Light rail remains on track to serve Capitol Hill by early 2016

CHS Turner Places Rat Slab for Half of the Ped Concourse.JPG

Workers pour concrete for the pedestrian concourse inside the Capitol Hill Station. (Image: Sound Transit)

With all of the delayed transit projects around Seattle, here’s some encouraging news: light rail service on Capitol Hill is still on track to start by early 2016. According to Sound Transit, the project also remains $150 million under budget with the total cost expected to come in around $1.8 billion.

The University Link line will extend from downtown to connect with Capitol Hill and University District stations. Sound Transit began boring for the Northgate Link tunnel in November, which will add three more stations north of the University Station: U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate.

Construction on the Capitol Hill Station is around 78% complete. Recent work has included erecting structural steel over the station entryways and installing elevators and escalators.

As for the housing and retail development that will surround the station, Sound Transit is still evaluating proposals submitted in December. The board is expected to announce the winning contractor(s) in early March. Sound Transit denied an earlier request by CHS to obtain copies of the proposals they are considering.SiteMapv4-W-Map-1024x807-600x472

There are just four developers left in the running to build all or part of the 100,000 square feet “transit oriented development” that will include housing, commercial, and a community spaces:

  • Capitol Hill Housing – Site B North
  • Gerding Edlen – Master developer for all sites
  • Jonathan Rose Companies/Capitol Hill Housing – Master developer for all sites
  • Lowe Enterprises – Sites A, B-South, and C

As part of the agreement, the City of Seattle will allow the project to stretch to an 85-foot height limit — some 45 feet above the current maximums for the 10th Ave E neighbors of the project. The extension will help the development plan make space for goals driven by the community design framework while providing enough units for developers to profit and create affordable and low-income housing in the project.

Meanwhile, the First Hill Streetcar will be further delayed. CHS recently reported that  service is likely to be delayed for several more months as the streetcar’s manufacturer, Inekon, continues to face assembly delays in the Czech Republic. The six streetcars for the First Hill line were planned to be ready by October 7th as per the $26.7 million contract with the Seattle Department of Transportation.

SDOT responds to CHS First Hill Streetcar delay report — UPDATE

The tracks are in... now we just need the streetcars (Image: Stacy Witbeck)

The tracks are in… now we just need the streetcars (Image: Stacy Witbeck)

Here is an official statement from the Seattle Department of Transportation about CHS’s report that a SDOT official has told Capitol Hill Block Party organizers the 2.5 mile First Hill Streetcar line connecting Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill will not be ready for service in time for the annual July event.

This is the response sent to CHS about the status of the line. We’ll let you parse the statement:

As previously announced, the manufacturer of streetcars for the First Hill Line has failed to meet the delivery milestones for the six-vehicle fleet, which has delayed both testing and the start of passenger service. SDOT is assessing liquidated damages against the contract price and tracking the manufacturing progress on a daily basis. SDOT cannot establish an opening date until we are satisfied that the manufacturer can meet commitments to a revised schedule for all six vehicles.

A spokesperson for SDOT also referred us to for more info and “ship tracking for the very first streetcar coming from the Czech Republic.”

The Sound Transit-financed, SDOT-built $132 million First Hill Streetcar project includes the tracks running through streets up Jackson from Pioneer Square to Broadway across First Hill and Capitol Hill as well as a separated bikeway designed to improve the area for bikers and steer them clear of the dangerous streetcar trackbed. Continue reading

State settles on final designs for Seattle-side 520 projects including new Portage Bay Bridge, Montlake ‘land bridge’

The state’s final design recommendations for the westside components of the 520 replacement project include a simplified design for a new Portage Bay Bridge that drops previous plans for fancy cables and includes a “land bridge” as part of the planned Montlake lid that will help link the area for better pedestrian and bicycle access across the highway, planners say.

UPDATE: The state wants your feedback on the plans — you can take the survey here through February 13th.

The entire, massive, 166-page WSDOT “final concept design” report for the projects is below. The Seattle Times took an in-depth look at the update here. CHS reported on the westside components including a smaller than originally planned Montlake lid and the start of construction on some of the projects here in September.

The replacement projects are part of a massive overhaul of the 520 floating bridge. Construction on the floating bridge work continues. In March, CHS reported on the start of work on the so-called West Approach Bridge North section of the bridge. The $300 million federally funded westbound section will have three lanes and include a pedestrian and bike path that will eventually connect to a path all the way across Lake Washington. Seattle’s side of things includes more than a billion dollars in 520 replacement projects yet to be funded.

Despite a cheaper Portage Bay Bridge, the new reports predict the cost of the unfunded westside sections will come in at $1.57 billion pushing the total 520 project cost to nearly $4.5 billion. But first, lawmakers must pass a new state transportation plan in Olympia.

The full WSDOT design report is below. Continue reading

More delay for First Hill Streetcar puts open date after July Block Party

(Image: Gordon Werner via Flickr with permission to CHS)

(Image: Gordon Werner via Flickr with permission to CHS)

It may be time to add the First Hill Streetcar to the list of Seattle transit projects facing serious setbacks. After the Seattle Department of Transportation pushed back the launch date from fall 2014 to “early” 2015, CHS has learned that the SDOT now expects the Capitol Hill-to-Pioneer Square streetcar won’t be in service until at least August.

An SDOT official, speaking at last week’s meeting of the Seattle Special Events Committee, said the streetcar would not be operational for this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party, which runs from July 24th-26th. SDOT media personnel did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The SDOT official who spoke at the meeting pointed us to this December update (PDF), but the document says nothing about when the streetcar would come online. Meanwhile, City Council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen also did not respond to our repeated requests for comment on the delay. Continue reading

*Even more* to look forward to in 2015 Capitol Hill transit: Car share expansion, 23rd Ave greenway

Here’s an old trolley posted recently to Reddit Seattle

To start the year, our semi-regular Bus Stop column looked at the year ahead in Capitol Hill transit including the start of service for the First Hill Streetcar, expanded Metro service, completion of Capitol Hill Station along with an “optimization” of Metro routes serving Capitol Hill in preparation for the opening of U-Link expected by 2016. Here are *even more* multi-modal projects to look forward to in 2015.

Car2Go's current service area

Car2Go’s current service area

  • Car sharing: Tuesday morning, the City Council’s transportation committee voted to expand Seattle’s massively successful “Free-Floating Car Share Pilot Program” — you know it (right now) as Car2Go. By the end of 2015, there could be three more operators joining Daimler AG and up to 3,000 shared vehicles on the streets of Seattle.

Here’s the plan approved Tuesday:

  • In 2015 allow 500 vehicles per operator or 750 if an operator provides citywide service
  • In 2015 allow a maximum of four operators 
  • After 2015, program caps are established by Director’s Rule
  • Operators must provide citywide service after two years of business in Seattle
  • Permit fee increase to more accurately account for costs of the RPZ program

UPDATE 1/20/2015: The full City Council has approved the committee’s plan. Up to 3,000 car sharing vehicles could be on the streets of Seattle by the end of 2015.

Continue reading

Bus Stop | The year ahead in Capitol Hill transit

2014 was a turbulent year for Seattle transit riders. After two votes on transit funding, and a reduction in service hours across the entire county, and the deletion of one of Capitol Hill’s historic trolleybus routes, 2015 should prove to be a much more positive year for transit riders all around the Hill. Here’s a look ahead at what is to come in 2015.

More service is on the way by Summer to meet the demand on the Hill.

  • The First Hill Streetcar to begin service: After problems in the manufacturing of the streetcars themselves, Seattle’s second modern streetcar line connecting central Capitol Hill to parts of First Hill, the Central District, Yesler Terrace (soon to be redeveloped by Vulcan), Little Saigon and the International District will soon be running.
  • “The best bus service Seattle has ever seen”, according to city council member Tom Rasmussen. With the passage of prop 1 in November, Seattle is set to spend $45 million on improving bus service in 2015, with many of the high-ridership routes to be receiving the money in Capitol Hill. Service increases will occur in two phases, with the first in June, and the second following in September. Nearly every single route that runs through Capitol Hill will receive additional service hours to either increase frequency, improve reliability, or decrease overcrowding. The most prime targets for this funding are routes like the 2, 8, 49, 10 and 11: Capitol Hill’s workhorse routes. Continue reading

Here’s why your friends in Montlake are extra cranky this week

(Image: WSDOT)

(Image: WSDOT)

The good news? “Nighttime activities are not planned between Dec. 24 and Jan. 4.” In the meantime, Montlake is going to be taking one for the team the next couple weeks as 520 Seattle-side replacement work gets hard and heavy. A bulletin from WSDOT on planned nighttime construction is below. You can learn more here. And, of course, be thankful they’re not trying to tunnel to Medina.

Upcoming construction activities in the Montlake Interchange area
Major construction kicks off this month around SR 520’s Montlake Boulevard interchange as part of the West Approach Bridge North Project (WABN). Crews plan to begin a variety of local street improvements, starting with the widening of the eastbound SR 520 ramps to and from Montlake Boulevard during the week of Dec. 15. Montlake-area improvements are designed to provide additional capacity on 520 ramps and local streets, and safer travel for bicyclists and pedestrians when WABN is complete. As construction plans are finalized and work proceeds in the Montlake area, additional notifications will be sent.

Noisy work expected during the night at SR 520 eastbound ramps

To widen the ramps, crews will perform work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the following weeknights:

Monday, Dec. 15 – Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014
Monday, Dec. 22 – Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014
Monday – Thursday nights, Jan. 5 – Jan. 29, 2015
Note: Nighttime activities are not planned between Dec. 24 and Jan. 4.

Work includes site preparation, cutting through the roadway surface and installing drainage to prepare for future intersection modifications.


Crews are performing this work at night in order to avoid disrupting weekday traffic. Nearby residents and businesses may hear noise and feel vibrations from the construction activities. All work involving noisy impact equipment, such as jackhammers, will occur before 10 p.m. as required by the city of Seattle temporary noise variance. In accordance with our construction contract and the city of Seattle noise variance, the work will be performed using construction best management practices and sequenced in a way to minimize noise as much as possible.

Off-Hill: One year later, Bertha might be more stuck than ever

One year ago, Seattle stood by as the giant boring machine drilling the state’s new waterfront Highway 99 tunnel got stuck behind some sort of “mystery object” some 60 feet below the surface. At the time, we noted the “extraordinarily lucky” dig to complete twin tunnels beneath Capitol Hill for the U-Link light rail extension.

Now, after a year of waiting and digging to unstuck Bertha, word comes that the process to rescue the boring machine might be making an even bigger mess:

Settling of ground beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct poses no danger to those driving on or walking underneath the 1950′s-vintage freeway, earthquakes aside, the state Department of Transportation assured Seattle City Council members on Monday.

What is unsettled, however, is when the giant, 7,000-ton digging machine called Bertha can be repaired, and tunneling resumed on the $2 billion project to replace the Viaduct. Bertha stopped a year ago.

“March is not looking like when we restart,” DOT’s Tim Moore told council members, referring to a restart date that was still in the state agency’s web site a week ago.

Not looking like a restart is one not so great thing, in a mealy mouthed kind of way. Settling buildings in Pioneer Square are another:

About 30 buildings in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood will be inspected both inside and out for damage after the soil deep below slumped an inch from Highway 99 tunnel work.

The $2 billion project was planned to create a 2-mille tunnel as part of a replacement for the more than 62-year-old Alaska Way Viaduct. The WSDOT project was planned to open in late 2016.

Proposed $87 million Madison Bus Rapid Transit is like light rail — without the rail

After retreating from the edge of catastrophe, Seattle’s public transit system may be en route to becoming a regional leader by combining the efficiency and prestige of light rail with the cost and flexibility of buses.

It’s called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): essentially, a bus system that works like light rail. The City Council has coughed up $1 million to study a proposed $87 million BRT “corridor” along Madison, running from the waterfront up to 23rd Ave (by Madison Temple church and that psychic boutique shop).image02

To explain the project and get feedback from locals, the Seattle Department of Transportation will hold a community workshop about the Madison BRT corridor on Thursday from 5-7pm at the Silver Cloud Hotel on Broadway. Using “interactive design stations” inside the meeting room, SDOT will “present community-developed design ideas that focus on key intersections or a potential station location within each area. Each station will be staffed with engineers, planners, and urban designers to allow for an interactive conversation and sketching of design ideas to capture community ideas and feedback.”

Is this just a re-branded bus route?
Nope. Former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa describes his city’s BRT, TransMilenio, like this: Continue reading

New tricked-out fleet of Metro trolleys en route for streets of Capitol Hill by late 2015

(Image: King County Metro)

(Image: King County Metro)

A $200 million, multi-year plan to replace King County’s aging electric trolley bus fleet will pay off in 2015 as new vehicles roll out for the first time, Metro announced as it begins testing prototypes on the streets of Seattle:

But before full fleet production begins, we will be testing both our new 40-foot and larger 60-foot prototype New Flyer trolleys to simulate actual service. The testing will last about three months, and will allow us to identify the need for any minor adjustments.
When factors such as capital cost, fuel consumption, maintenance and available grant funding are considered, this electric trolley system is expected to be cheaper to operate than our hybrid fleet during the projected life of the vehicles.

Continue reading

Bus Stop | The 48

The 48 is one of the longest bus routes that never leaves Seattle and more unusually never enters downtown, running from Mount Baker transit center in South Seattle to Loyal Heights in Ballard near Golden Gardens park with a trip along Capitol Hill’s eastern edge of 23rd Avenue and through the University District in between. Continue reading

Metro, Sound Transit planning how best to restructure routes, connect buses to Capitol Hill Station

link_connections_logo_500x519When light rail service starts serving Capitol Hill and the University District by 2016, the public transportation system serving Seattle’s Inner City will undergo massive transformation that goes well beyond the new subway.

Here’s how the announcement on a new public outreach initiative explains it:

Metro and Sound Transit are thinking about ways to connect the new light rail service with buses to make an efficient network of service. Some buses will connect with new Link stations to make it easy for riders to transfer between buses and light rail. Other changes will restructure service to create a faster, more reliable, and easy-to-use transit network.

Take the survey by 11/30/2014

Take the survey by 11/30/2014

Metro and Sound Transit officials will be at 1111 Harvard’s Seattle First Baptist Church on November 17th as part of the first round of community discussions. King County Metro has already identified the need to recalibrate some bus lines ahead of the light rail launch, and now they’re seeking public input on the best ways to do it.

You can also provide your feedback online via the survey found here.

The full announcement of the outreach process is below. Continue reading

Transit riders will reap 2015 rewards of newly approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District on Capitol Hill and beyond

Seattle Transportation Benefit District Routes

Seattle Transportation Benefit District Routes

Yes, indeed, the 47 will come back. Seattle transit riders will reap relatively immediate benefits from Tuesday’s Election Night tally signaling approval of a new Seattle Transportation Benefit District. Officials announced Wednesday that upgrades, fixes, and restoration of service to King County Metro bus lines serving the city will be rolled out in June and September of 2015.

The new district funding will drive three areas of immediate improvement:

  • Add new buses to all 16 Seattle routes that are chronically overcrowded
  • Fix the schedules of all 48 routes that are chronically unreliable
  • Add frequency to 28 high-demand routes

“The message from voters is clear: Seattle riders value Metro Transit, and with this vote, Metro will have the means to deliver more transit for the people of Seattle,” King County Exec Dow Constantine said in a statement detailing the next steps in the district’s creation.

Here’s how the improvements will roll out:

  • More buses on all 16 routes that are chronically overcrowded: Routes C, D, 5, 8, 15X, 16, 18X, 28, 40, 41, 44, 48, 70, 71X, 72, and 74X Continue reading

Capitol Hill Station retail and housing: $25M price tag, one developer drops out, plans due in December

We'll be seeing more proposals for the development around Capitol Hill Station soon. Here's one rendering from a past American Institute of Architecture Students project.

We’ll be seeing more proposals for the development around Capitol Hill Station soon. Here’s one rendering from a past American Institute of Architecture Students project.

Developers have finally submitted their proposals for the four sites that will make up the retail, housing, and community surrounding the Capitol Hill light rail station. Sound Transit says it is now reviewing plans submitted by the shortlisted teams. Officials must also decide if the four parcels should be developed separately, or if one firm will act as “master developer” for the 100,000 square feet “transit oriented development” that will include housing, commercial, and a community spaces. There’s also an official price tag now: $25 million.

Sound Transit’s initial property valuations were echoed by the agency’s outside analyst, which released a detailed appraisal of all five sites last week. The appraisals by Valbridge Property Advisors gives an interesting, albeit dry glimpse into the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes in the very early stages of planning many Capitol Hill developments.

In addition to considering constraints of the community development agreement, the appraiser evaluated how the neighborhood and transit-centered location would increase the property’s value. The report also analyzed nearby property sales:Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 3.47.59 PM

In total, the four TOD properties were valued at $25 million. Here’s how the appraisals break down:

Site A: $9.1 million
Site B North: $2.8 million
Site B South: $6.2 million
Site C: $6.9 million

Continue reading

Seattle’s bus funding ballot measure *could* resurrect the 47 with sales tax hike and car tab fee


The 47 taking its final run. (Photo: CHS)

After months of warning, Metro’s funding woes finally came to Capitol Hill’s doorstep in September when the the 47 bus was discontinued along with 28 other routes around the regional bus system.

Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 asks Seattle voters if they want to buy back some of those services in Seattle and improve existing routes with a $60 annual vehicle license fee and .1% sales tax hike. If enacted, the measure is expected generate around $45 million annually for the hamstrung bus system.

Some of those funds could be used to restore Rt. 47 and others that were among the lower performing routes in the system, though the plan does not spell out which routes would get funding. Those decisions would likely be left up to the City Council. The group Yes For Seattle Transit has identified several existing Capitol Hill-area routes that would likely be improved or expanded, including routes 2, 8, 9x, 10, 25, 43, 48, 49, and 60. Continue reading