NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Two Puget Sound bus rapid transit projects get a boost from the Biden administration

On Mon­day, the Fed­er­al Tran­sit Admin­is­tra­tion (FTA) announced it has approved four new grants for Bus Rapid Tran­sit (BRT) projects totalling $187 million.

Over half of the new grant dol­lars from the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion will be flow­ing straight to West­ern Wash­ing­ton for two projects: the Madi­son Val­ley RapidRide line in Seat­tle, and the Swift Orange Line in south­west Sno­homish County.

The Seat­tle project will receive $59.9 mil­lion in FTA Cap­i­tal Invest­ment Grants as part of its Small Starts pro­gram. The Orange Line will receive $37 million.

RapidRide Swift Feb 2014

A Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit Swift bus (left) and Metro RapidRide bus­es (right) are seen Feb­ru­ary 15, 2014 at the Auro­ra Vil­lage Tran­sit Cen­ter in Shore­line. (Image: Atom­ic Taco/Flickr)

A joint press release from Wash­ing­ton’s Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors, Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell, deliv­ered the wel­come news:

“My office has been work­ing close­ly with the Fed­er­al Tran­sit Admin­is­tra­tion and local tran­sit part­ners to secure these funds and I’m pleased to see those efforts come to fruition,” said Sen­a­tor Mur­ray. “These resources will reduce con­ges­tion, cre­ate jobs, and build more equi­table com­mu­ni­ties. Secur­ing fed­er­al dol­lars to help us invest in pub­lic tran­sit across Wash­ing­ton state will con­tin­ue to be a top pri­or­i­ty for me this Congress.”

Sen­a­tor Cantwell said: “The Madi­son bus rapid tran­sit line in Seat­tle will pro­vide fre­quent ser­vice along one of the city’s busiest tran­sit cor­ri­dors, with depar­tures every six min­utes at peak hours and con­nec­tions to Sound Tran­sit light rail and Wash­ing­ton State Fer­ries. And Com­mu­ni­ty Transit’s Swift Orange Line will improve bus trav­el times by 25% while con­nect­ing Edmonds, Lyn­nwood and Mill Creek com­muters with Sound Transit’s new light rail expansion.”

The release of fed­er­al funds should allow con­struc­tion on the RapidRide G Line in the Madi­son Val­ley to begin this year.

With 15,000–18,000 dai­ly rid­ers expect­ed, the 2.3‑mile long G Line is short but mighty. It will con­nect to the fer­ries at Col­man Dock, the Seat­tle Street­car, the 3rd Avenue bus cor­ri­dor, and Link light rail.

The Seat­tle Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has a detailed syn­op­sis of the project here.

RapidRide G Line SDOT

The improve­ments need­ed along Seat­tle’s Madi­son Street to deliv­er Bus Rapid Tran­sit (BRT). (Pho­to: Seat­tle Dept. of Transportation)

Approx­i­mate­ly 45% of the pro­jec­t’s total cost will be cov­ered by this grant. The rest of the project will be cov­ered by levy funds and Sound Transit.

Issues with vehi­cle pro­cure­ment, fund­ing uncer­tain­ties from the pre­vi­ous fed­er­al admin­is­tra­tion, and admin­is­tra­tion issues have delayed the project since it was approved by vot­ers in 2015, as part of the Move Seat­tle levy.

But with new hybrid diesel-elec­tric bus­es secured, staffing issues resolved, and fund­ing now secure, the project is ready to exe­cute the grant and seek bids from con­trac­tors. If no fur­ther delays emerge, the G Line should begin ser­vice in 2024.

Fur­ther north in Sno­homish Coun­ty, $37 mil­lion has been set aside for the coun­ty’s third Swift bus rapid tran­sit line.

Swift Orange Line Map Jan 2021

The Swift Orange Line will con­nect Edmonds, Lyn­nwood, and Mill Creek. (Image: Com­mu­ni­ty Transit)

The Orange Line will serve Edmonds Col­lege, Alder­wood Mall, and Mill Creek Town Cen­ter, as well as major Park & Rides in the area.

At Lyn­nwood City Cen­ter, it will also con­nect to Link light rail, feed­ing com­muters onto high-capac­i­ty rail tran­sit south towards King County.

Bus rapid tran­sit is a pop­u­lar mode of mass tran­sit all over the world.

By des­ig­nat­ing lanes, entire road­ways, and sta­tions exclu­sive­ly for bus­es, BRT can reduce trav­el times for large num­bers of trav­el­ers on core routes.

BRT is not a sub­sti­tute for a rail spine, but it does nice­ly com­ple­ment a sys­tem like Link. In fact, Sound Tran­sit has its own bus rapid tran­sit sys­tem in devel­op­ment, called Stride, which will oper­ate along the I‑405 corridor.

King Coun­ty already has six RapidRide lines in ser­vice. Six more are planned to open in the next five years, includ­ing the G Line.

Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit’s Swift lines already con­nect Everett to Shore­line and Bothell.

Clark Coun­ty will start bus rapid tran­sit con­struc­tion in Mill Plain this year.

And Pierce Tran­sit is study­ing a BRT align­ment that could open in 2024.

Wash­ing­ton State has long been well posi­tioned to secure fed­er­al dol­lars for infra­struc­ture projects thanks to the influ­ence of its con­gres­sion­al delegation. 

Wash­ing­ton’s senior Unit­ed States Pat­ty Mur­ray is an influ­en­tial mem­ber of the Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, and her office played a sig­nif­i­cant role in bring­ing these fed­er­al dol­lars to Washington.

Wash­ing­ton’s junior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, mean­while, is the new Chair of the Sen­ate’s Com­mit­tee on Com­merce, Sci­ence, and Trans­porta­tion.

The sen­a­tors have worked togeth­er to advance many tran­sit-relat­ed ini­tia­tives, includ­ing a bill that would expand fed­er­al grants for projects near com­ple­tion, such as Sound Tran­sit’s Fed­er­al Way and Lyn­nwood Link extensions.

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