Decisions on light rail, buses and more loom in 2023

Snohomish County’s top transportation stories include Sound Transit Link, bus agency changes and highway shifts.

Last year’s big transportation story was the Legislature’s nearly $17 billion Move Ahead Washington transportation package that funded new ferries, road projects and expanded transit over the next 16 years.

Already, transit agencies statewide adopted the first major policy shift of waiving fares for riders 18 and younger.

This year, some of those other investments should begin in earnest.

Aside from how that money gets meted out over the coming 16 years, a relative traffic jam of transportation stories are coming in 2023.

Light rail

One of the first big decisions is about the revised sequence for Sound Transit’s Link light rail expansion projects already under construction. The agency is developing the East, Federal Way and Lynnwood extensions that are set to open in the next two years.

But delays caused by concrete quality, pandemic disruptions and a labor strike bumped the opening dates for all three projects. Lynnwood is the closest to being done, but if the Sound Transit board opts to finish and open it first, its stations could sit unused for months until the East Link service starts.

The board could vote on the timetable this month.

Other decisions are ahead for the Everett Link extension’s stations and track alignment.

Snohomish County’s three members on the Sound Transit board blocked a late push to officially study alignments along Evergreen Way and Interstate 5. Both would have bypassed the Paine Field area, which the remaining alternatives would serve.

But a glut of options remains. It’ll be up to the community advisory and elected leadership groups, and eventually the Sound Transit board, to pare down for further review the options for a project that isn’t slated to open until 2037 at the earliest.

Buses

Work on Community Transit’s Swift Orange bus rapid transit line is well under way and scheduled to finish in 2024, in time for light rail opening in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

But that additional service means more drivers, who have been hard to hire all year. The driver shortage led to consecutive service plans that cut trips in an effort to provide more predictable and reliable routes.

Despite new incentives and a new contract, only a net of four additional drivers joined through late November. More drivers and mechanics are needed in the year ahead as the agency gears up for a major service shift and growth plans once light rail reaches Snohomish County.

The agency also could be facing another critical change by possibly annexing Everett Transit. The city and Community Transit have studied the consolidation for the past year, with a report on that work expected this year. The Everett City Council could put it on the ballot for voters as early as this fall.

Going ‘clean’

Even as its future remains hazy, Everett Transit has added zero emission buses that don’t pollute the air with every mile. More are scheduled to join its fleet this year.

The city also plans to install its first inductive wireless charging stations, which should keep its battery-powered electric buses in service longer throughout each day.

Community Transit staff started evaluating options to switch the vast fleet from diesel and diesel-hybrid buses to zero emission vehicles.

Downtown Everett got its first public fast charging electric vehicle stations this summer, courtesy of the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD). Data will help inform the PUD and the state Department of Ecology, which paid for the project, about future electric vehicle energy need, currently forecast by the PUD to skyrocket by 2040.

Slow your roll

Cities are changing some of their arterials to lower travel speeds after decades of use as highways or de facto highways.

Arlington is looking at a major transformation of Smokey Point Boulevard into something like a downtown corridor.

Edmonds is reining in problems along Highway 99, starting with the removal of the center turn lane.

Everett got the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to lower the posted speed limit on a section of Evergreen Way and Highway 99 this summer.

WSDOT staff are looking at safety improvements for Highway 99 between Everett and Lynnwood as well.

After 14 years with the law, Everett is moving forward with a red light and school zone speed enforcement program. The council approved the contract with NovoaGlobal for $503,868 annually for 5 years. Red light runners at six intersections and speeders on Casino Road near Horizon Elementary School could face fines between $125 and $250.

It’s projected to net the city around $200,000 in revenue, which council members said should be spent on traffic safety projects such as crosswalks, lighting and sidewalks in the areas where cameras are installed.

Delays ahead

Big road projects already underway could cause major disruptions on Snohomish County’s highways.

Roundabout construction in Lake Stevens near the intersection of Highway 9 and 204 is set to close the road for long weekends.

Road work on I-5 in Everett will reduce northbound lanes this year as well.

WSDOT also is working on I-5 between Everett and Marysville, extending the high occupancy vehicle lane north of U.S. 2 and building new ramps to connect to Highway 529. Construction is slated to begin this spring.

Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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