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Monday, November 9, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sound Transit Picking Up Speed -- Three-County Web Of Express-Bus Routes Nears Approval

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Next year at this time, residents of Lynnwood or Federal Way will be able to spend a comfortable 45 minutes on a new express bus and do their Christmas shopping at the upscale Bellevue Square.

By 2001, software engineers in Redmond will be able to get on board and commute to graduate classes at the University of Washington.

The two routes are part of a regional network of express-bus service authorized by voters two years ago as part of a $3.9 billion regional-transit plan.

The Sound Transit board is expected to give final approval to the new express-bus routes Thursday. The first new routes are to begin service in September.

The routes will be operated by the local transit agencies - Metro, Community Transit and Pierce Transit - but will have buses painted with Sound Transit's design scheme.

Most of the routes are those promised in the 1996 election, but there are some changes.

For example, the original plan called for 20 routes. Today's version has 17.

"We voted for a regional network of 20 routes, but we also said that we would make smart decisions based on new information," said Agnes Govern, director of the "regional express" division of Sound Transit.

Govern noted, for example, that the original plan called for a regional-express route from Everett to Aurora Village along Highway 99. But Snohomish County's Community Transit has increased service on the same route. Instead, an express bus will travel from Everett to Northgate.

Another change: Regional express proposed a route from Woodinville to Northgate, which is already a Metro route. Instead, Sound Transit may offer a route connecting Woodinville, Bothell and Seattle via Lake Forest Park and Shoreline.

Another route, planned between DuPont and Puyallup in South Pierce County, will be delayed until a new highway is completed across Fort Lewis.

"Voters are getting what they voted for, a regional network connecting community centers," Govern said.

The changes have prompted some questions, particularly on the Eastside. Redmond officials have complained that a promised route between Redmond and Bellevue was eliminated. Metro Transit operates buses in the corridor, but not express buses.

The transit service is financed by an increase in the local sales and auto-license taxes, plus federal highway money. It includes commuter rail on existing tracks between Tacoma and Seattle; service is to begin late next year. The plan calls for commuter rail to be extended north to Everett and south to Lakewood in 2001.

A light-rail line from Seattle south to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is being designed for service around 2006.

Although the express-bus routes have been chosen, still up in the air are exact places the buses will stop. Govern said those decisions will be made beginning next year.

In a few cases, Metro and the other transit agencies will continue to operate buses on the same route as Sound Transit. While Sound Transit buses will make only a few stops, Metro buses will operate at slower speeds and stop more often.

In other cases, the local transit agencies anticipate vacating those routes to strengthen service in other areas.

Fares have not been set for the Sound Transit routes but are expected to be in the neighborhood of the $2.50 charged by Pierce Transit on its Tacoma-Seattle route.

Govern said Sound Transit likely will have three or four rates based on zones or distance traveled. There won't be a higher rate for rush hour, however. She said the transit agencies plan to offer a regional pass by the time the new buses run. Anyone traveling on the pass - there would be monthly and annual passes available - could use it to pay for transferring to local service.

Service on many of the routes is to be every 15 minutes in peak periods, and every 30 minutes off-peak. However, in most cases the service will begin at a lower level and be phased in over several years.

David Schaefer's phone message number is 206-464-3141. His e-mail address is: dschaefer@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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