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Metro buses are getting booted out of Seattle transit tunnel

(AP)

Buses are being kicked-out of the Seattle transit tunnel later this month, and that means more than 800 daily trips are now going to be sharing downtown streets.

The buses are getting the boot so the tunnel can be used exclusively by Sound Transit to run more light rail service. There just isn’t enough room in the tunnel for both King County Metro and Sound Transit.

“Buses and trains have mixed fairly well, but now we’re at the point where there are just enough buses and just enough trains that they really can’t mix anymore going forward,” said Bill Bryant, Metro’s director of service mobility.

This change, which is coming March 23, will put 830 daily bus trips onto already crowded downtown streets, and Bryant said it will take some getting used to.

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“We can do a lot of traffic modeling,” he said.  “We can look at every single new turn that buses are going to have to make. We can look at all the stops and design them as well as we possibly can, but until the traffic change actually happens, you don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like.”

Bus riders should prepare for some delays. They should check their routes to see if their bus stops have changed. They should also check to see if their route has changed streets.

“In most cases, these routes aren’t changing by more than one or two blocks,” Bryant said. “It shouldn’t be a major inconvenience to the vast majority of customers, and it will probably have advantages for many customers as well.”

To make this change a little easier, Metro is adding some capacity through downtown and making boarding faster for riders. Seattle is extending the northbound bus-only lane on 5th Avenue by a few blocks to help buses move better during peak hours, and there will be a new bus-only corridor on 6th Avenue.

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“That’s all new,” Bryant said. “That actually adds transit capacity.”

Metro is also expanding the off-board program for buses on 3rd Avenue. You just tap your Orca card on the kiosk, and you can board from any door. Bryant said that should speed-up boarding on 3rd Avenue, which is the busiest transit-only street in the country. This off-program will also be used on Westlake Avenue through South Lake Union. Cash riders can still pay at the front door.

You have about three weeks to check your routes and your stops to prepare for the change. Drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians have that same time to prepare for sharing the road with a lot more buses in downtown Seattle.

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