, or they would have to transfer in the middle. It’s more acceptable psychologically to transfer for six miles across a lake, than it does when you’re in the outskirts of a city getting to the center. Especially in the Eastside context where both segments are short (Bellevue-RedTech-Redmond or SpringDistrict-RedTech-Redmond), and where the demographics are affluent and tech-heavy (so they’ll switch to a car easily).

      6. The restructure around the Judkins Park station should still happen. They should have enough cars from when Line 1 was every 6 minutes. Judkins Park is quite close to Northgate compared to Mt Baker, so they only need maybe 10 trains to operate it.

        Only other restructure that might be worthwhile would only work if they could alter theRainier Ave southbound to I-90 interchange to have a transit left turn onto the freeway, to allow a bus turn around stop there. Probably not worth the expense.

      7. Mike, the Balducci Line could get some Microsoft workers but how many of those are there these days, how many drive since congestion is not bad and Microsoft has so much onsite parking, aren’t there dedicated Microsoft shuttles, and how would they access the Balducci Line to get there since Microsoft would be the last stop going east so any riders would be coming from the west when so many Microsoft employees live to the east?

        I don’t think the 554 would access the S. Bellevue park and ride so those Microsoft employees from the Issaquah region would have to drive to the S. Bellevue Park and Ride to transfer to East Link to get to Microsoft (which is the most likely scenario anyway when East Link fully opens). I suppose the 550 could stop at S. Bellevue for those workers coming from Seattle who don’t mind the transfer, but I think Microsoft has dedicated shuttles from Seattle with very few stops plus WFH.

        If the Balducci Line is simply going to be some kind of amusement ride the issue then is the cost. ST would have to be very realistic about possible ridership, and that begins with ridership on the 550 on this stretch today which is very light, and cost per rider mile. How much should the subarea spend on the Balducci Line when very few buses will serve it just to help her out politically?

        I think the idea of a “bus bridge” for two or three years is very unlikely. Metro does not have the money, the infrastructure to make it work would take years to permit and build and would be very expensive, and today there isn’t the ridership for it, or even East Link. There is no capacity issue on transit across the bridge span, and buses move quite quickly in even the general purpose lanes on I-90.

        Now if ST and the Board came out and said light rail across the bridge span is unlikely to open or have the capacity and frequency to work then yes, might as well begin Plan B, which is an intra-eastside East Link with some kind of bus system across the bridge span, which adds ANOTHER transfer to cross-lake travel which is already so low, and would require revamping the eastside transit restructure and a number of the stations, including MI which is designed solely for buses from the east. That is an entirely different East Link, and would need an entirely different eastside transit restructure, which would probably result in more buses like the 554 that skip East Link and are a one seat ride to where folks want to go.

        To Lazarus’ point, it isn’t the objection from MI to a bus bridge, it is the infrastructure. Parking is not the issue, nor is local citizen access. The issue is N. Mercer Way is the sole east-west arterial with an entrance to I-90 westbound, and the bus intercept is designed to turn around buses to and from the east. ST did not want there to be an option for buses coming across the bridge.

        If it turned out East Link can’t run across the bridge ST could redo the infrastructure on Mercer Island (for fair compensation), and I am not sure there would be much objection because the number of buses would probably be around the same because my guess is at least half would continue east after stopping on MI (like today) because the riders would refuse to get off on MI to transfer. East Link already has some pretty big holes in it and serves a tiny section of east King Co., which is reflected in the eastside transit restructure; a bus bridge with a transfer on MI would just make the hole bigger and create demand for some other mode, including one seat buses going from a park and ride on the eastside to wherever folks want to go (Seattle, Bellevue Way, Microsoft).

        If East Link across the bridge really is only delayed until 2025-26 but will work at full capacity then the Balducci Line just isn’t necessary, certainly not with ridership today. If East Link can’t run across the bridge span or capacity is much lower than four car trains every 8 minutes, we have bigger problems and opening East Link from MI to Overlake won’t solve those problems.

      8. “And please stop with your disinformation campaign about East Link not being able to cross the bridge, or somehow being restricted when it does.these are construction issues, not operational issues. There is exactly zero indication that Link will have any issues at all using the bridge once it is properly repurposed. None.”

        LOL Lazarus. But you are correct: the issues with the bridge are not construction issues; they are design issues, and if you actually read the reports (or some of the links on this blog from Tisgwm) you would have read it is much more than just nylon screws in a few plinths.

        The problem has been the same since before 2016: a floating bridge made out of concrete that was not tensioned for light rail. No one has ever done this before. The first engineering firm ST hired said it couldn’t be done.

        The vibrations if they reach the rebar act like a tuning fork and micro-fracture the concrete. Whether it is the deck/span hinge, or post tensioning, or the raised plinths, or more guywires to reduce pitch and yaw, or the adequacy of the vibration dampening in the plinths, it all comes down to the same thing: preventing the vibrations from the weight of four car trains on steel rails every 8 minutes from reaching the concrete and pontoons.

        It was only a few years ago we were told East Link would be limited to two car trains with only one train on the bridge at a time with a maximum speed of 20 mph until the magic hinge was developed. Then it was post tensioning. Then raising the rails onto plinths. Then dampening the vibrations from the trains through the plinths to the rebar and concrete. Now here we are with a possible opening date of 2025, and Balducci recommending a very strange partial opening of East Link between some of the least popular stations — MI to Overlake — while the issues with the bridge span are “resolved”.

        Originally East Link was supposed to open across the bridge in 2021. I guess we will have to wait until 2025 or 2026 or 2027 to find out whether your blind faith in ST is warranted and my suspicion unwarranted since I have been on this ST merry-go-round for around 7 years now. I just hope I am still alive by then, although like most on the eastside East Link is at most an illusion to me, one far into the future, that will change nothing whether it can run full capacity across the bridge or not.

      9. “ If the Balducci Line is simply going to be some kind of amusement ride the issue then is the cost. ST would have to be very realistic about possible ridership…”

        Uh…. this is the same agency that has operated both Tacoma Link and Sounder North since 2003. We may think ridership matters, but it doesn’t appear ST gives it much consideration.

      10. @eddiew,

        You are correct, a Seattle-MI bus bridge could go past MI and reverse at a further location. The infrastructure is already in place. But the question would be, “Why?”

        If the Balducci Line terminates at MI, then why run the bus bridge past MI? After MI it would be running mainly empty, and therefore running at poor economics. Why run a line with poor economics when the easy solution is to partner with MI to temporarily turn the buses around at MI and operate more efficiently? It boggles the mind.

        The better solution is to convince MI to be a regional team player and allow a temporary bus turnaround at MI. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s temporary. And maybe some business in the so called MI “town center” would see a bump in business. Lord knows they need it.

        What does MI have to lose?

      11. @MO,

        You are correct. Metro does not have the capability to force MI to be a regional team player, but they can certainly try to persuade MI to be a team player.

        Such persuasion could include all sorts of things, like withholding funding for other MI projects that Metro funds and MI considers important.

        And this is a regional issue, not just a MI vs Metro issue. KC and the State have many more tools at their disposal Ethan Metro does. The region and the State should definitely be involved in trying to convince MI to be a regional team player.

        And we aren’t talking about anything permanent here. We are talking about temporary restrictions on parking to create bus layover space, maybe some turn restrictions for SOV’s, and at the very worst, some temporary street closures.

        Not a big deal.

      12. @DT,

        Again, please stop with the disinformation campaign. It is getting tiring. I specifically said the following:

        “ these are construction issues, not operational issues. There is exactly zero indication that Link will have any issues at all using the bridge once it is properly repurposed. None.”

        How you can twist this to assert that I instead said, “the issues with the bridge are not construction issues; they are design issues,”, is beyond me. In fact, it is Orwellian.

        I did not say that, and I did not mean that. To assert otherwise is simply a “falsehood” (not my first choice of words).

        And for the record, reading and understanding are two very different things. Just reading something doesn’t mean you understand it.

      13. Every bus “turns around” at some point Lazarus.

        Truncating buses on MI as part of bus bridge that are continuing east on I-90 like the current 554 makes no sense and just adds a transfer from one bus to another and aggravation to riders’ lives. The only place it makes any sense to truncate a bus is at a Link station IF it makes the ultimate trip faster and more convenient.

        Does getting off the 550 on MI to catch East Link make more trips faster and more convenient if the 550 continues on its current route? No unless maybe you are going to Redmond, and that is happening until 2025 when Redmond Link opens. Obviously, any bus heading to areas along I-90 should continue on their way. It would be pointless to have riders disembark a bus on MI to catch another bus heading east.

        At the same time S. Bellevue has a 1500 stall park and ride so a bus bridge truncating on MI means those riders would have to get off the bus and onto East Link for a one stop trip to get to their car.

        I highly doubt that after many years of bullying and litigation MI is feeling the regional love because ST can’t figure out how to build light rail across a floating bridge. MI is not a very transit-oriented city, and probably would prefer no transit from Seattle stopping on MI. Very hard feelings toward ST on MI and I doubt anything will change that. ST didn’t give a damn if its plans ruined MI. Only a pandemic saved us.

        But if the cash was right, MI got SOV access from ICW and reserved space in the park and ride, and the total number of buses remained the same as under the eastside transit restructure — 12 per peak hour maximum with few riders, and almost none during non-peak times — the only issue would be the time and cost to redo the roundabout and bus stations/layover bays ST is currently installing that are designed today to turn around buses coming solely from the east.

        I guess if the roundabout was redone a bus from Seattle with riders who want to take East Link could get off Link at Judkins Park, get on a bus, exit the I-90 general-purpose lane onto 77th, and the bus could use the roundabout to head back west at the entrance westbound at 76th while the rider boarded East Link, although all the layover bays are east of the roundabout, and some kind of bus stop for those riders would have to be constructed as part of the roundabout, and that could be dangerous since it would require crossing N. Mercer Way to access the light rail station. Still it would likely take around 3-5 years to permit and build. Transit permitting and construction is sloooooooooooow.

        So if the reality is East Link isn’t going to work across the bridge span we better start thinking about a bus bridge just for East Link (not buses continuing along I-90), which means SEPA. Otherwise better to just wait three or four years and open all of East Link at once while implementing the eastside transit restructure at the same time because that is probably the earliest a bus bridge could be up and running.

        I am sure if ST wanted to work to give MI SOV access from ICW, reserved park and ride space (although there is plenty of space today), and several million dollars for a bus bridge that does not increase the total number of buses accessing MI from east and west for a 3-year bus bridge MI would be open to that, but the reality is a bus bridge truncating at S. Bellevue makes much more sense, so Bellevue will get all the mitigation funding because you know Bellevue won’t do it out of regional love.

      14. Lazarus, the issues with East Link on I-90 have nothing to do with operations, considering East Link is not “operating”. I said the issues have to do with design, because that is what they have to do with, and that you don’t understand that or just what the problems are. I understand you have blind faith in ST. I will reserve judgment for 2025 or whenever it opens across the bridge span.

      15. @DT,

        Again, please stop with the disinformation campaign. The issues with the plinths have nothing to do with design, the issues have to do with construction.

        Stated simply, the plinths that are being replaced were under-dimensioned, had misplaced and/or misproportioned rebar, and in some cases utilized concrete that didn’t meet design specs. That is why they are being replaced.

        Stated even more simply, plinths that DID NOT meet design specs are being replaced with ones that DO.

        The design has not changed. They are just making the contractor build to the existing, contractually agree upon, design.

        How you can assert that requiring the contractor to build to the design spec is a “design flaw” is beyond me.

      16. Lazarus: because Eastgate, Issaquah, and Issaquah Highlands are major markets not be served by the Balducci Link line; the need a connection with it and with Seattle. With the complete East Link, the buses may turnaround on MI; with Balducci Line, the routes could extend to downtown Seattle; they could be the same routes that serve the east I-90 markets. No capital changes would be needed on MI. (Some are warranted for other reasons, but not due to the Balducci line).

      17. “I don’t think the 554 would access the S. Bellevue park and ride”

        Either the 550 or 554 will. One of them will serve Bellevue Way, and it will presumably serve the P&R like the 550 is now: northbound on the street, southbound detouring in to it.

        If ST leaves the routes alone, the 550 will continue serving SB and Bellevue Way; the 554 will continue bypassing them to Seattle; and the 556 will continue serving Issaquah-Bellevue-UDistrict peak only.

        If the full restructure goes through, the 554 will be rerouted to Issaquah-SB-Bellevue Way-Bellevue TC; and the 556 will be deleted. The 550 may continue as is, or may be truncated to downtown-MI, downtown-SB, Judkins Park-MI, or Judkins Park-SB. I don’t see two routes on Bellevue Way, especially with the 554 running every 15 minutes in the restructure.

        “If the Balducci Line terminates at MI, then why run the bus bridge past MI?”

        To avoid a three-seat ride from Issaquah to Seattle. It’s not reasonable to expect people to take the 554 from Issaquah to South Bellevue, Link one station to Mercer Island, and the 550 to Seattle. That’s two transfers within a short distance.

        “After MI it would be running mainly empty, and therefore running at poor economics.”

        Ridership is just just one factor. You’re thinking of Seattle-Bellevue but not Seattle-Issaquah. ST has long designated Issaquah as worthy of regional transit to Seattle and Bellevue. One transfer is acceptable; two transfers is not. The 554 could continue going to Seattle, and it would not overlap with Link. (It only connects at Mercer island.) Then the 556 would have to continue serving Issaquah-Bellevue, and that’s another chunk of service hours, and probably lower ridership than the 554. Rerouting the 554 to South Bellevue and Bellevue Way and increasing it to 15 minutes would be a significant step forward in Issaquah-Bellevue transit, so ST might want to do it soon, but it would require deleting the 556. And it wouldn’t serve Mercer Island, so unless the 550 comes to South Bellevue to meet it, there would be a gap. A gap in a long-acknowledged regional transit corridor.

        “I think the idea of a “bus bridge” for two or three years is very unlikely. Metro does not have the money”

        Which routes are you talking about? 5xx routes are ST. 2xx routes are Metro. So if you’re talking about the 550 or 554, those are on ST’s budget.

      18. You are correct, a Seattle-MI bus bridge could go past MI and reverse at a further location. The infrastructure is already in place. But the question would be, “Why?”

        Because it gives those riders a one-seat ride to downtown. You could say the same thing when the train goes across the lake, but there is one big difference: The train can carry more people. You can’t force all the Issaquah-to-Seattle peak riders (212, 214, 216, etc.) onto the 550 — it wouldn’t be able to handle the load. This is where a huge part of the service savings come from.

        I suppose you could truncate the 554 outside of rush hour, but that is like sending the 271 to Yarrow Point, and ending there. Or having the 125 turnaround at Genesee. There a bunch of similar places where we could do that, but don’t. There are several reasons for that, but one is that the buses are running infrequently at that hour. The 550 runs every 15 minutes, with the 554 every 20. In contrast, as bad as Link headways are, at least they run every 10 minutes. Truncating to a ten-minute train is not ideal, but it is much better than dealing with a 15-minute bus that runs on surface streets. You end up with a messy system that doesn’t work that well, without saving a huge amount of service time. You might be able to run the 554 every 15 minutes, but with the added transfer, I’m not sure that many people would be happy.

        A big reason is that Mercer Island is not a big destination. Truncating buses at the UW (and running them more often) means riders get to a major destination more often. That isn’t the case with a M. I. truncation. It just isn’t worth it, which is why it wasn’t done before.

      19. “Originally East Link was supposed to open across the bridge in 2021.”

        2020 actually. Overlake was 2021.

      20. Wasn’t the delay because of Kemper Freeman’s legal battle with ST or was it something else entirely

      21. The more I think about it, the more I think a temporary EastLink that can’t cross into Seattle should run between downtown Redmond and downtown Bellevue and not go to Mercer Island at all. This allows both the 550 and 554 to simply run their existing routes without creating redundancy or requiring two separate bus restructures two years apart. And, if the train isn’t going to Seattle, the Bulk of the ridership is going to come from the Bellevue->Redmond section anyway.

        I’m not sure where the track turnbacks are, but my assumption is that there would for sure be a turnback opportunity by the O&M facility, and if this truncated version of Link runs only every 15 minutes, it would be manageable.

      22. The diagram in the ST explanation shows Plinth problems on the East Channel Bridge, so operation to MI would not be feasible without some work there. Ditto. Judkins Park: there are defective Plinths west of the station.

        Obviously, to have a Balducci Libe start “I’m-time” ST could focus replacement work in those two locations, but it’s not effortless.

    2. The big issues here around feasibility are all systems related. Traction power, communications, signal and safety systems activation & testing. Plus the testing and activiation of the main line later with active transit operations in effect on the Bel-Red segment. It’s a heavy lift at a minimum for at best some symbolic benefit.

      A Year+ delay in East Link pushes its opening timeline into the same window as Lynnwood Link and Redmond. Given that all three form the 2 line, the better play in my view would be to wait and open the whole thing at once when it’s ready. That aligns the KCM and CT restructures, avoids the fleet maintenance issues, etc. Why rush it, and create a whole bunch of new issues and problems to address that take away from the agency’s effort to solve the construction issues?

      1. @railcan,

        Bravo. You are totally correct.

        Whereas I am sure ST could open up an interim Balducci Line. I am sure it is not worth the extra time, the extra effort, or the extra money.

        Churn is rarely good for anything, and it certainly isn’t good for anything that is heavily systems or operations dependent.

        If ST is going to throw money at the problem, the better place to throw the money would be in improving the construction situation with the goal of advancing the opening day of the entire line as much as possible. That would be money well spent.

      2. It’s not ‘churn,’ it’s iteration. A ‘big bang’ approach to opening infrastructure is harder than opening in phases. I think ST would be much more successful if it opened East Link in 2 or 3 phases and then opened Lynnwood and Redmond shortly thereafter, even if each phases were only a few months apart. Implementation teams will learn from each iteration. Opening East Link will be the hardest go-live the ST agency will ever attempt.

        It’s also less risky. Particularly with the intermin Baldacci line unlikely to be paired with a bus restructure, it’s much more palatable to pause the operations for a week to resolve a signaling issue, or to to stop serving a segment/station for a period to fix a problem.

        ” throw the money would be in improving the construction situation with the goal of advancing the opening day of the entire line as much as possible.” reductio ad absurdum – why not just build ST2 until it’s ready to go, and then just mothball it for a decade and invest the O&M savings into opening ST3 early?

      3. Theoretically, you are right that a mega-opening is best, Railcan. However, I think it’s a really risky thing to implement. If just one thing goes wrong, everything gets delayed if the opening dates are all tethered together for everything. Consider that Northgate opening was delayed a few weeks in summer of 2021, and the recent East Link problems are only recently admitted just a year out from the proposed opening day in 2023.

        The big change is adding the 2 Line. It adds a split into a single line system. That’s going to involve many more systems changes from train control and switching to signage and announcements. Getting that implemented cleanly is paramount. It seems that this one opening should be done in a focused way without the added stress of opening extensions elsewhere.

        Then there are the other three extensions. While each adds riders into the core system, very few riders will travel from one extension to another extension (say Lynnwood to Federal Way or Marymoor). So there is little inherent benefit to doing them at the same time from a rider need.

        Finally, I wouldn’t want anything too rushed — as that puts pressure for ST to accept completion of less-than-perfect things which could quickly result in major problems. There is already considerable political pressure to open things ASAP — and I worry that ST could have problems with new stations or lines (like the UW escalator debacle of 2017). As hard as it is to wait and open things piecemeal, it seems to be a much “safer” approach for a number of reasons.

      4. Doesn’t it make sense for ST to focus on opening Lynnwood and Federal Way Link first since these are simpler lines without a bridge and any opening won’t include a “bus bridge”, or duplicate costs.

        . There are fewer possibilities that these two lines will have some kind of intrinsic structural problem like I-90. Then ST can claim it has built a spine from Lynnwood to Federal Way.

        I also think actual ridership on Lynnwood and FW Link will be closer to estimates than on East Link.

        According to The Urbanist ST knew about the current problems on the bridge in 2019 but hoped they could be fixed without delays so concealed them. I just disagree with Lazarus that ST has the issues with the bridge totally resolved, so would focus on opening FW and Lynnwood Link first to take the “wins” on lines without possible unknown problems that could result in further delay or even permanent reductions in cross lake capacity.

        The Balducci Line makes absolutely no sense to me, unless the Board is concerned the delays or ultimate capacity across I-90 are bigger unknowns than the Board is letting on. Considering Balducci has known about these recently disclosed issues since 2019 her proposal has probably been fully vetted with the Board for years and long planned which might suggest the Board is realistically concerned an intra-Eastside East Link might be permanent, and it will be easier to negotiate with Eastside cities if some form of East Link is actually functioning and ideally popular.

        Except of course Mercer Island that hates ST’s guts and is the key to any kind of bus bridge, and has learned well from all its mistakes from past permitting and litigation with ST, and learned well that if ST tells you anything get it in writing. Plus this is a city totally disinterested in transit, let alone serving as a bus bridge from Seattle. Just having Seattleites pass through MI on a train that has no fare enforcement was concerning. Having every one of those riders get off a bus on MI will never fly.

        So that leaves S. Bellevue and what Bellevue demands in “mitigation” to serve as the bus bridge. Bellevue does extremely well negotiating with ST.

  10. Related to this idea is the layout of a bus bridge when trains can’t cross Lake Washington. I can see how it will be needed at times.

    First, the east end would have to be decided. Because MI is so whiny, it would probably have to be South Bellevue.

    Then, the Seattle side would have to be decided. It would be significantly easiest at Judkins Park. The big challenge would be how to turn buses around. Technically, a bus could use the westbound loop ramp and stop at the southbound bus stop, but the challenge becomes how to route buses headed the other way. Right now it would have to reverse using neighborhood streets south of Judkins Park. Some sort of special signal preemption at the eastbound off-ramp signal could be rigged along with some geometric changes at the eastbound on-ramp to accommodate buses.

    It’s just frustrating that a turnaround for buses hasn’t been discussed at Judkins Park. If the proposal to turn the westbound loop ramp to land perpendicular to Rainier for safety (today it’s a merge), that giant area inside the loop could be a place to turn around buses — but they still would need to get back on I-90 eastbound somehow.

    1. It would need a dedicated transit left turn lane and ramp onto the existing NB Rainier to EB I-90. It’s not out of the question but might be too expensive for the limited use.

  11. I think the “other half” of 2 Line service would be easier to do as well as get more riders. That would be to run trains between Northgate and Judkins Park. Tains could run out of the Central OMF.

    I’m wondering how the systems that will change because of the major branching will be tested anyway. Having that fully functional before all of East Link opens could be a good strategy. I would hate for the 2 Line trains to create a problem with the Downtown and North Seattle stations.

    1. The connection at IDS is a flying junction. There is no crossing interference, so there really shouldn’t be a problem there if they have fairly quick switch machines.

      Bitter experience shows they may have “budget” switch matchines.

    2. It seems like Judkins Park to Northgate would really help in a number of ways. The 7 is really slow, and while it wouldn’t help the longest part of the route it would help speed things up a bit on that north 1/3 of the route. It would also somewhat decouple frequency on the core of the system from the capacity limits in the Rainier Valley.

      1. Yeah, the big benefit would be to double headways from downtown to the north end. That means we could run the trains every 5 minutes in the middle of the day for that section.

        But we could run every 6 minutes right now if ST wanted to. I get that UW to downtown is our most productive piece, and that going to Angle Lake is expensive, but I get the feeling that ST is not really focused on saving riders time or increasing ridership. Otherwise those trains would be running every six minutes all day and we would just live with the inefficient express to Angle Lake.

      2. Soon ST is going to have to “bite the bullet” and realize that its only REAL trunk is Northgate to IDS and run some kind of turnbacks. It’s not easy to do at either end, because the only facilities are middle-of-the-right-of-way tail tracks. Though one side of the tail is farther from the adjacent track than the other in order to create a “walkway”, it’s not really safe to walk a train in them — they’re typically ballast on which it’s easy to stumble, not paved — and they aren’t covered. ST is going to get a lot of pushback from Metro’s operators when it tries to turn in-service trains there on a schedule.

        Federal Way to Northgate isn’t too long a run, nor is Lynnwood to Judkins Park, but Tacoma to Northgate would be right at the limit. Since the operator would receive a break there, it wouldn’t be a huge expense to double-cab the reversal. But it would be profligate to double-cab extra mid-system runs from Judkins to Northgate. And of course eventually trains will cross the bridge, even if the have to grind off every plinth and replace it with fancy “forever concrete”.

        Once that happens, the best way to reverse short-turn trains is by running around the outer loop at Forest Street. If you hot-looped the south end, double-cabbing only at Northgate would be fine.

        Eventually West Seattle will come on line and all three will be running, so short-turns will no longer be needed.

  12. I agree, the eastside portion of the route should open as possible, even if the I-90 bridge part is not ready yet. I would probably continue to run 550 and 554 downtown, though, rather than force transfers to shuttle buses. Restructures to local buses within the Bellevue/Redmond area could go ahead. Service improvements to Sammamish probably get delayed.

    The 545 is trickier. If, by the point where eastside Link is ready to open, the 520/Montlake construction is finished, allowing for a more reliable 542/Link connection, I would go ahead and truncate the 545, replacing it with more service on the 542. But, if not, I think the 545 has to continue to run until Link is fully operational from Redmond to downtown Seattle.

  13. The opening of the 2 Line will require the largest shift in staffing ST and Metro have ever undertaken, not gust for the east side, but for doubling service between ID/CS and Northgate.

    I’ve been stuck on a peak-hour baseball night train from Northgate. The only reason to add more service before the 2 Line fully opens is to increase social distancing. Of course, the CDC has already abandoned social distancing in its guidance. It never abandoned masking guidance, but a lot of riders, especially sportsball fans, did not get that memo. And, oh yeah, each dominant variant is more contagious than the previous one.

    At any rate, service to Jimi Hendrix Park Station before the 2 Line fully opens is a waste of a tight pool of drivers.

  14. I expect opening partial East Link will be complicated and expensive. However, in 6-12 months all East Side stations will be finished cosmetically and people will start to wonder when the trains will arrive. I expect early opening has already been rejected. I think this article exists to apply political pressure.

    My prediction is that instead of opening the East Side only, Sound Transit will find a way to accelerate the fixes to the bridge halve the delays.

    1. It can’t open until all the signaling and testing are completed. People wondered the same about previous Link extensions. Just because the stations and track look finished doesn’t mean they are finished. The Northgate ped bridge was being worked on all the way till opening. And the feds require several months of testing with non-revenue trains, and that can’t start until the signaling is finished.

      “My prediction is that instead of opening the East Side only, Sound Transit will find a way to accelerate the fixes to the bridge halve the delays.”

      If it could accelerate the bridge part, it would have already. ST doesn’t want the delay any more than you do. Every year later it opens is worse for ST’s reputation, because it was supposed to open in 2021. We can blame Bellevue for one year because it insisted on several southern Bellevue alternatives and obstructed the approval process, and asked for a city hall tunnel to be added. But the rest of these delays aren’t Bellevue’s fault.

  15. What pecentive of the new trains are being delivered directly to the OMF east? If they decide to have 2 different non connected lines, they will need to have 2 different non connected fleets of LTR’s. At least for 1.5 years. Also I thought that the original plan was to retrofit the original trains at OMF esat.

    1. So far it’s just Balducci’s suggestion. All that would have to be studied, a cost and timeline determined, logistics analyzed to see about running an isolated line from OMF East, and then the board would have to have a hearing and approve it.

    2. Not necessarily 1.5 years.

      When the new MAX cars arrived in 1996, they were delivered to Orenco as that was the only spot TriMet had with a place to unload them from a railroad flat car. The freight line they used for the first batch in the 1980s had been converted to a bike path.

      But they really needed to retire the wheelchair lifts soon.

      So they moved the cars through the west hills tunnel with a track mobile. Just because the line took another 2.5 years to get into operating condition didn’t mean they were without a way to move the cars over the line with maintenance moves at slow speed. You don’t need a fully operational line just to shuffle cars around.

      Obviously you do need track of some sort over which to make this move, but that gets installed long before opening day is possible.

    1. Good precedent. This truncated East Link line would serve as a “soft launch” or dress rehearsal. Eastside transit users would a chance to test out train travel, while ST can work out the kinks before the full launch.

  16. From Marymoor Park to Bellevue Transit Center on the 250 is about 45 minutes. It takes an hour on the B. By driving it’s about 15.

    With grade separation and halfway decent speeds, it seems like Link may very well offer time advantages significant enough to be worth a partial opening.

    It looks like you could have decent frequency with only two trains operating, depending on what stations are open. So, compared to the bus service, it doesn’t seem like a huge number of operators would be needed. If the line is ready for service, they’ll probably be running test trains anyway even if they can’t open it all the way through. So, the real difference in operating cost might be stuff like cleaning the stations, trash cans and trains.

    Ideally, you want the crossovers to be just before the station where they turn around. There are crossovers just south of Main and just south of S Bellevue Park and Ride, and just east of Mercer Island and Bellevue Transit Center.

    Thus, you probably have to either stop at Bellevue Transit Center or go all the way to Mercer Island.

    Overlake definitely has crossovers south of it, so no problem turning trains there.

    Overlake station to Bellevue Trsnsit Center is 12 minutes driving time, including a bunch of backtracking at Overlake using the freeway exit about ¼ mile north of the station and backtracking on local roads through traffic lights.

    Link will do this trip in what? 15 minutes at worst?

    Three trains could probably provide decently frequent service without really breaking the bank in terms of operators.

    Mercer Island or not? That really depends on how many people are on Eastside buses that stop there and transfer to go into Bellevue or Overlake. It seems like most would do fine transferring to the 550, but Link might have enough of a time advantage over the bus for it to be demanded. Even so, it looks like you’d only need to add a couple of trains to add Mercer Island.

    And again: I don’t see them stopping the operation of trains once they’ve run a satisfactory number of test trains over the line, and then wait for the bridge. It seems to me it’s more a matter of those test trains opening their doors to a station open to the public or not.

    1. I’ve not parked in Downtown Bellevue as a commuter. I’m not sure what post Covid parking rates are there either although it’s been similar to Downtown Portland rates in the past. Plus 405 often backs up between I90 and Downtown Bellevue because of the squeeze starting at Coal Creek Parkway.

      I suspect that the South Bellevue garage will attract Downtown Bellevue workers if the frequencies are there. MI also has lots of parking so that station may too. If 500 drivers choose Link from those places, that’s 1,000 trips on Link. That’s on top of riders eventually crossing the bridge on a bus, or riders getting dropped off by household members.

    2. I used to work on Mercer Island, the Farmers Insurance office. Back then I always drove, as a solo car trip from the Eastside mainland was a lot faster than a multiple-route bus ride (20 minutes vs. who knows how long), and the building had a sizable parking garage. That said, if East Link had existed then and stopped at a local park-and-ride, I would have gladly taken it to Mercer Island and make the short walk to work from the station. I think a lot of my coworkers with Link-manageable addresses in Seattle and the Eastside would have as well.

      1. The Farmers building sold in 2020 for $46.5 million. Farmers at one point had 600 employees, then that was reduced to 400, and then to zero, which was a hit to town center businesses.

        The developers remodeled the office building and applied to build 48 very high-end Brownstone style townhomes on the huge parking lot with underground parking. Everyone was very excited because Islanders looking to downsize from a SFH don’t want to move into shared wall condos or apartments in the town center, which usually were built as rentals to avoid the long warranty tail for new condos so are not super high end (often referred to as the “bad daddies hotel), and keeping these high wealth individuals in the town center would help with retail vibrancy.

        Then in 2021 Riot Games, a subsidiary of Tencent, paid $114.1 million for the same building but scrapped the plans for the brownstone townhomes and does not plan on moving in until 2025. .

        Apparently Riot Games plans to move 400 game coders from LA to this building, which seems like a strange demographic for MI. Some speculation was the extraordinarily high price was a way to move money out of China and into U.S. property assets, because the price for the building even pre-pandemic does not make sense, and with the steep decline in gaming today makes even less sense.

      2. @DT: I worked for Farmers for 17 years (1993-2010), and I remember how everyone headed for the Albertson’s across the street during coffee and lunch breaks, and occasional long lunches at places like the Islander. I found the arrival of mixed-use buildings in the downtown area a promising development for land use, as was the expansion of the Park and Ride.

        Unfortunately, I was part of the first big layoff in the midst of the Great Recession, and I haven’t been back to Mercer Island except to fill up my gas tank. I had no idea Farmers had abandoned their MI office until a couple of years ago, when I was talking to someone who had a business there.

      3. Farmers may have moved on, The point is that somebody at one point wanted to commute to it on transit. So it’s likely somebody else in the future will want to commute to other Mercer Island insurance companies, law offices, and other businesses on transit.

        I had a cousin who lived in Rainier Valley in the 2000s and worked at a Mercer Island law office. I don’t know if he’d commute by 7+Link, but he did take Line 1 for other trips.

    3. With two trains running, you could use the scissors south of South Main as “nearside scissors” for South Bellevue. When an inbound train is clearing the scissors, the other train is approaching Redtech. There would be no conflict, ever. Even if you used three trains, it’s only two minutes from South Main to South Bellevue so throw the inbound train into the unoccupied track and let the departing train go as soon as the inbound leaves the platform at South Main.

      Four trains might be a problem.

    1. The alignment was studied extensively. Forward Thrust in the 1960s had two lines, one like East Link to Redmond, and another to Factoria and Eastgate. Voters rejected it then. The Eastside was going to channel growth to the I-90 corridor, but instead most of it went to Bellevue and Redmond. The I-90 corridor got a few towers in the park (=isolated office buildings) and a larger shopping center, but was otherwise left as a future growth area. So it was when East Link was put to a vote in 2008. The main travel patterns and growth were in the Bellevue-Redmond axis, where East Link is. Detouring to Factoria would be out of the way.

      The Issaquah-South Kirkland line will serve Eastgate, and at least come closer to Factoria. That’s the successor to the Seattle-Eastgate line that was in Forward Thrust. Issaquah is now a larger center, and Bellevue a larger job market, and Bellevue College is right in between. So a routing that was unthinkable in the 1960s is thinkable now.

      1. yes, the Forward Thrust alignments were better in many ways. Factoria is enough of a place to be worth the deviation. ST did not study it.

      2. A gondola line could connect Eastgate/Bellevue College to Factoria and the South Bellevue Link station.

      3. Getting an airspace lease OVER I-90 would be tricky. My guess is the I-90– 405 interchange will get a major upgrade soon and will require more width. Then there are the environmentally sensitive public lands this gondola would run over to get to S. Bellevue.

        Which agency are you assuming would permit and operate this Gondola line? Who funds construction and operations and how? What do you estimate to be farebox recovery (rider X fare paid) and annual operations. What is the amount of SEPA mitigation would cities and communities demand? Would the gondola line participate in the Orca system and so honor transfers and share revenue for transfers?

        I would want to wait and see ridership at S. Bellevue first. Plus a gondola would have to compete with 1500 free parking stalls (plus 453 on MI going west), and IMO have its route along Eastside park and rides. Otherwise a rider would need to get to a bus stop (in East King Co.) to get to the gondola (rather than staying on the bus to S. Bellevue) then transfer at S. Bellevue to East Link that today goes to stations that are not popular destinations for eastsiders except maybe Microsoft that is moving toward WFH.

        I would also want to know RTW at Microsoft and Seattle, whether Microsoft runs private shuttles along this route, and whether cities like Issaquah run one seat 630 type buses to Seattle even if East Link opens across the bridge that access the major park and rides along this route (Eastgate/Factoria).

        I think there are better places to try a gondola. Ideally with density and destinations on both ends and ideally with a steep slope and short ride with a dramatic view in case the work commuter doesn’t return. I would definitely not start on the Eastside.

      4. It’s way too late to rue too much about Factoria connectivity with East Link. The best short term strategy is to have a short distance shuttle. Metro has instead proposed serving the connection as part of a longer route, which could be counter productive if good frequency and reliability aren’t possible.

        A trial shuttle would go a long way in determining whether a more fixed connection like a gondola is a reasonable investment. The major implementation challenge is whether it must be subsidized and run by Metro or ST or if it can be run as a private (corporate or local non-profit entity like a TMA) system.

      5. Maybe getting people out of taking cars to Bellevue College or T-Mobile would help reduce the traffic so that the interchange wouldn’t have to be upgraded.
        Many malls are reducing retail and parking and instead are building housing the area needs, a frequent transit connection could make this more attractive to get to downtown Bellevue or Seattle to work at Amazon etc. and increase Eastlink ridership.
        Kirkland did a gondola study last year, it called for $81m construction and $7m annual operation for a 3 station system. Not sure whether Metro or Sound Transit or the city would build and operate it. It would certainly need to be integrated into Orca card system as most riders will continue on Link.
        To cross the intersection and sensitive lands, it might be necessary to use a 2 or 3 wire gondola system which allows for fewer and higher towers.
        Yes, there are other places in Seattle (Belltown to CapHill, West Seattle, or Harborview), but this one may be one with the highest ridership opportunity on the Eastside, it could avoid many car and bus trips.

      6. “whether cities like Issaquah run one seat 630 type buses”

        They’re not running them now, so why should they in the future? Workers are working on First Hill now and in the future, so the need is the same now and then. The 554 goes to downtown the same as Link will, so if the objection is transferring downtown because it’s unsafe, it will be the same now and in the future. But in future RapidRide G will be running, with shorter transfer times and faster service. But that will be true with or without East Link. So why would Issaquah start a 630-type route in the East Link era if it hasn’t started one already? Only Mercer Island has one as far as I know. And I’m mystified by that. Does Mercer Island have more First Hill workers than other cities? Is Mercer Island especially fond of First Hill because it’s the closest suburb to it? Why First Hill and not the U-District? These are the questions that puzzle me.

      7. From what I understand, 600 routes are paid for by the local municipality where they reside as a means to provide service that KCM wouldn’t do on their own in terms of routes and scheduling.

      8. Mike, I am not sure why you are so afraid of 630 buses from Issaquah, but I have repeatedly stated:

        1. I don’t know if Issaquah will run 630 style buses. East Link is now at least three years away so who knows. Look how much changed in the last three years. East Link might not even cross the bridge.

        2. If MI and Lake City have decided one seat buses are necessary despite Link I could see Issaquah do the same. The subarea will have $600 million/year in ST tax revenue when East Link is completed and has to spend it some place.

        3. Issaquah has a large healthcare industry and is closer to Bellevue than Seattle. So maybe more Islanders work in healthcare on First Hill than healthcare workers in Issaquah.

        4. So few are riding the 554 and 630 today MI might decide to not fund the 630. Those workers could easily get jobs on the Eastside, many with free parking.

        5. As a MI taxpayer I think First Hill employers should be subsidizing the 630 or a private shuttle.

        6. If MI healthcare workers are afraid to transfer downtown or don’t want the delay of a transfer and three seat ride to go five miles is that so hard to understand.

        7. My point to Martin is before I invested in a gondola over I-5 to get folks to S. Bellevue to take Link to Seattle I would want to know if Issaquah does demand a 630 type bus along I-90 or just connecting to the 630.

        If I had to choose the most likely from above it is by 2025-26 so few healthcare workers are commuting to First Hill the 630 is eliminated. On the other hand Harrell might eliminate crime and return retail vibrancy to downtown Seattle so that female Eastside healthcare workers want to transfer in downtown Seattle despite the three seat sloooooow commute.

        In the end Eastside healthcare workers will make the decision that is best for them or demand that from their council.

      9. You’re the one who keeps saying the rest of the Eastside will likely have 630-type buses when East Link starts. To me, the 630 is just an arbitrary decision by Mercer Island from long before Link. That’s for routes specifically to First Hill. If you’re talking more generally about routes to downtown, then I would say Metro might keep some of them (or divert them to First Hill as it has done in other areas), or the cities might fund them. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible. It all depends on public feedback, the county council’s decisions, and city government decisions. Those are not fully predictable. They depend on who is making the decision, which arguments persuade them, and what their mood is that day.

        You keep saying 630-type routes will be more likely after East Link. I keep pointing out that the number of people working in First Hill is the same both with or without East Link, so I don’t see how Link is a factor. The 554 etc are one-seat rides to downtown, but at the same time they get bogged down in congestion, stoplights, and highway collisions, they run less often than Link will, the peak expresses run only at limited times, they’re harder for the mobility-challenged to get in and out of, harder to social-distance in, etc. So East Link beyond walking distance of its stations has mixed advantages and disadvantages. I say it’s overall important for trunk circulation in a Seattle/Eastside area of 1.3 million or so with several major job centers, and the core of a feeder-bus and crosstown-bus network around it.

      10. Oh, and since I’m taking the 550 2-3 times a week now, both weekends, evenings, midday, and peak hours, I can give you actual travel times. Between 5th & Union and Bellevue TC, the best times I’ve gotten is 30 minutes, in the early afternoon or a weekend morning. The worst times I’ve gotten is 45 minutes, during the PM peak, and secondly during the AM peak. Link’s travel time is around 20-25 minutes (from memory). Link from Westlake to downtown Redmond is likewise 10-ish minutes less than the 545. So it will be better service, even on the best bus days. Less travel time means the more activities people can fit into a day, and the more satisfied they are. Reliable service means people don’t have to worry about congestion or collisions adding unexpected time to the trip or making the buses late.

  17. Route 550 trips are slower for several reasons. East Link construction took out the center roadway on the bridge; transit is in the HOV lanes provided by R8A. East Link construction took out the D-2 roadway between Mt. Baker and downtown Seattle. The sale of the Convention Place Station to the Washington State Convention Center ended bus service in the DSTT prematurely. All three changed pathways are less reliable than the former ones.

    Between downtown Seattle and Redmond, Link and Route 542 will be competitive; Link takes about six minutes; there is a walk and wait; if ST consolidated Route 545 into Route 542, the waits could be very short.

    1. Even without consolidating the 545 into the 542, it’s still possible to transfer from the 545 to the 255 at Clyde Hill or Evergreen Point, and then take the 542 if you miss the 255. The problem of course is that the schedules aren’t particularly well-coordinated so it’s easy to miss the transfer if the 545 is running late, but it does work at least some of the time.

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