File photo by Ty Swenson
WSDOT engineers gave a tour of the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel project in 2012 (seen here). King County Metro says they need additional funding while the tunnel is being built to ensure smooth travel and bountiful transit options from different areas (including West Seattle) into downtown Seattle.

Metro Transit manager calls for funding in light of viaduct/waterfront construction

2014 funding end could mean major service cuts in West Seattle

With Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel construction lasting into 2016 and downtown waterfront transformations continuing until at least 2019, King County Metro Transit’s general manager Kevin Desmond is calling for additional Metro funding to provide adequate transit options that will keep vehicle congestion down over the next six years.

Desmond, in a recent newsletter, wrote, “Over the past two years, as work on the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement has disrupted traffic around downtown Seattle, Metro has played a key role in reducing congestion and delays and giving people reliable transportation to and from the Seattle core. Using project mitigation funds, we have substantially increased transit service on corridors affected by the construction, attracting thousands of new riders and contributing to a sizeable decline in vehicles on the viaduct.”

West Seattle riders are traveling one of the main corridors affected by construction, and the 2012 introduction of the RapidRide C Line is an example of increased service to the peninsula.

Desmond continued, “But funding for this critically important enhanced service runs out in 2014 — when several more years of construction and the start of tolling still lie ahead. Loss of the service would mean more crowded buses, fewer options for commuters, heavier traffic congestion and longer delays for all of us. It's critical that we find a solution for maintaining the transit service that keeps us moving.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation gave Metro $32 million in funding to enhance transit services, and Desmond said that money was used to add 30-peak period trips and make other adjustments on routes from West Seattle, SODO, Georgetown, Magnolia, Ballard and North Seattle to downtown Seattle, “with the majority of increases in routes serving West Seattle.”

Metro has seen a 22 percent increase in citywide ridership (17,000 new riders) since bolstering their service (much of that spike in West Seattle), and Desmond said those changes have resulted in 25,000 fewer vehicles on the Viaduct every day, a 23 percent decline that has reduced congestion.

“Unfortunately, when the funding runs out in June 2014, about 125 daily bus trips and 7,500 daily transit seats will be lost—while tunnel construction and viaduct demolition continues into 2016,” Desmond wrote.
“Work on Seattle's central waterfront won't be complete until the end of 2019. Both of these projects will cause major disruptions to the downtown transportation network and limit capacity on streets already full of cars.”

According to King County Metro, 22 “service enhancements” to West Seattle to downtown Seattle routes are at risk if transit doesn’t receive more funding, including trips on the 21 Express (Arbor Heights to downtown), 56 Express (Alki to Admiral District to downtown), 120 (Burien TC to Westwood Village to downtown). Additionally, Metro said schedules would have to be adjusted on the RapidRide C Line, Local 21, 37, 55, 57, 116 Express, 120 and 125.

Once the Viaduct tunnel project is complete, Desmond warns that SR99 tolling will divert large amount of traffic to I-5 and city streets.

“Experience shows that transit can be effective in reducing such impacts and keeping people moving,” he wrote. “When tolling started in the SR 520 corridor, increased transit service led to a 25 percent jump in bus ridership and contributed to reliable, free-flowing traffic.”

Desmond said “the viaduct project partners – WSDOT, City of Seattle and King County – agreed in 2009 to seek ongoing funding for transit … However, that funding has not materialized. As the expiration of current funding approaches, the need for a solution is urgent.

“Preservation of robust service in the corridors bearing the brunt of construction will give Seattle’s transportation network the capacity we need to keep people and the economy moving,” he concluded.

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