Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

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Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
Link train at International District-Chinatown Station.jpg
The first Central Link Light Rail trains are test run in the tunnel
Line Central Link, Metro 41, 71, 72, 73, 74, 76, 77, 101, 102, 106, 150, 216, 218, 219, 255, 316, STE 550
Location Downtown Seattle
Coordinates 47°35′56″N 122°19′41″W / 47.599°N 122.328°W / 47.599; -122.328Coordinates: 47°35′56″N 122°19′41″W / 47.599°N 122.328°W / 47.599; -122.328
System King County Metro bus and Sound Transit Central Link light rail
Start 9th Avenue and Pike Street
End 5th Avenue S. and S. Jackson Street
No. of stations 5
Work begun March 6, 1987[1]
Opened September 15, 1990 (bus service)
July 18, 2009 (Link Light Rail)
Rebuilt September 24, 2005 - September 24, 2007 (conversion to bus/rail joint service)
Owner King County Metro Transit[2]
Operator King County Metro, Sound Transit
Traffic Bus, light rail
Length 1.3-mile (2.1 km)

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, also referred to as the Metro Bus Tunnel, is a 1.3-mile (2.1 km) public transit tunnel that runs the length of downtown Seattle, from 9th Avenue and Pike Street to 5th Avenue S. and S. Jackson Street. Approved by Metro Transit in 1983,[3] construction began in 1987.[4] It was completed and service began in 1990, at a total cost of $455 million.[4] In May 2000, the King County Council transferred ownership to Sound Transit,[5] but ownership was transferred back to King County Metro in 2002.[2]

The tunnel was closed on September 24, 2005 for modification to accommodate both buses and Sound Transit's Central Link light rail trains on a shared alignment. Prior to closure, around two dozen bus routes ran through the tunnel. The buses were dual-powered, operating as trolleybuses in the tunnel using electricity from overhead wires and as diesel buses on city streets. It reopened on Monday, September 24, 2007.[6] The two-year closure included retrofits for light rail and other operating system upgrades. A stub tunnel, branching from the main tunnel, was constructed under Pine Street between 7th and Boren Avenues to allow light rail trains to stop and reverse direction and for future extension of Central Link.[7]

Due to the conversion to light rail, dual-mode trolleybuses can no longer operate in the tunnel. Those buses have already been replaced by Metro's current new fleet of hybrid buses, which produce fewer emissions than standard diesel buses, and, unlike the trolleybuses, require no connection to overhead wires.[8]

Since the floor of the tunnel was lowered for the light rail, bus mirrors are now at head height, and there have been concerns that they may strike passengers waiting on the platform. To prevent this, the mirror on the platform side of the bus are equipped with flashing lights and the speed limit in stations has been lowered from 15 to 10 mph (24 to 16 km/h).[9]


In addition to Central Link Light Rail, the tunnel is used by 17 bus routes (8 routes only operate on weekdays in the peak direction only), that stop at 4 different bays organized by direction:[10]

Bay A (Northbound)[edit]

  • King County Metro 41 (Northgate, Lake City)
  • King County Metro 71 (U-District, Wedgwood)
  • King County Metro 72 (U-District, Lake City)
  • King County Metro 73 (U-District, Jackson Park)
  • King County Metro 74 (U-District, Sand Point) (weekday, peak hours only)
  • King County Metro 76 (I-5/NE 65th St, Wedgwood) (weekday, peak hours only)
  • King County Metro 77 (Maple Leaf, North City) (weekday, peak hours only)
  • King County Metro 316 (Green Lake/I-5, Meridian Park) (weekday, peak hours only)

Bay B (Eastbound via SR-520)[edit]

  • King County Metro 255 (Kirkland, Brickyard P&R)

Bay C (Southbound)[edit]

Bay D (Eastbound via I-90)[edit]

The tunnel is open Monday through Saturday, 5:00 am to 1:00 am (05:00 to 01:00), and Sunday, 6:00 am to 12:00 midnight (06:00 to 00:00). Buses running outside tunnel operating hours are rerouted to nearby surface streets.[10]


The north portal is near 9th Avenue and Olive Way, with dual entry/exit ramps onto the Interstate 5 express lanes. The tunnel runs northeast-southwest under Pine Street, then turns left and runs northwest-southeast under 3rd Avenue for most of its length. The tunnel passes four feet below the Great Northern Tunnel.[11] The south portal is near 4th Avenue and Royal Brougham Way, where buses have dual entry/exit onto the Interstate 90 express lanes and the SoDo E-3 Busway. At the south portal, the light rail tracks split from the shared alignment onto their own right-of-way, which runs parallel to the SoDo Busway until just south of Lander Street.[citation needed]


The tunnel has five stations, from north to south:[12]

Station Location Notes
Convention Place 9th Avenue and Pine Street Serves Washington State Convention Center, Paramount Theatre, Federal Courthouse. Transfer to surface bus or cross Interstate 5 to Capitol Hill. Buses from south of the tunnel terminate and layover here. A future transit-oriented development site.[13]
Served only by buses.
Convention Place Station day.jpg
Westlake Pine Street between 3rd and 6th Avenues Serves Westlake Center, Seattle Center Monorail, South Lake Union Streetcar, Nordstrom, Macy's, Pike Place Market. Transfer to surface buses toward Belltown, Queen Anne Hill, Magnolia, Fremont, Shoreline, Green Lake, and Redmond.
Transit information and passes can be obtained from the Metro Customer Stop on the mezzanine level.
Northern terminus of the Central Link light rail.
At this point, the tunnel makes a left, and follows Third Avenue.
University Street 3rd Avenue between Union and Seneca Streets Serves Benaroya Hall, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Central Library, Main Post Office, Washington Mutual Tower. Transfer to surface buses toward First Hill UniversityStreetStation.jpg
Pioneer Square 3rd Avenue between Cherry Street and Yesler Way Serves Pioneer Square, King County Courthouse, King County and City of Seattle government offices, King County Jail, Washington State Ferries Colman Dock PioneerSquareMezzanine.jpg
International District/Chinatown 5th Avenue S. and S. Jackson Street Serves International District, King Street Station, Uwajimaya, Waterfront Streetcar, Metro and Sound Transit offices. Transfer to surface buses toward Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, Industrial District, SoDo, and the Eastside. Buses from north of the tunnel terminate and layover here. InternationalDistrictStation.jpg


  1. ^ "Metro transit begins excavating downtown Seattle transit tunnel on March 6, 1987.". 2000-10-01. Retrieved 2011-04-17. 
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ Gough, William (1983-11-04). "Metro Council OK's downtown transit tunnel". The Seattle Times, p. B1.
  4. ^ a b Crowley, Walt (2000-10-01). "Metro transit begins excavating downtown Seattle transit tunnel on March 6, 1987". Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  5. ^ "Council Agrees to Joint Operation of Transit Tunnel". 2003-02-06. Archived from the original on 2005-02-11. 
  6. ^ "Seattle bus tunnel set to reopen". KOMO News. 2007-09-18. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  7. ^ "Pine Street Stub Tunnel". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  8. ^ "Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and Changing Bus Technology". King County Metro. 2007-12-14. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  9. ^ Brown, Charles E. (2007-09-28). "The Bumper Connection: Tunnel Vision". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  10. ^ a b "Metro Bus Tunnel". October 30, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  11. ^ "Pioneer Square Station-the Pioneering Spirit". King County Metro. 2008-03-15. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  12. ^ "Metro Bus Tunnel Stations". King County Metro. 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  13. ^ "TOD projects and sites in King County". King County Department of Transportation. 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2009-05-30. [dead link]

External links[edit]