Bruce Englehardt, also known by the handle "SounderBruce", is a college student in northern Snohomish County. Frequent routes include the 201/202, 421/422 and 510/511/512, with occasional trips on Sounder North.
Everett Transit, like the rest of the region, is going through growing pains. For years, the city-run department had operated about a dozen routes on a small budget with a small fare to match, and it even withstood the recession with only minor cuts to service.
But times have changed and Everett’s good fortune has run out. The agency is facing a $1.6 million budget shortfall within the next two years, which comes just as a new long-range plan had been approved and celebrated by the city. With the shortfall and a need to simplify some of its unwieldy routes in mind, Everett has proposed a “Sustainable Service” change to take effect in March 2019.
After 15 months of relatively easy digging, Sound Transit celebrated the completion of East Link tunnel excavation in Downtown Bellevue. The tunnel will carry East Link trains from East Main Station (at 112th Avenue and Main Street) to Bellevue Downtown Station (at Bellevue Transit Center and the city hall), traveling for 1,984 feet under 110th Avenue, at a depth of about 12 to 30 feet below street level.
Unlike the neat and tidy bores left by the tunnel boring machines on University Link and Northgate Link, the Bellevue tunnel was dug using the sequential excavation method (SEM; also called the New Austrian tunnelling method), which involves removing soil with heavy machinery and spraying pressurized concrete to support the void. Additional waterproofing and steel lattice girders (479 in total) were then added to support the new tunnel, which moved at a rate of a few feet per day.
Mark your calendars for July 21. That’s the date that Convention Place Station will close permanently, heralding the upcoming end of bus service through the downtown transit tunnel.
As we mentioned last month, buses will access the tunnel using a temporary ramp from 9th Avenue between Pine Street and Olive Way. The ramp is nearing completion and the adjacent bus stops, located on 9th Avenue on the north side of Pine Street, will be installed in the coming weeks.
After the changeover takes effect, all seven bus routes in the tunnel will use these two bus stops, eliminating the long-standing tradition of spotting the next inbound bus from the mezzanine level before rushing down the stairs to one of three bays. According to Metro’s Jeff Switzer, the new stops will appear as time points in GTFS data (including One Bus Away) in early August and on printed timetables in September, but until then we can use the 3-to-5 minute delay for peak trips spelled out by the convention center environmental review.
Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Board was briefed about progress on East Link and the related Downtown Redmond Link Extension. East Link construction has been well underway for a few months, with visible progress from Mercer Island to Overlake, while the Downtown Redmond extension is still in early design and is awaiting the publication of supplemental environmental documents.
For the Downtown Redmond extension, Sound Transit plans to release a request for proposals (RFP) in October that will kickstart the selection process for the project’s design-build contract. Similar to the contract used to build South 200th/Angle Lake, the design of the stations and construction of the entire project will be left to a single contractor and would compress part of the planning timeline. Sound Transit expects to have development agreements with the City of Redmond, King County, and WSDOT in place by early next year. The 3.4-mile Downtown Redmond extension is expected to begin construction sometime next year and open in 2024, with two stations and 1,400 total parking spaces.
After a bit of inactivity, the flurry of Lynnwood Link news continues for yet another week. The baseline schedule for Lynnwood Link has been set, and the last round of design open houses we mentioned have been scheduled for later this month and late next month.
Like all open houses, the online version has all the renderings and explanatory text that one could ever ask for. Lynnwood Link’s four stations have not quite reached 90 percent design, the final step before things can be locked in and ready for construction, but have progressed substantially. Thanks to the cost-savings measures adopted by Sound Transit, there’s been quite a few changes from 60 percent design, including slightly smaller garages in new spots and skinnier platforms that come one escalator short of a pair.
While work Northgate Link moves past construction and into cleanup and testing, developers have been busy drawing up plans for new housing near its stations. Opening day is only three years away, so projects that have started early design review should be able to finish up around the same time that light rail service begins running, though some sites are further behind than others. Using the Seattle in Progress map (which is slightly outdated due to changes at SDCI), it’s clear just how popular Roosevelt and U District stations are, while Northgate is seemingly lagging behind in terms of active proposals.
This week, crews started demolition work along the 9th Avenue wall that runs along the edge of Convention Place Station and its bus layover lot. The demolition work will be conducted primarily on weekends from now until October and is being done to prepare for the eventual turnover of Convention Place to the convention center for its $1.6 billion expansion approved last month.
Once the dust settles, the former retaining wall along 9th Avenue will be replaced with a temporary ramp that allows buses to access the transit tunnel without using the two existing entrances along Olive Way (which feed into the platforms at Convention Place). 9th Avenue will be reconfigured as a two-way transit street, with new stops to replace Convention Place Station. Northbound riders will see an average of 3 to 5 minutes of travel time added to every trip because of traffic signals and on-street congestion, especially affecing Route 255 in trying to reach Olive Way with a four-turn maneuver. The ramp will only be in use for a few months before convention center construction requires full use of the block, which is tentatively scheduled for March 2019.
When Lynnwood Link begins construction early next year, it will be joined by two major residential projects in southern Snohomish County as cities begin to attempt their own transit-oriented development.
In Mountlake Terrace, work has begun on the “Terrace Station” project, which will build a complex of three apartment buildings just south of the future Link station at 236th Street Southwest. The first phase, expected to open 2020, will consist of a five-story building with 250 apartments and ground-floor retail space along a new street that leads directly to the Link station. At full buildout, the complex will have 600 apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail space.
The third and final (for now) installment of our photo tours is here, and covers the most exciting and fastest-changing part of East Link. Continuing from Tuesday’s tour, the downtown Bellevue tunnel will emerge at the east end of Bellevue Transit Center, and has a mixed bag of public views. These photos were all taken throughout the month of May, so they may not be completely up to date.
It’s been just over two years since Sound Transit broke ground on East Link, the 14-mile light rail line that will funnel Eastside traffic into Downtown Seattle and points beyond. As promised last week, I’ve got more photographs and recommendations across the entire first phase (as the Downtown Redmond segment hasn’t quite started), but will have to split this into two halves because of length. For this tour, I’ll be showing stations from west to east, which is in reverse order from my personal preference.
Visiting all the East Link stations in one or two days is not quite as easy as Northgate (where the stations are all linked via a single bus route). I take my photos in batches divided by general region, usually starting east from Overlake and working my way back via bicycle or one of the local buses (the B Line or 226 in particular), but it can be just as easy to work your way west from Downtown Seattle along I-90.
On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board approved the baseline budget (in other words, the budget for when we can say a project is truly under/over budget) for Lynnwood Link, which has been under its own financial problems for a few months, and set it at $2.77 billion. As we covered earlier this month, a few of the cost-saving measures have been incorporated into the plan, reducing the $500 million shortfall to $200 million.
While Lynnwood Link is still under final design, with station and garage work not planned to be finalized until December of this year, the board action was moved up in anticipation of the FTA’s expected approval of the project’s full funding grant agreement (FFGA) this summer. The budget assumes that the FTA will award the full $1.17 billion requested by Sound Transit in its New Starts application, which would use up a significant portion of the $2.6 billion in capital investments allocated to the FTA for fiscal year 2019 by the House Appropriations Committee (and to move onto Congress) this week.
Early Tuesday morning, a construction foreman for Kiewit-Hoffman was killed after falling 30 to 40 feet from a column on the East Link guideway, near the 148th Avenue interchange on State Route 520 in Overlake. The accident, only the second fatal incident at a Sound Transit construction site, triggered a one-day halt in girder work on the Overlake segment and an investigation by the Department of Labor and Industries according to KOMO.
The Timesreports ($) that there are 100 workers involved in the Overlake segment of the East Link project and they will be given time to mourn before returning to work and being interviewed by investigators. In statements to KING 5, Kiewit and Sound Transit sent condolences to the worker’s family and friends and their shared commitment to a safe work environment for employees and the public.
We at STB would also like to express our condolences to the worker’s family and friends and express our gratitude towards those who are helping build out our regional transit system.
Northgate Link is slowly inching its way towards completion, still scheduled for June 2021, but a substantial amount of progress can be seen from street level. This photo tour will hopefully be the beginning of a semi-regular series to track construction progress on Link’s extensions, for the benefit of readers who aren’t up for a long journey to the future stations or don’t continually refresh the construction cameras every few minutes.
If you’d like to do your own photowalk near light rail construction, I’ll be offering tips and my recommendations for good views. As a general precaution, always stay in open public areas, keep your hands off fences, and listen to on-site workers to avoid misunderstandings. Photographers with large cameras tend to make people nervous, so you may run into occasional conflicts, but often people are open to a little small-talk if you aren’t acting suspiciously.
On Monday, Sound Transit announced that it had received a $75 million Small Starts grant from the FTA for the Tacoma Link Extension, which will extend the current streetcar-like Tacoma Link through the Stadium District and Hilltop neighborhood west of downtown. This project isn’t to be confused with the Tacoma Dome Link Extension, which will bring real Link light rail trains from Federal Way to Tacoma Dome Station, where passengers can transfer over to Tacoma Link.
The Small Starts grant was originally approved by Congress last year and will cover about a third of the project’s $217 million budget, which includes contributions from Sound Transit 2 ($94 million) and the City of Tacoma ($48 million). Sound Transit says that the grant will enable construction to begin later this year and wrap up in 2022. The project will extend Tacoma Link by 2.4 miles and add six new stations, plus the relocated Theater District station (which will be renamed to Old City Hall), serving several hospitals on “Medical Mile”. Once the Hilltop extension is completed, Tacoma Link trains will run at a frequency of 10 minutes and begin charging a fare, which is currently waived thanks to a donation from the Tacoma Business Improvement Area.
Island Transit, a long held example of fare-free transit, may adopt its first fares for regular routes since it began service 30 years ago. The agency has been financially unstable since the recession, during which voters rejected a 0.3 percent sales tax increase to fund service, and has determined that current sales tax revenues would not be able to cover current operations without outside grants. In 2017, the transit agency raised $10.476 million from its sales tax and $674,000 from other non-grant sources, while its operating expenses totaled $10.502 million.
Sound Transit has released a list of design changes for Lynnwood Link, requested by WSDOT and local governments following the 2015 EIS, with some major changes for stations at NE 185th Street and Lynnwood Transit Center, along with other minor tweaks. The changes, which are separate from Sound Transit’s quest to fill the $500 million budget shortfall that the project faces, should bring modest improvements to vehicular access at both stations, while scraping away at the property acquisition costs that have dogged the project over the last few months.
Ahead of the first neighborhood forums for the West Seattle/Ballard Link project, Sound Transit has published its full summary report of the early scoping project, which we covered last month. Some 2,800 individual comments were made at open houses, the online survey, and other forums, and many of them asked for the same modifications to the project: tunnels to Ballard and West Seattle Junction, better connections at transfer stations, and grade separation in SODO. Using these suggestions, Sound Transit has also produced some Level 1 alternatives for the project, which we’ll be covering in a series of posts this week (so stay tuned).
On Monday, Community Transit announced that it would accept a $43.2 million Small Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration, completing the last of the $73 million in funding required to complete the Swift Green Line. Portions of the line have actually been under construction for a year, thanks to special authorization from the FTA, and many of the future stations in Everett are paved and ready for new canopy “skeletons” to be installed later this month.
The grant was approved by Congress last year, but was threatened in President Trump’s proposed elimination of the FTA’s Capital Investments Grants program. Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason told The Times ($) that the program’s grants for Lynnwood Link and Federal Way Link are “still at risk” and that full funding agreements would not be signed until this summer for Lynnwood and next year for Federal Way.