The King County Council’s Mobility and Environment Committee approved the future RapidRide G alignment from Downtown to Madison Valley on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Getting the $121.4 million project started, however, still hinges on the Federal Transit Authority coming through with 50 percent of the funding. The apparent passage of Initiative 976 may also throw a wrench into service plans.
The Seattle Department of Transportation has led the Madison Bus Rapid Transit project design and environmental analysis process, but it will be King County Metro that owns and operates the RapidRide G fleet.
Metro is spending $10.5 million to implement the RapidRide G service, which includes $3.4 million to acquire 13 diesel-hybrid buses. Electric trolleybuses had originally been planned for the line, but vendor New Flyer couldn’t create a vehicle that could handle Madison’s steep grades. The hybrid buses will include five doors to accommodate center platforms planned along the route: Madison and Terry streets; Madison between Summit and Boylston avenues; and Madison between 12th and 13th avenues.
The Madison BRT remains at 90-percent design, and is working with the FTA to secure a critical $60 million in funding through the Small Starts grant.
King County Council staffer Leah Krekel-Zoppi told the committee Tuesday that an amendment to the ordinance approving the alignment allows Executive Dow Constantine to enter a project agreement with SDOT and the FTA that defines RapidRide G’s level of service for the first five years of operation. This is required to move the Small Starts grant application process forward, she said.
The King County Council will adopt service levels in either 2021 or 2022, which is when the RapidRide G line is expected to start. The service hours are estimated at 35,700, costing $16.5 million in the 2022-23 biennium budget, Krekel-Zoppi said. There will also need to be a restructuring of service along the Madison Street corridor, she said. (Edit: Metro is still determining how to continue service in the 19th Avenue corridor, which may include service changes for Routes 11 and 12).
The service agreement Constantine is authorized to enter with SDOT and the FTA would be for all RapidRide lines, and needs to be finalized by the end of 2019, Krekel-Zoppi said. There will likely be a waiver in the agreement that would allow Metro to reduce service if necessary, she said, but it’s unlikely that would happen with the G line due to the anticipated high usage. The Madison Street corridor provides connections in dense employment sectors, to multiple medical facilities in First Hill, and would serve a large and diverse population in the Central District. It also would provide a connection to the First Hill Streetcar to the east and Colman Dock to the west, Krekel-Zoppi said.
RapidRide G is expected to reduce the average travel time by 5-7 minutes, or 32-46 percent compared to current conditions, she said.
Bill Bryant, Metro’s managing director of service development, told the county council there are always trade-offs when making service changes. Stops were put closer together than with typical RapidRide corridors — less than a quarter mile — due to the steepness of Madison and the density around commercial offices downtown and medical facilities in First Hill. The number of shelters and benches were limited based on Metro’s assessment of how many people would use them, he said.
There will be 21 stations total — 10 in each direction — and a western terminal on First Avenue. Three stations will be on Spring Street, at First, Third and Eighth avenues.
The final stop in Madison Valley was moved to 27th Avenue, to limit congestion at the bus layover station at MLK Jr. Way and East Arthur Place.
SDOT is trying to alleviate any issues from the removal of 160 parking spaces to accommodate bus-only and new bike lanes by creating new loading zones: Spring Street, east of First; Seventh Avenue, south of Madison; Spring Street, west of Eighth; Ninth Avenue, south of Madison; and East Denny Way, north of Madison Street.
Maria Koengeter, SDOT’s Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridors Program manager, told the county council the alignment needed to balance access with left-turn restrictions and having station locations as level as possible given the grade changes up Madison.
The King County Council’s Mobility and Environment Committee voted 7-0 to approve the alignment and authorize Constantine to enter an agreement with FTA and SDOT. The vote occurred hours prior to the first statewide ballot counts, which showed Tim Eyman’s I-976 passing by more than 55 percent. I-976 sets a cap on annual car tab fees at $30, and is expected to result in the loss of $4 billion in statewide transportation funding.
It will also result in a loss of $20 billion of voter-approved funding for Sound Transit projects. On top of federal funding, the Madison BRT project identified Sound Transit 3 and the Levy to Move Seattle as other funding sources.
The City of Seattle is also expected to lose $36 million a year in funding through its transportation benefit district as a result of Eyman’s initiative.
Sound Transit Board chair and Redmond Mayor John Marchione issued a statement Wednesday morning regarding I-976 and plans to address its impacts during the board’s Nov. 21 meeting.
“The Board will hear presentations from the agency’s finance staff as well as our general counsel,” a portion of the statement reads. “The Board will consider Sound Transit’s obligations to taxpayers who want their motor vehicle excise taxes reduced, as well as how to realize voters’ earlier direction to dramatically expand high capacity transit throughout the Puget Sound region.”
The full King County Council will consider the RapidRide G alignment during its Nov. 13 meeting.