Work on Sound Transit’s bus rapid transit program–Stride–is progressing, though slower than originally hoped. Some Stride lines’ targeted openings have slipped from 2024 to 2025. Agency staff recently briefed the Sound Transit Board of Directors about a revised delivery timeline and some flashy vehicle branding. The program is composed of three distinct projects: Lynnwood to Bellevue (I-405 North), Bellevue to Burien (I-405 South), and Shoreline to Woodinville (SR-522/NE 145th St). Collectively, these Stride corridors will result in 45 miles of bus rapid transit, connecting many key urban centers and urban nodes as well as three light rail stations when opened.
Sound Transit staff report that environmental review and the 10% design milestone have almost wrapped up, which will allow the program to move forward to the 30% design phase. Partnering agreements for work tasks, collaborative desing, and permitting are well underway. An example of that is the joint effort with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to align near-term I-405 highway expansions with Stride project objectives for rider access and bus reliability.
Construction has progressed for certain aspects of the Stride program, such as the Bothell/Kenmore area where new bus lanes, medians, sidewalks, and retaining walls are being installed on SR-522. An in-lane stop pair is also planned for early construction in Renton.
Though briefly mentioned, agency staff unveiled livery planned for Stride coaches. The design is focused on gold, blue, teal, and white stripes, which feels like quite a departure from the long-standing “ride the wave” branding across other services Sound Transit provides.
Stride stations will have similar branding to coaches. Sound Transit earlier this year showed off what riders could expect stations to look like, generally featuring higher quality bus stops, wayfinding, and amenities than riders see at normal bus stops or even transit centers.
Looking ahead, the Sound Transit Board of Directors will be asked for some key procurements to advance the Stride program. These include a new north bus base via a design-build contract and hiring a general engineering consultant for final project design and managing construction. Aside from the bus base, there are a lot of construction elements for what some might think is just a bus project. Construction work will entail the stations, in-line freeway infrastructure, bus lane installation, transit signal priority, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and other related right-of-way improvements.
Construction of the Stride projects were expected to begin in 2024 with revenue service starting at the end of year and but final construction wrapping up in 2025. However, there have been several major issues that have made those timelines slip considerably, particularly for the I-405 North and SR-522/NE 145th St projects. The are several reasons for the delays, and the recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate those delays–particularly since Sound Transit has indicated it will prioritize other construction projects if its forced to trim costs.
In the case of the I-405 North line, the project is running behind schedule due to WSDOT I-405 highway expansion projects. This is specifically because of a newly approved project scope between the Brickyard and Canyon Park areas. A major redesign will create direct access ramps at SR-522 and Canyon Park. Sound Transit plans to take advantage of this with in-line freeway stations instead of on the side with access ramps. Brickyard will also now be an in-line freeway station, but special funding need to be sought for that project this summer. Ultimately, by sticking with the original project designs, the I-405 North line should wind up opening in 2025, which is better than the alternative of risking a 2026 opening with significant revisions, agency staff report.
For the SR-522/NE 145th St line, revenue service is still unclear, but agency staff think 2025 is a reasonable bet. The project has been hindered by complications in constructing bus lanes and business and transit lanes, property acquisitions with scores of property owners, and structural issues in building lanes.
With that said, Sound Transit anticipates that the north bus base will be completed by 2023 and launching the I-405 South line in 2024. Early completion of the north bus base should provide ample time for training up operators and delivering and storing new coaches.
In the coming months, Sound Transit will move to authorize all of the Stride projects, including the north bus base, for construction and baselining the project costs. Those actions will require approval from the Sound Transit Board of Directors.