While we’re taking a spin as the Capitol Hill Transit Blog, the area’s next big transit investment is facing a major barrier to acquiring its much needed $60 million federal grant. It’s not Donald Trump. And it’s not this E Madison gay bar.
The Seattle Transit Blog broke the news last week — the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro have been sideswiped by a collision of international trade barriers, the unique design of Madison “Bus Rapid Transit,” and the corridor’s challenging grade and are scrambling to find a bus design capable of meeting the $120 million project’s needs and plans for electric trolley coaches:
According to a source at SDOT, the vehicles intended for the corridor—60 foot, BRT-optimized Xcelsior trolleybuses from New Flyer—can’t handle the steep grades of Madison Street. The source added that New Flyer intends to discontinue trolleybus manufacturing after an ongoing order for San Francisco is finished.
The deeper problem is that the Federal Transit Administration requires that the fleet’s specifics be determined before an approved grant can be executed, STB reports. SDOT and Metro will reportedly meet in late September to come up with a plan.
“I can tell you Metro and SDOT will be meeting with the FTA in late September to review the project fleet strategy,” a Metro spokesperson tells CHS. “We are evaluating two options — diesel-hybrids and battery-electric buses.”
There were no specific technical reasons cited as to why trolleys were not feasible. The grade is a challenge but we viewed it as a workable issue. Our understanding is the vendor had concerns about the large impact of this project on engineering and production for a relatively small fleet (13-16 buses).
The Seattle Times reports that Metro is preparing a fallback plan and has been testing a non-electric solution:
Road tests are being done this summer with diesel-hybrid and battery buses, Metro spokesman Scott Gutierrez said. Managers need to confirm vehicles can climb the 10 percent grade up Spring Street near the Central Library, and the backside of Capitol Hill returning westbound.
“Bus Rapid Transit” on Madison is hoped to speed the commute through a key corridor from the waterfront to Madison Valley. 60-foot articulated buses will run every six minutes during peak times. Card readers at the station allowing riders to enter any of the five doors, 13-inch platforms making it easier for those with strollers or wheelchairs to get on the bus, and designated areas of the stations for cyclists and those in wheelchairs aim to make the loading and unloading process more efficient for riders.
Earlier this month, SDOT officials told CHS the plans for Madison BRT — Metro RapidRide G when it comes online — remain on track for a start of service in 2021.
UPDATE: SDOT tells CHS that the updated timeline lines up for a 2022 start of service — but only if the trolley problem gets worked out quickly:
FTA staff indicated the process to secure a Small Starts Grant Agreement takes approximately one year. As mentioned above, we anticipate beginning that process in October 2018. Therefore, we adjusted project timeline assumptions as part of the Levy assessment to reflect a Small Starts Grant Agreement in September 2019. The project would then go to ad and start a 2-year construction period in early 2020. Service would open on a regular Metro service change. This is an estimate developed as part of the Levy assessment, based on on-going discussions with the FTA. As a next step, we will refine and confirm any schedule change with the FTA and our partner, King County Metro.
While Madison’s G line will be the next RapidRide route to roll out, the furthest out in the planning process is hoped to eventually serve the overhauled 23rd Ave corridor. After a 21-month road diet, the first phase of 23rd Ave work was completed last month. By 2024, Metro and the city hope to utilize the infrastructure for the street’s own RapidRide route connecting Mount Baker to University District via the Central District.
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