Assessment of Current Status, Plans, and Preliminary Alternatives for High Capacity Transportation in the I-5 Corridor

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1 CONNECTING THURSTON COUNTY AND THE CENTRAL PUGET SOUND Alternatives to Meet Transportation Needs in the I-5 Corridor Working Paper #1 June 2011 Assessment of Current Status, Plans, and Preliminary Alternatives for High Capacity Transportation in the I-5 Corridor Issue Statement The continued growth in the Central and South Puget Sound and ongoing development of military facilities including Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) have increased transportation demand and congestion and decreased travel time reliability in the I-5 corridor. Travel options are limited in the corridor due to natural barriers, sensitive environmental areas and access limitations related to JBLM. There is inadequate capacity today and demand for travel and freight movement continues to increase in this corridor. The challenge facing us is accommodating the travel demand in this corridor in a way that: Preserves the environment Provides adequate capacity for people and freight movement Is cost-effective Is financially feasible Is politically feasible Accommodates future growth at military facilities including JBLM Accommodates growth in travel between Thurston County and the central Puget Sound region. Current Status: Highway Infrastructure Highway infrastructure connecting the Central Puget Sound and the South Sound is extremely limited. Interstate 5 (I-5) provides the only direct link between these areas. For the purposes of this working paper, the portion of the I-5 corridor being considered begins at the I-5 and SR-512 interchange (Lakewood) and ends at the I-5 and SR-101 interchange just south of downtown Olympia. I-5 experiences significant congestion throughout the day with uncertain travel time being the rule rather than the exception. Existing plans call for expanding HOV lanes from the King County/Pierce County border to the SR-512 interchange. Funding currently exists to extend the lanes only as far south as the 38 th St/SR- 16 interchange in Tacoma. There are currently no plans to add HOV lanes or expand roadway capacity south of SR-512. There are significant technical and financial challenges to accomplishing an expansion of capacity this portion of I-5. I-5 travels through JBLM and the Nisqually Delta, crosses the Nisqually River and traverses the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad. The widening of I-5 to add an HOV lane or general capacity would be extremely expensive and could not be completed until 2030 or later. Working Paper #1 1 June 2011

2 Current Status: Freight and Passenger Rail Service There are three separate types of rail service in this corridor and they each have unique characteristics and challenges. The rail line connecting the Central Puget Sound and Thurston County is the BNSF mainline. The BNSF mainline follows an indirect path between downtown Tacoma and Lacey, following the Puget Sound shoreline and crossing the I-5 corridor just northeast of the Nisqually Delta and the Thurston/Pierce County line. Due to significant elevation changes and other factors, the line travels to the east and south of the northern urban area (Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater) and then turns south and travels through Tenino and Bucoda before entering Lewis County. The line serves Centennial Station at Yelm Highway where the BNSF line crosses under the highway. Up to 60 trains per day operate on the main line through Thurston County and this is expected to grow to 120 trains per day by Two branch lines connect to the BNSF main line in Thurston County the BNSF St. Clair Branch and the Union Pacific East Olympia Branch. The St. Clair Branch is a short section running from the main line to the Union Mills Road area (Lacey). The alignment west of this point has been converted to the Woodland Trail. The East Olympia Branch meets the main line near 83 rd and Rich Rd. and travels through Tumwater and Olympia to the Port of Olympia facilities north of downtown Olympia. The Tacoma Municipal Belt Line operates a small amount of service on this line that connects the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Olympia. Top speed on the East Olympia Branch line is currently limited to 10 miles per hour. Intercity Passenger Rail Service Amtrak operates 5 trips per day in each direction between Olympia and Seattle. The first morning trip leaves Olympia at 10:20 a.m. with the last trip at 8:22 p.m. The first morning trip leaves Seattle at 7:30 a.m. with the last trip at 5:30 p.m. The one-way travel time is approximately one hour and forty minutes northbound and one hour and twenty minutes southbound. Amtrak service currently uses the BNSF main line between Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. Amtrak is expected to begin to using the Sound Transit line between the Thurston/Pierce county border and downtown Tacoma in This is more direct route and will reduce travel time. There are also plans to increase the number of Amtrak trains per day operating in the corridor. Washington State has received a significant level of funding to improve the passenger rail corridor between Oregon and the Canadian border. It is unclear how this will affect the portion of the line in Thurston, Pierce and King Counties. The nature of Intercity Passenger Rail service is that stations are widely spaced and that other modes (private vehicles, taxi, and public transportation) are required to carry passengers to their ultimate destination. A challenge in Thurston County is that the Amtrak station is located 8 miles from downtown Olympia and the Capitol Campus and is on the fringe of the Urban Growth Area. Working Paper #1 2 June 2011

3 The Tacoma and Seattle locations are on the edge of the downtown areas and also require access to and use of other modes. Commuter Rail Service Commuter rail service generally operates between suburban cities and the major Central Business District in a region. Sound Transit operates the Sounder Commuter Rail service centered on the Seattle Central Business District. The current northern service operates between Everett and Seattle and also serves the cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds. The southern service operates between Tacoma and Seattle and also serves stations in Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Sumner and Puyallup. The southern line is scheduled to be extended further south from Tacoma to Lakewood in late Eighteen trains per day (9 in each direction) will start or end in Lakewood. Four morning peak period southbound trips are operated on the service between Everett and Seattle. Four afternoon peak period trips are operated northbound. On the section between Tacoma and Seattle, seven a.m. and two p.m. trips are operated northbound and two a.m. and seven p.m. trips are operated southbound. A Sound Transit express bus route (599) connected the Lakewood Station and the Tacoma Dome station. This route was discontinued in June Freight Rail Service The BNSF rail line is a very heavily used freight corridor and demand and use are expected to grow. Generally, freight is limited to a maximum speed of 50 mph in the corridor. The level of freight traffic greatly limits the ability to add additional commuter rail service in the corridor. It also makes it very costly to lease track time for use by commuter rail trains. Current Status Public Transportation Public transportation systems (Sound Transit, Pierce Transit and Intercity Transit) cooperate to provide service connecting the central Puget Sound area and Thurston County. This includes express bus service and vanpool service. When Sounder commuter rail service is extended to Lakewood in 2012, connections to this service will also be important. Express Bus Service Intercity Transit and Pierce Transit both provide service in the I-5 corridor connecting downtown Tacoma, Lakewood (the Lakewood Station and the Lakewood/SR512 parkand-ride facilities) with the Martin Way park-and-ride facility and the Olympia Transit Center in Thurston County. Prior to June 12, 2011, twenty-four (24) trips in each direction were provided each weekday. Intercity Transit provided 16 roundtrips while Pierce Transit provided 8 peak-hour roundtrips. Intercity Transit provides Saturday and Sunday service in the corridor with nine roundtrips each day. Pierce Transit reduced the number of trips provided from eight to four in June Intercity Transit added two roundtrips in June 2011 to address the most significant service gaps created with the elimination of the Pierce Transit trips. Pierce Transit has also announced it is considering the elimination of the remaining 4 trips it provides between Tacoma and Olympia. This service may be eliminated in October Intercity Transit is not in a position to provide significant additional service in this corridor at this time. Working Paper #1 3 June 2011

4 The Intercity Transit trips also provide service connections to local and regional transit service in Lakewood, downtown Tacoma and the Tacoma Dome Station park-and-ride facility. Connections are made to the Sounder commuter rail service at the Tacoma Dome facility. The Pierce Transit express service connects Lakewood, the Tacoma Community College Transit Center, The Narrows park-and-ride facility and the Kimball Drive park-and-ride facility in Gig Harbor. This service is scheduled for elimination in October The Lakewood Station and the Lakewood/SR 512 park-and-ride facilities are major connection points with Sound Transit and service connecting to Thurston County. Currently, Sound Transit operates the following service to Lakewood: Route 592/594 Approximately 53 roundtrips are operated on weekdays between Lakewood and downtown Seattle. Eight a.m. peak and seven p.m. peak trips also serve the DuPont park-and-ride facility. Thirty-four (34) roundtrips are provided between Lakewood and Seattle on weekends. Route 574 Approximately 38 roundtrips are provided on weekdays connecting Lakewood and the SeaTac International Airport. Stops are also made at the Federal Way park-and-ride facility and transit center and at the Star Lake and Kent freeway stations. 31 trips are provided on weekends. Route 599 Sound Transit also operated 9 roundtrips each day connecting Lakewood with the Sounder service to the Tacoma Dome. This service was discontinued in June Vanpool Service Transit systems have attempted to serve commuters in the I-5 corridor and to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) with vanpool service. Intercity Transit, King County Metro and Pierce Transit have vanpool service in this corridor or to JBLM. Intercity Transit is the primary provider of vanpool service in the corridor. 70 vanpools begin in Olympia/Thurston County and travel north in the a.m. peak to Lakewood and beyond. 20 of these vanpools carrying 156 passengers serve JBLM. 50 of these vanpools serve other destinations and carry 418 passengers per day. 48 vanpools carrying 393 passengers per day travel in the a.m. peak from Pierce and King County to Olympia. King County Metro has 6 vanpools carrying 52 daily passengers traveling from Thurston County to King County in the a.m. peak. They also have one van operating from Federal Way to JBLM and one from JBLM to King County. Pierce Transit has 16 vanpools carrying 138 riders from locations in Pierce County to JBLM. JBLM and Transit Service There is limited transit service to JBLM. Base security precautions do not allow open-door general public service on the base. Pierce Transit operates Route 300 which connects the Tacoma Mall and Lakewood Transit Centers with the JBLM Commissary. Approximately 22 roundtrips are provided on weekdays with a reduced level of Saturday and Sunday service. Effective October 2011, only trips in the peak periods will enter JBLM. Pierce Working Paper #1 4 June 2011

5 Transit Route 206 currently provides 30 roundtrips per weekday between Lakewood and Madigan Hospital. A reduced level of service is provided on weekends. Service on Route 206 will be reduced in October Pierce Transit also provided on-base service with Route 207 from Madigan Hospital through Ft. Lewis. This service was eliminated in June Alternatives and Challenges for Increasing Transportation Capacity in the I-5 Corridor Between Olympia/Thurston County and JBLM/Pierce County A number of alternatives have been discussed to increase person-carrying capacity and reduce congestion in the I-5 corridor. All alternatives present significant financial and technical/environmental challenges. Increase Highway Capacity in the Corridor There are no current plans to increase highway capacity in this corridor south of the SR512 interchange. As described above, there are significant technical and environmental barriers to widening this section of the I-5 corridor. A potential short-term means of increasing the person-carrying capacity of the corridor is to convert an existing general purpose lane to a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. This would increase travel speeds and reliability for transit, vanpools and carpools but would reduce overall vehicle capacity. WSDOT rough planning level estimates show widening I-5 from SR 512 to DuPont would cost $1 billion, and widening I-5 from DuPont to SR 510/Marvin Road would cost another $1 billion. Increase Intercity Rail Service in the Corridor There are plans to increase intercity passenger rail service in this corridor. Federal High Speed Rail funding will improve infrastructure in the larger Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, Oregon corridor and additional trips are anticipated. In 2016, Amtrak is expected to begin using the Sound Transit tracks between the Tacoma Dome and the BNSF main line near the Thurston/Pierce County line. This will also reduce travel time. These improvements will do little to address the commuter and congestion problems in the corridor. Station locations and distances between stops will make it difficult for the Amtrak service to be used by daily commuters in this corridor and for the service to take a significant number of vehicles off of I-5 in the affected area. Increase Commuter Rail Service in the Corridor An often mentioned alternative is to extend Sound Transit commuter rail service to Thurston County. This seems relatively simple but there are significant technical, financial and political barriers to this alternative. Sound Transit Sounder service will be extended to Lakewood in late There are no current plans to extend service south of this area. An extension to DuPont has been discussed in the past and Sound Transit does own the line connecting the Lakewood Station to the BNSF mainline in south Pierce County. Amtrak is anticipated to use this portion of this line beginning in Working Paper #1 5 June 2011

6 An extension south of this point becomes difficult. Service would have to operate on the heavilyused BNSF mainline to a terminus in Thurston County. Space would have to be leased from BNSF and this cost could be significant. For example, Sound Transit recently purchased space for four (4) additional trains per day from Tacoma to Seattle at a cost of $185 million. Construction of additional rail capacity in this corridor is a possibility, but is a very expensive option. Another issue is that the BNSF main line does not serve the major urban areas of Thurston County or major State employment centers. The route to serve Tumwater, the Capitol Campus and downtown Olympia would require using the Union Pacific East Olympia Branch that connects to the BNSF mainline southeast of Olympia. This lengthens the trip and requires travel in opposite direction on this line before turning northeast to Pierce County on the BNSF main line. This would also require significant improvements to the Union Pacific line which currently has a 10 mph limit. The current Amtrak station (Centennial Station) could serve as a stop but it is not designed to be a major commuter or park-and-ride facility. Other issues that must be considered are the political and legal issues associated with expanding the boundaries of the Regional Transit Authority. Determining which area would be included in the expanded boundary, the governing board composition, and how revenues would be allocated are all significant challenges. Increase Express Bus Service and Ridership The primary challenge with this alternative is a financial one. Pierce Transit is reducing service in this corridor in mid-june 2011 by eliminating 4 of the 8 roundtrips on weekdays and has proposed to eliminate the remaining 4 trips in October Intercity Transit has increased service in the corridor in recent years including improvements in Sunday service implemented in February However, Intercity Transit has only 0.1% of its sales tax capacity available and has no current plans to significantly improve service in the corridor. The corridor south of DuPont is outside of the Sound Transit service area and an expansion of Sound Transit service would require a new source of funds. There is also a significant political issue to resolve if additional express bus service is to be implemented in the corridor. This issue is, Who should pay for service that crosses county lines or that connects two different transit systems? Historically, Pierce Transit and Intercity Transit have shared the cost in this corridor. However, Pierce Transit service reductions will result in 80% of weekday trips and all weekend trips being operated by Intercity Transit after June Intercity Transit will be the only service provider in this corridor after October This is an area where there is a significant state interest and where Washington State funding could be used to increase service in the corridor. However, there is little State of Washington funding currently available for this type of service. Increase Vanpool and Rideshare Service and Ridership- This would be the easiest alternative and could be implemented immediately. Intercity Transit has vans available today and the Washington Working Paper #1 6 June 2011

7 State Transportation budget includes $520,000 in new funding for additional vanpools to JBLM. Next Steps Key to moving the discussion of high capacity transportation is continued coordination and communication between the Thurston Region and Sound Transit s Pierce County contingent. Efforts should focus on strengthening relationships among policy makers and staff, sharing information among our agencies, and drawing on Sound Transit s technical information and expertise in the Thurston Region s planning work. Thurston and Pierce policy makers meet in September/October 2011 to discuss the white paper findings and agree on a mutual course of action. Establish a policy maker subcommittee with three representatives from the Thurston Region and three representatives from Sound Transit s Pierce County contingent. Meet two to four times a year to maintain strong communications and collaboration. Investigate options for a TRPC representative to be regularly involved with the Sound Transit board. Working Paper #1 7 June 2011

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