SDOT hopeful for Madison BRT funding

The Seattle Department of Transportation is considerably more optimistic it will have the federal funding needed to complete a major bus corridor project along Madison Street than it was when President Donald Trump released his budget plan back in May.

“We’ve been following this very closely,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, SDOT transit and mobility director. “When the president came out with his budget back in May, it was very disturbing sort of for the future of the federal government’s partnership with cities like Seattle.”

Trump’s budget proposed to eliminate the TIGER and Capital Investment Grant transportation funding program, the latter SDOT is depending on to fund 50 percent — $60 million — of the Madison Bus Rapid Transit project.

“Even though there’s not a lot of weight to the (president’s) budget, it kind of set the floor,” Hastings said, “so anything other than zero was better than Trump’s zero.”

Dedicated bus lanes are planned along three-fifths of the Madison BRT project, with bus platforms running along the future RapidRide G route from First Avenue in downtown to Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Madison Valley.

Before its August break, Congress passed two appropriations bills — one from each chamber. The House bill would have eliminated the TIGER grant, but phased out the Capital Investment Grants more slowly. It would have put SDOT in better shape to complete its Center City Connector streetcar line connecting the First Hill and South Lake Union lines through Pioneer Square, Hastings said, but not the Madison BRT project.

On July 27, Washington Sen. Patty Murray’s office reported the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved multiple transportation infrastructure investments, including $2.1 billion in the Capital Investment Grants Program that includes Madison BRT funding.

The project remains estimated at $120 million, and the Madison BRT design is proceeding under an assumption the federal funding will come through, Hastings said. There are contingencies being worked out, including shortening the corridor or adjusting the level of investment in the project.

“That’s just sort of the worst-case scenario, if you will; if we don’t get that federal funding,” Hastings said.

Both the Madison BRT and Center City Connector projects received high rankings from the Federal Transit Administration, which were also released in May, he said.

“We take that as a very positive sign, Hastings said, “that the FTA is doing independent rankings of these projects and both of these projects are worthy of funding.”

SDOT now believes it could have everything in place for a mid-2018 construction start. The transportation department had initially expected to have a funding agreement signed later this year.

“That became clearly sort of overly optimistic in the face of a Trump administration,” Hastings said.

SDOT provided a 60-percent design to the public for review this spring, and expects to be at 90 percent by early 2018.

“At this point there aren’t a lot of significant changes,” Hastings said. “A lot of it is sort of refining and adding design details to get it to the fundamental design.”

Neighbors and community stakeholders toured the intersection of East Madison Street, East John Street and 24th Avenue on May 19.

Another stakeholder walk regarding the 12th Avenue/Union Street and 14th Avenue intersections took place on June 29.

One request to consider making East Union Street one-way between 12th and 11th was determined to be unsafe unless another pedestrian signal phase were created. The design team committed to further assessment there.

Hastings said it’s important to get this complex intersection right in its design, and its next design should make it more intuitive for users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

People also worried about the loss of on-street parking in Capitol Hill, which already struggles with parking availability. Most parking west of 24th Avenue will be removed to accommodate bus facilities and dedicated lanes.

An option for protected bike lanes on Union Street that showed up on a locally preferred alternative map two years ago that was not meant to be in the Madison BRT plan isn’t dead. In April, SDOT chief of staff Genesee Adkins committed to finding a place for the project after its disappearance — likely in the five-year Bicycle Master Plan.

“Analysis on that is moving forward,” Hastings said of Union protected bike lanes, “not on the Madison BRT project, because that’s not part of our federal scope.”

He added business and residential restraints on Union has caused analysis to take longer.