Between Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), possible light rail, a new transit center from Sound Transit and rapid bus lines from King County Metro, Renton has a lot of transportation changes on the horizon.
In time for the start of some of these projects, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove brought the question of transit to cities in his district, including Renton. On Dec. 4, he hosted a transit town hall at Renton Senior Activity Center, to take input and have transit experts answer questions. King County Metro General Manager Rob Gannon and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff talked about all things transit: bus station bathrooms, the Sounder schedule and more.
Upthegrove said his district includes some of the most diverse and low-income communities in King County and public transportation is an important factor in helping folks move up. He said in Renton, the county and state could do a better job of providing transit service.
Councilmember Ruth Pérez gave a short welcoming remark at the town hall, mentioning her and Upthegrove have known each other for almost 20 years. She said Upthegrove is committed to making Renton part of the county agenda.
Pérez said traffic is a nightmare in Renton as folks travel through the city to get to other destinations, and she’s seen Upthegrove bring solutions, including a study recently published naming barriers Renton residents face to accessing bus stations.
King County Metro
At the event, Gannon said the goal of Metro is to deliver services beyond just buses, but getting folks to the buses. He said Metro knows it needs to provide more services as the region continues to grow. He also said access to public transportation is a human right.
A Petrovitsky Road resident asked Gannon why her area doesn’t have more bus service than just the morning and evening peak times, mentioning how many families and residents who are poor live in the area. Gannon said the Renton, Kent and Auburn Area Mobility Plan (RKAAMP) has proposals to change and increase routes around the Valley Medical Center area.
Gannon briefly mentioned Initiative 976. He said it does pose a threat to the increased transit access set for Renton in Fall 2020, potentially delaying part of the RKAAMP, and threatening the long-term goal of an I-Line RapidRide bus from Renton to Auburn. Instead of anticipating the increased routes at Fall 2020, Gannon said it could be as soon as 2020.
“Whatever people’s beliefs are about 976, it does put at risk some of our funding that would allow us to advance the I-Line and allow us to bring some of those benefits to communities,” Gannon said. “(So) it may not be a full bus.”
The initiative, lowering car tabs to $30 across the state, did not go into effect on the planned Dec. 2 date after being halted by a King County judge. The measure is on pause while a legal argument plays out in courts.
Congestion on the highway has doubled over the last six years, and a million more drivers are expected to be here by 2040. Rogoff said Sound Transit’s solutions will include light rail lines and BRT to help everyone get out of the traffic. It is also deploying what Rogoff said was the largest transit expansion program in the country. He said Sound Transit has more transit-only investments than Los Angeles with the 25-year Sound Transit 3 plan, approved by state voters in November 2016.
Rogoff said the new BRT line will create a South Renton Transit Center and an additional bus station, and is set to be under construction in 2020. The station at Northeast 44th Street will be one stop away from the new Bellevue light rail station, and at the South Renton Transit Center riders will be one stop away from the Tukwila light rail station.
While doing this construction over the next year, Rogoff said it will cause traffic and asks in advance for the public’s patience.
Councilmember Randy Corman, Councilmember Ryan McIrvin and Councilmember-elect Kim-Khanh Van also attended the event.
Corman spoke at the end of the meeting, and said the way to get Renton on board with Sound Transit is to make the study of adding light rail in Renton a priority. He said it’s important the city knows what the light rail right-of-way might be, so they can preserve those areas from new development. Rogoff agreed Sound Transit does not want to build the new transit center only to demolish parts of it for a future light rail, he said they can design it to accommodate. A few questions before, Rogoff said the light rail study was a few years out.
In the future, Sound Transit hopes to have 10 cars on the current seven-car trains. A Renton resident asked Rogoff why service was so limited to morning and evening rush hour times on the Sounder train. He said it was due to BNSF needing the tracks as well for its freight trains and increasing service times will be an expensive conversation (they have budgeted for those route discussions with BNSF).
Additional comments from Renton residents
Also in the question period of the evening, a Fairwood resident brought a list of transit needs compiled by herself and neighbors. The resident said they would like to see more buses along Maple Valley Highway, and a park and ride along the highway as well. In response, Rogoff said some commuter traffic patterns may start to change once the BRT line is in place. Gannon said King County has many underserved communities, and Metro needs to proactively invest in growing areas but its policy favors investing in the systems that already exists. Gannon said Metro and King County Council are reviewing the policy to address this.
Another attendee asked about restroom facilities at the transit center— the downtown Renton transit center has not had a public restroom and as a major place people gather it would be nice to offer a public facility. Rogoff said this is one of the biggest policy challenges transit agencies have today, and some would use a restroom for “criminal activity,” requiring costly security and cleanup services. Rogoff said they would prefer to partner with local law enforcement if a city strongly requests restrooms at transit stations.
Another resident who commutes to the Sounder station in Tukwila asked why both Metro and Sounder park and rides have non-HOV permit parking spaces and if the future Renton stations will have something similar. Gannon said Metro is using the permit program to reserve spaces so someone can have access to the parking lots during all times of day, not just the cars sitting parked starting at 6 a.m. for 12 hours. But he also said it’s not a perfect tool. Rogoff said Sound Transit hopes to have all its parking be paid someday, to keep people from using parking lots for other purposes. He also added even parking lots providing revenue to Sound Transit aren’t “making money.”
“We never make money,” Rogoff said. “The only issue is how much money we lose.”