CT has proposal for faster service along Highway 99

New buses, priority traffic lights and dedicated transit lanes are all part of a plan to bring new and faster bus service to Highway 99 in Snohomish County.

Community Transit will spend up to $15 million to launch what it calls “bus rapid transit service” on Highway 99 by 2008, said Martin Munguia, a spokesman for the transit agency.

Bus rapid transit refers to buses that come so frequently passengers don’t have to plan their trips; they just go outside and wait for the next bus. It also involves limited stops, making for shorter commute times.

“I believe we’re appealing to new riders,” said Lynn Walty, chairman of Community Transit and mayor of Lake Stevens. “They will then be able to know, rather than take my car down to Lynnwood, I just have to get to my bus stop.”

Community Transit’s board of directors on Thursday approved a resolution that sets 2008 as the goal to get the new service started. It also adopted a 2006 budget that sets aside up to $15 million to pay for that start.

The agency will now start socking away money to pay for the new service itself, including a surplus $200,000 it expects to collect this year, Munguia said. The extra revenue comes from increased sales tax money coming into the agency now that the local economy is stronger.

When the new bus service starts, it will take less than 45 minutes to travel from Everett Station to the King County line at Edmonds. That trip currently takes an hour. The number of stops will be shaved in half, from about 29 for regular bus service to about 15 for rapid transit buses.

Buses will come every 10 minutes during the day, Munguia added. Currently, Highway 99 buses stop every 10 to 15 minutes during peak commuting hours, but less frequently the rest of the day.

Community Transit is in discussions with the city of Everett over what route the buses will take when they get to Everett, which operates its own transit system. Community Transit would prefer Highway 99, because that’s where the riders are, but it also wants Everett to sign off on the proposal, Munguia said.

“We in the city are supportive of the bus rapid transit concept,” said Paul Kaftanski, Everett’s transportation services director. “What type of agreement will be needed to make it happen? Those conversations have not happened yet.”

South of Everett, Highway 99 already has seven miles of transit-dedicated lanes reserved for buses and right-turn traffic. For bus rapid transit to work along the entire route, all of Highway 99 will need similar transit-only lanes, Munguia said.

Sound Transit is considering adding a bus lane on the nine miles of Highway 99 from 148th Street SW to Pacific Avenue in downtown Everett, said Matt Shelden, north corridor lead for Sound Transit.

The project is one of 16 the agency is considering for the second phase of Sound Transit projects. A new bond to pay for it could go before voters next fall. There isn’t money for all 16 projects to be included on the ballot measure.

Community Transit also plans to build bus stations to serve the new bus rapid transit route. The stations would be larger than a regular bus stop, have a shelter over them and be near major urban centers. “They might even be linked to a latte stand or something,” Munguia said.

By the time the new service starts, Community Transit will have global positioning technology that will allow the agency to know exactly where each bus is at any time, he said.

“We envision that we would have some kind of technology reader boards that say a bus is coming in five minutes,” Munguia said.

Community Transit is already moving ahead with plans to give buses a priority at traffic lights on the south end of Highway 99.

By the end of 2006, buses will be able to extend a green light for an extra five seconds or so at 16 intersections. Those extra few seconds will be a crucial part of keeping the buses moving, Munguia said.

The agency would like to work with Everett to have the same technology on the north end of Highway 99 and Evergreen Way, he said.

The eventual goal is to have bus rapid transit extend all the way to Seattle, Munguia said, adding that King County’s Metro Transit also is looking at establishing bus rapid transit on its section of Highway 99.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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