The new route will ferry 12K passengers daily from downtown to Madison Valley by way of First Hill.
by Ben Adlin
A groundbreaking ceremony in Madison Valley this week marked the official start of construction of a new RapidRide bus route — the G Line — expected to carry nearly 12,000 people daily along Madison Street between downtown and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The 2.3-mile transit expansion, projected to open in 2024, will include major upgrades to roads and sidewalks, including 240 curb cutouts to increase accessibility, new traffic signals, more visible crosswalks, signs that show real-time bus arrivals, and raised-curb stations designed to make it easier to get on and off buses — which will come every six minutes at peak times and have doors on both sides.
In the short-term, the $133 million project will likely mean a snarl of construction traffic on Madison, only adding to the region’s growing pains. But the investment of time and money will eventually mean a more connected, built-out transit system that links some of the city’s densest neighborhoods, speakers at Thursday’s, Sept. 30, event said.
“In some cities, the best lines of communication are from the city center to the suburbs,” said the Rev. Patricia Hunter of Mount Zion Baptist Church, where the groundbreaking ceremony was held. “But in Seattle, one of the best lines of transportation will serve those within the city, all along Madison.”
City, County, and even Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials spoke at the event, emphasizing the route’s role in connecting the region’s growing transit system.
“The RapidRide G Line will open up access to a world of opportunities for thousands, without having to set foot in a car,” FTA administrator Nuria Fernandez said. “The line also reaches into historically underserved neighborhoods with an affordable, reliable transportation option, which creates more equity.”
FTA is the top funder of the G Line expansion, contributing a $60 million grant as well offering technical assistance. The project itself is a cooperation between City, County, Sound Transit, and other officials, and is one of the largest projects built under the Move Seattle levy, a nine-year, $930 million funding measure approved by voters in 2015.
Construction of the new route begins as other major transit expansions are already in progress, perhaps most notably Puget Sound’s growing Link light rail system — the University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate stations are scheduled to open on Saturday, Oct. 2, along with the John Lewis Memorial Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.
“It’s all about connectivity for the network that we’re building out,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “We’ll be expanding Tacoma Link the following year … we’ll open 10 stations overnight to the Eastside after that in 2023, and then in 2024 we’ll extend all the way up to Lynnwood, all the way to downtown Redmond, and all the way down to Federal Way.”
The G Line is part of transit officials’ effort to expand routes that run east-west. Most of Seattle’s transit lines run north-south, which makes sense: The city is long and narrow, constrained on two sides by large bodies of water. But traveling across the city can be slow: Bus routes are less common, and they usually arrive less often. The G Line is expected to reduce end-to-end transit time from the Colman ferry dock downtown to Madison Valley by five minutes, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
“Everyone here who’s transit-dependent knows that the east-west connections have always been the toughest in Seattle, and so this is a big breakthrough,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, noting that the RapidRide system was created to provide such frequent, consistent service along high-capacity corridors that riders “didn’t have to plan around the schedule anymore.”
The new RapidRide is also designed to connect multiple modes of transportation, allowing passengers to transfer between bus lines, light rail, and the Seattle streetcar, as well as other RapidRide and Transit-Plus lines.
“There’s so many different ways this one project will benefit the people of this city and this region,” said SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe, noting that the project’s construction will also replace broken sidewalks, add safety signage and more space for pedestrians, and improve stormwater drainage. “These types of changes not only make the bus a more viable transportation option for people, they make walking and rolling around our city more comfortable for everybody.”
King County Metro General Manager Terry White, who rode the bus growing up in Seattle, said Thursday he once sang in the church choir at Mt. Zion, where the groundbreaking was held.
“This to me is a historic site that, first of all, is about service to the community,” he said. “And that’s what this is about today: collaboration of all of us here coming together — federal, state, regional, municipalities — all coming together to create service [that’s] faster, more frequent and more reliable. … We look forward to what’s to come in our region, where mobility is a human right.”
Alex Hudson, director of the transit advocacy nonprofit Transportation Choices, said she remembered when she started going to planning meetings for what would eventually become the G Line back in 2014. About a quarter of people in the state don’t drive for various reasons, she said. “It is our obligation to make sure that they are connected to their futures and to all opportunities through affordable, reliable service.”
For students in Seattle, noted Mayor Jenny Durkan, riding the G Line will be free, thanks to a City program that provides no-cost ORCA cards to all high-school and low-income middle-school students.
On the County side, King County Metro briefly suspended collection of fares for all riders early on in the pandemic, but the agency announced an end to the program a year ago. Low-income riders can qualify for reduced-fare ORCA LIFT cards, however, and other discounted options also exist.
“Investment in transit is the absolute right thing to do, and we have had unparalleled investments by the people in this region and from the residents and businesses in the City of Seattle,” Durkan said. “We’ve been, for 19 months, in really hard and dark times, but through those hard and dark times we’ve kept going on really critical infrastructure projects.”
The next RapidRide route, the H Line, will run from downtown through West Seattle, White Center, and Burien, replacing Metro’s Route 120. The agency says the line “will come more often and be far more reliable than Route 120 is today.” Service is expected to begin next fall.
Ben Adlin is a reporter and editor who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives on Capitol Hill. He’s covered politics and legal affairs from Seattle and Los Angeles for the past decade and has been an Emerald contributor since May 2020, writing about community and municipal news. Find him on Twitter at @badlin.
📸 Featured Image: Local officials hold a banner announcing the RapidRide G Line expansion during a Sept. 30, 2021, press conference. (Photo: Ben Adlin)
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