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Friday, September 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bus tunnel shuts down tonight for 2 years

Seattle Times staff reporter

How's it going?


With the downtown bus tunnel closing for up to two years, we're interested in how it affects your commute. E-mail us at sgilmore@seattletimes.com. Please include your name and phone number.

Trip-planning help


Metro Transit and its partners in the tunnel project are offering one-on-one planning sessions to help commuters. All sessions are between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is the schedule through Oct. 28:

Mondays: Starbucks at Third Avenue and Spring Street

Tuesdays: Pacific Place main floor, 600 Pine St.

Wednesdays: The Transportation Connection at Rainier Square (enter on University Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues)

Thursdays: Bank of America Tower (second-floor atrium across from Tully's, Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street)

Fridays: Seattle Public Library (Fifth Avenue lobby)

Other sessions: For more information, go to www.seattletunnel.org or http://transit.metrokc.gov.

Source: Metro Transit

Nearly 100,000 bus riders and tens of thousands of drivers will have to make some changes after Metro closes its bus tunnel tonight for up to two years to fit it for light rail.

The big test will be Monday, when bus commuters and drivers arrive downtown and experience what Metro calls "a service change on steroids."

When the tunnel was dug in the late 1980s, downtown Seattle was torn up for years.

This time, when Metro closes the tunnel for the installation of rails for Sound Transit, the work will be largely invisible. Except for some digging near Paramount Theatre, the work is being done underground.

Beyond the 21 routes that use the bus tunnel, the closure will change the downtown stops for more than 70 Metro and Sound Transit routes.

Commuters who used the tunnel will find themselves standing on street corners waiting for their buses.

"We need a big glass roof over Third Avenue. We're going to get wet," said commuter Mark Smolen, who rides the Route 41 bus from Lake City every day, the most-popular of the bus-tunnel routes.

Bus commuters say they may not like being forced to the streets during the closure but understand the work needs to be done to accommodate Sound Transit.

"It's gonna be what it's gonna be," commuter Sylvia Wood said.

During rush hours, buses will have a priority on Third Avenue. Cars will be able to drive only one block before being forced to make a right turn off the street. Police have started pulling over and giving warnings to motorists who violate the one-block rule.

Joni Earl, head of Sound Transit, said the first task in the tunnel project will be to take out the operations and communications systems. Removal of the old track should start the second week of the closure. It's possible some vibrations will be felt on the surface, she said.

"We're not guaranteeing anything here," she said. "... The proof's in the pudding, obviously, come Monday."

Businesses on Third Avenue, where tunnel users will now catch their buses, say they are eager for new customers the closure may bring.

Vicki Lundquist, a manager at Borders Books in Century Square, said she expects business to grow because of the new foot traffic.

"The first week will be traffic ickiness," Lundquist said, "but it will all settle out."

Maury Baruch, who works at Samuel's Jewelers on Third Avenue, said he's hoping "people stop and look in the window. It might not be a bad thing. I hope we get foot traffic."

Hazem Fahmawi, manager at a Subway store on Third, agrees. "With more people on the street, they'll notice the store and might not have seen it before."

Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said businesses may well see a boom with the tunnel closed.

"This is the best time to do the best window display you've ever had," she said. "This puts hundreds of potential new customers right in front of your business. Isn't this a tough problem to have? Too many pedestrians up on the street. A lot of downtowns across the country would do anything to have this problem."

When businesses learned Sound Transit was planning a two-year retrofit of the tunnel they were worried, Joncas said, "but once we got past the misconception that there would be a big trench down Third Avenue people relaxed."

The tunnel is scheduled to reopen no later than September 2007 for buses, and the trains are expected to begin running in 2009 when the light-rail line opens.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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