All buses will vacate the downtown transit tunnel as of March 23.

Link light rail riders, rejoice! The days of waiting behind slow-moving buses in the transit tunnel—which runs from Chinatown–International District to Westlake—will be nothing more than a memory starting March 23, when King County Metro permanently relocates its subterranean fleet to city surface streets. The changes bode well for Seattle’s transit future, but Metro officials advise all downtown riders (not just those whose commutes pass through the tunnel) to prepare for some growing pains.

A total of 41 bus routes will see changes. Here’s how to navigate it all.

What’s Happening?

On March 23, Metro will permanently relocate the seven bus routes that run through the tunnel to surface streets—part of a plan to hand off full tunnel ownership to Sound Transit. The move will improve Link light rail efficiency and reliability, a crucial change given that the tunnel will eventually serve as a transfer hub for multiple light rail lines. (There are, however, no plans to add train frequency at this time.)

Rerouting buses out of the tunnel means Metro must shuffle downtown bus stop locations and pickup and drop-off times of the seven routes that currently pass through the tunnel, plus another eight downtown bus routes (to make room).

The shakeup coincides with Metro’s routine biannual service adjustment, meaning 26 other bus lines will see route, frequency, and/or timetable changes (notably popular route 40 and the RapidRide C Line). In other words: No need to panic, this is routine.

What's a Commuter to Do?

Check Your Routes

A total of 15 downtown routes will be shifted: 15, 40, 41, 50, 55, 70, 106, 111, 120, 169, 204, 252, 312, 316, and the RapidRide E Line. Pickup times on these routes will shift slightly (but if you miss the bus, the next one will come a little sooner). Find detailed information about timetable changes here. Metro’s Trip Planner app or webpage can also help with commute planning.

All Aboard (Any Door)

Metro will also expand off-board Orca tap readers at bus stops along Third Avenue and Westlake Avenue starting March 23 to facilitate all-door boarding during crowded weekday commutes. (Riders paying cash must still board at the front). Need an Orca card? Buy one here.

Expect to see more buses on city streets, but (hopefully) faster lines when new Orca readers are installed.

The Future of Seattle Transit

Less Crowded Buses?

Among the bus routes affected by the tunnel changes are some of the city’s most overcrowded, including the 40, 41, 70, and 120 lines. Between 2017 and 2018, riders have taken about 21,000 more trips on Metro’s ten most traveled bus routes. The agency’s 2018 service evaluation report found that 36,400 more hours of bus service were needed to address overcrowding and reliability issues.

And New Link Lines

Sound Transit will expand the light rail system up to Northgate by 2021 and will create a line that extends east from the tunnel to Bellevue and Redmond by 2023. Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson says to expect tunnel construction (but not closure) for ten weeks in 2020 as the agency makes room for those trains. They also plan to add and expand lines (in some cases, pending voter approval) to West Seattle, Ballard, Tacoma, and as far north as Everett. Find detailed information about those plans here.

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