The 810 Community Transit bus now ends at Northgate light rail station in Seattle. Once light rail stations open in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, Community Transit won’t venture into Seattle, freeing thousands of service hours for other parts of Snohomish County. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

The 810 Community Transit bus now ends at Northgate light rail station in Seattle. Once light rail stations open in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, Community Transit won’t venture into Seattle, freeing thousands of service hours for other parts of Snohomish County. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Light rail’s effects lead 2022’s transportation outlook

Once the cars reach Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, bus service and traffic could shift dramatically.

Traffic congestion nearly vanished in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a surreal time when so little was known but people largely abandoned their routines. Commutes disappeared as work was suspended or went remote. Buses kept rolling, even as passengers dwindled.

Traffic had returned in the back half of last year.

But as coronavirus infections surge again, maybe things aren’t ready to resume to their full pre-pandemic ways.

But the coming year figures to be another transformative period for how people get around in Snohomish County.

One transit agency

After years of conjecture and separate conversations, Community Transit and Everett Transit are taking an official look into combining services.

Technically the “merger” would be a voter-approved annexation of the city of Everett into the Snohomish County Public Transportation Benefit Area Corporation. Basically, Everett voters will have the final say on the future of the city’s bus and paratransit service.

Some of the pressing concerns are the sales tax increase to join compared to boosting the city-run service, agency governance, and integration of assets. Everett has invested heavily in converting its diesel fleet to zero-emission battery electric vehicles. Community Transit is evaluating how it could do so as well.

A report is due by the middle of this year.

Eastern and northern growth

Commercial and residential growth around Arlington, Marysville and Snohomish have caused all kinds of travel problems.

People living and traveling along Highway 9 know the pain points there. It’s caused congestion on side streets near Snohomish. As a parallel route to Interstate 5 along east Snohomish County, the highway is a critical line for thousands of people every day.

Farther north, development already strains east-west connections like 172nd Street NE, which also is Highway 531. Homes are being built and large employment centers, including an Amazon distribution facility, are adding vehicles to an old two-lane road.

But congestion relief plans would add lanes, roundabouts and signals.

All of the current and projected growth has Arlington wondering what people want its roads to look like in the decades ahead.

As people move there, Community Transit is eyeing service increases in those communities. That includes early planning for the Swift Gold bus rapid transit line between Everett and Smokey Point. Gold line buses would arrive at each station about every 10 minutes on weekdays.

Light rail transformations

Sound Transit Link light rail’s Northgate station opened in November and already changed how people commute from and to Snohomish County.

Some Community Transit routes end there now instead of venturing farther into Seattle. Light rail provides a more reliable trip time because it isn’t subject to the whims of I-5 traffic. Community Transit staff estimated saving about 4,000 service hours over a year from the changes, which have been redeployed to boost frequency on the 800-series routes.

In 2024 the rest will follow suit once light rail stations open in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. All of that time saved figures to transform the agency’s network across the county.

Community Transit is in early planning for major shifts then. It could mean new express service with higher frequency and fewer stops than standard routes between the Lynnwood City Center light rail station and Smokey Point Transit Center or other destinations, such as along I-405 as far south as Bellevue.

Another shift Community Transit is exploring is on-demand service. A pilot program in Lynnwood generally centered around the Alderwood mall is set to launch this spring.

After light rail opens in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, it’ll be at least a 13-year wait for the next stretch to reach Everett.

That gives Everett, Lynnwood and Snohomish County leaders plenty of time to influence what stations look like and where they go.

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and planning director Yorik Stevens-Wajda sent a letter to Sound Transit with its early input that included a request to build the Airport Road, Southwest Everett Industrial Center, Evergreen Way and Everett stations as soon as possible. The latter two currently are slated to open in 2041 because of a projected $600 million funding shortfall.

U.S. 2 blues

Area lawmakers and elected officials for years have sought funding to replace the westbound U.S. 2 trestle. The federal infrastructure law could help cover the estimated $1 billion tab, but it’s unlikely the Legislature takes up a transportation package to fully fund it in the short 60-day session.

It would be one part of possible changes being considered or studied on both ends of the connection between Everett and Lake Stevens.

On the east side of the trestle, the Highway 204 interchange with U.S. 2 remains subject to state funding.

To the west, Everett is working on a $2.3 million interchange justification report for the connection between I-5 and U.S. 2.

Farther east on the highway, emergency response officials are pleading for traffic relief from their county and state representatives.

Non-driver access

People with disabilities had their voices amplified by the Disability Mobility Initiative’s work this year.

The group, which is a project of Disability Rights Washington, drafted a story map of people’s struggles navigating buses, sidewalks and more in their daily lives. That resulted in a report with recommendations to improve access for an estimated 1.7 million Washingtonians who can’t or don’t drive.

As light rail construction creeps north, trail advocates are seeking improvements to paved networks like the Interurban Trail that would let people bike, roll or stroll to stations.

Traffic infraction cameras

After years with a law on the books, Everett’s getting closer to implementing traffic enforcement cameras.

The city is gathering vendor proposals for operating the program, which would then be subject to city council approval. Councilmember Liz Vogeli has spoken against them and returns to a council that will welcome four new members.

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