Budget cuts may trim RapidRide service
Five of King County's six bus-rapid transit lines are at risk of being delayed, reduced or canceled by congressional budget cuts.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Five of King County's six bus-rapid-transit lines are at risk of being delayed, reduced or canceled by congressional budget cuts.
Of the five lines not yet operating, service was to begin this year on the RapidRide line between Redmond and Overlake and Bellevue; next year on the lines between West Seattle and downtown Seattle and between Ballard and downtown; and in two years on lines on Aurora Avenue North, and between Tukwila and Renton.
King County Metro Transit managers said Monday they could lose as much as $68 million in federal grants, or one-third of RapidRide startup costs.
The grants already have been approved by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). But House Republicans, fresh from gaining a majority in fall elections, have targeted the FTA's "Small Starts" aid program as part of their proposed cuts to President Obama's budget.
Even if the money vanishes, Metro's "A" line already serving Tukwila, SeaTac and Federal Way would continue, said Ron Posthuma, assistant Metro director. The A Line attracts 1,500 more daily riders than conventional buses were on Pacific Highway South, Metro says.
"Bus rapid transit," or BRT, refers to attempts to make bus transit run more like rail transit — with roomier coaches, fewer stops per mile, electronic arrival-time screens at bus stops, and service so frequent there's no need to carry a schedule. The first BRT line in this state was Swift, from Everett to Aurora Village, opened by Community Transit in November 2009.
Back in 2006, in the voter-approved Transit Now sales-tax measure, Metro promised to put bus rapid transit on the street by the early 2010s, running as frequently as every 10 minutes.
General Manager Kevin Desmond said Monday he doesn't know yet how he might propose delays or reductions if Metro loses federal aid.
"To us, it's real simple. The president is asking $68 million for us, and Congress is wiping it out," said Posthuma, who hopes the Senate restores the funds.
King County Executive Dow Constantine braced for the worst in a letter to the Metropolitan King County Council on Monday, calling the Transit Now timetable to add the other five lines "impractical" in the wake of the national recession. He released a 10-year plan for Metro services that lists standards for choosing which routes to fund and which to cut, with emphasis on serving the most riders in a core network.
Some Transit Now features are already in place, including the A line and increased commuter trips partially funded by cities or major employers.
About $9 million in federal aid for the Bellevue line was signed into law and might be rescinded. And $21 million for the West Seattle line was in the 2011 federal budget but is not yet secured by Metro. Also, $22 million for the Aurora line and $16 million for the Tukwila-Renton line were endorsed this month by the FTA but would go away if Congress terminates the Small Starts program.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.