Seattle metropolitan area

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Seattle metropolitan area
Seattle–Tacoma–Bellevue, WA MSA
Downtown Seattle as seen from Kerry Park in October 2019
Downtown Seattle as seen from Kerry Park in October 2019
Map of Washington state with the Seattle metropolitan area and combined statistical area highlighted
Map of the Seattle MSA, highlighted in teal; the Seattle CSA is highlighted in gold
Coordinates: 47°29′N 121°50′W / 47.49°N 121.83°W / 47.49; -121.83
Country United States
State Washington
Counties (MSA)King, Pierce, Snohomish
Largest citySeattle (762,500)
Other cities
Government
 • Congressional districts1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th
Area
 • Total6,308.67 sq mi (16,339.4 km2)
 • Land5,869.72 sq mi (15,202.5 km2)
 • Water438.95 sq mi (1,136.9 km2)
Highest elevation
Mount Rainier
14,411 ft (4,392 m)
Lowest elevation
Sea level
0 ft (0 m)
Population
 • Total4,018,762
 • Rank15th in the U.S.
 • Density685/sq mi (264/km2)
GDP
 • MSA$517.803 billion (2022)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific (PST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP Code prefixes[4]
980, 981, 982, 983, 984
Area codes206, 253, 360, 425, 564
FIPS code[5]53-42660

The Seattle metropolitan area is an urban conglomeration in the U.S. state of Washington that comprises Seattle, its surrounding satellites and suburbs. Under the definition by the United States Census Bureau for the Seattle–Tacoma–Bellevue, WA metropolitan statistical area, it contains the three most populous counties in the state: King, Pierce, and Snohomish. Seattle has the 15th largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the United States with a population of 4,018,762 as of the 2020 census, over half of Washington's total population.

The area is considered part of the greater Puget Sound region, which largely overlaps with the Seattle Combined Statistical Area (CSA). The Seattle metropolitan area is home to a large tech industry and is the headquarters of several major companies, including Microsoft and Amazon. The area's geography is varied and includes the lowlands around Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains; the highest peak in the metropolitan area is Mount Rainier, which has a summit elevation of 14,411 feet (4,392 m) and is one of the tallest mountains in the United States.

Definition[edit]

Downtown Seattle seen from Bainbridge Island

As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget, the Seattle metropolitan area is officially the Seattle–Tacoma–Bellevue, WA metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and consists of:[6][7]

Based on commuting patterns, the adjacent metropolitan areas of Olympia, Bremerton, and Mount Vernon, along with a few smaller satellite urban areas, are grouped together in a wider labor market region known as the Seattle–Tacoma combined statistical area (CSA), which encompasses most of the Puget Sound region.[7][8] The population of this wider region was 4,953,389 at the 2020 census and estimated to be 4,982,019 in 2022;[9] the Puget Sound region is home to two-thirds of Washington's population.[10] The Seattle CSA is the 14th largest in the United States and the 13th largest primary census statistical area in the country.[9] The additional metropolitan and micropolitan areas included are:[7]

Establishment and expansion[edit]

The Census Bureau adopted metropolitan districts in the 1910 census to create a standard definition for urban areas with industrial activity around a central city.[11] At the time, Seattle had the 22nd largest metropolitan district population at 239,269 people, a 195.8 percent from the population of the equivalent area in the 1900 census.[12] The Seattle metropolitan district was expanded to encompass the entirety of Lake Washington in the 1930 census and also included Edmonds in Snohomish County, Des Moines in southern King County, and portions of eastern Bainbridge Island in Kitsap County.[13] The district covered 209.9 square miles (544 km2), of which two-thirds was outside of Seattle proper, and counted a population of 420,663.[14]

The Seattle metropolitan area, successor to the metropolitan district, was expanded in 1949 to encompass all of King County but lose its portions in Kitsap and Snohomish counties. The local chamber of commerce and other leaders had lobbied for a definition that also included all of Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties in a manner similar to the Portland metropolitan area, which had been expanded to cover four counties in Oregon and southwestern Washington.[15][16] The Bureau of the Budget (now Office of Management and Budget) added Snohomish County to its definition of the Seattle metropolitan area in 1959. The definition had previously only encompassed King County; local leaders had sought to also include Pierce and Kitsap counties in a "Puget Sound metropolitan area".[17] Snohomish County had protested its inclusion and had sought a separate metropolitan area designation centered on Everett, which did not meet the population threshold of 50,000 residents.[18][19]

In the 1950 census, a separate metropolitan area for Tacoma was defined that encompassed all of Pierce County.[20][21] Kitsap County remained part of no metropolitan area despite its connections to both Seattle and Tacoma.[22] The Office of Management and Budget included the area in the Seattle–Tacoma standard consolidated statistical area in 1981;[23] it was replaced in 1983 by the Seattle–Tacoma consolidated metropolitan statistical area (CMSA).[24] The CMSA was expanded to include Bremerton and Olympia after the 1990 census and was the 12th largest in the country at the time.[25][26] The Office of Management and Budget restructured its classification system in 2003 and created the Seattle–Tacoma–Bellevue metropolitan statistical area to cover the tri-county region. A new Seattle–Tacoma–Olympia combined statistical area (CSA) replaced the CMSA and expanded to cover Island and Mason counties.[27][28] The Mount Vernon–Anacortes metropolitan area was created in 2003 to encompass Skagit County and added to the Seattle CSA in 2006;[29][30] the CSA was extended further south to Lewis County through the addition of the Centralia micropolitan area in 2013.[31]

Geography[edit]

The Seattle metropolitan area covers 6,309 square miles (16,340 km2) of land and water in Western Washington divided between the three counties;[1] King County is the largest county at over 2,115 square miles (5,480 km2), followed by Snohomish and Pierce counties.[32] The region includes portions of the Cascade Range and several active volcanoes, including Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak, which can generate lahars that reach populated areas.[33][34] The summit of Mount Rainier is the tallest point in Washington at 14,411 feet (4,392 m) above mean sea level;[32] it has 26 glaciers are visible from much of the region's lowlands.[33][35] To the west of the metropolitan area is Puget Sound, which forms the second-largest saltwater estuary in the United States and is part of the Salish Sea.[36]

Cities[edit]

Seattle
Tacoma
Bellevue
Kent
Everett
Principal cities[7]
Other cities[37]

Indian reservations[edit]

The Seattle metropolitan area is home to nine federally recognized tribes that belong to the indigenous Coast Salish peoples:[38]

The tribes have sovereign governments that have authority over their enrolled members and the Indian reservations that were established in the region.[38] The reservations were created through treaties with the federal government that were not consistently honored and often combined several tribes together;[39] they were also open to settlement by non-Indians.[40]

Military installations[edit]

The Puget Sound region has approximately 83,705 U.S. Department of Defense personnel, including active duty members of the military and civilian workers at United States Armed Forces bases.[41][42] Major facilities in the area include Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Pierce County, the largest military base on the West Coast with over 25,000 active duty soldiers;[43] Naval Station Everett in Snohomish County; and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Island County.[41][44] The Kitsap Peninsula—part of the Seattle CSA—is home to Naval Base Kitsap, which includes the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and Naval Submarine Base Bangor,[44] site of the third-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world with more than 1,100 warheads for submarines.[45]

The region also has several major companies that serve as defense contractors for the U.S. military, comprising most of Washington's $6.9 billion awarded in fiscal year 2022. The largest contractors in the Seattle area include Boeing, PacMed, and Microsoft.[41][46] The Veterans Health Administration has 110,000 enrolled patients in the Puget Sound region, which includes a large population of retirees.[47]

Demographics[edit]

Historical population
CensusPop.Note
18704,128
188011,616181.4%
1890123,443962.7%
1900189,51853.5%
1910464,659145.2%
1920601,09029.4%
1930706,22017.5%
1940775,8159.9%
19501,120,44844.4%
19601,428,80327.5%
19701,832,89628.3%
19802,093,11214.2%
19902,559,16422.3%
20003,043,87818.9%
20103,439,80913.0%
20204,018,76216.8%
2022 (est.)4,034,2480.4%
Calculated from county totals;[48]
U.S. Census estimates[9]

As of the 2020 census, there were 4,018,762 people in the three counties that form the Seattle metropolitan area, which comprises 52 percent of Washington's population.[2][49] It is the 15th largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States and among the fastest-growing in the country.[50] The overall population density was 685 inhabitants per square mile (264.5/km2). The population was 49.9% male and 50.1% female with a median age of 37.2 years old. The racial makeup of the metropolitan area was 60.1% White, 15.4% Asian, 6.1% Black, 1.1% Native American or Alaska Native, 1.1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 11.0% from two or more races, and 5.3% from other races. Hispanic or Latino residents of any race formed 11.2% of the population.[2]

There were 1,564,432 total households in the metropolitan area at the time of the 2020 census, of which 47.8% included a married couple, 8.1% included an unmarried cohabiting couple, 19.7% had a single male with no spouse or partner, and 24.4% single female with no spouse or partner. Out of all households, 29.8% had people under the age of 18 and 25.3% had people 65 years or older.[2] Approximately 18.3% of household residents were opposite-sex spouses, while 0.3% were same-sex spouses.[2]

According to a 2022 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 17 percent of adult residents in the Seattle metropolitan area identified as LGBTQ.[51] The region has one of the highest percentages of same-sex couples in the United States at 1.3 percent of households in the metropolitan area.[52]

Counties[edit]

King County is the largest of the three counties in the metropolitan area with 2,269,675 people in 2020, or 56 percent of the population of the Seattle area.[53]

Counties in the Seattle metropolitan area
County 2020 census[53] 2010 census[53] Change Area Density
King County 2,269,675 1,931,249 +17.52% 2,115.56 sq mi (5,479.3 km2) 1,035/sq mi (399/km2)
Pierce County 921,130 795,225 +15.83% 1,669.51 sq mi (4,324.0 km2) 552/sq mi (213/km2)
Snohomish County 827,957 713,335 +16.07% 2,087.27 sq mi (5,406.0 km2) 397/sq mi (153/km2)
Total 4,018,762 3,439,809 +16.83% 5,869.72 sq mi (15,202.5 km2) 685/sq mi (264/km2)

Religion[edit]

According to the Pew Research Center's 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the Seattle metropolitan area's religious affiliation is as follows:[54]

Religious composition 2014
Christian 52%
 —Evangelical Protestant 23%
 —Mainline Protestant 10%
 —Black Protestant 1%
Catholic 15%
Non-Christian Faiths 10%
 —Jewish 1%
 —Muslim < 1%
 —Buddhist 2%
 —Hindu 2%
Unaffiliated 37%
Don't know 1%

Income and wealth[edit]

The cost of living in the Seattle area ranks among the highest in the United States among urban areas, particularly for housing, services, and retail goods.[55] In 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that median household income for residents of the Seattle metropolitan area was $101,700, an 8.2 percent increase from 2019. It is the fourth-highest figure for any metropolitan area in the United States, behind San Jose, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.[56] The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that the per capita income of a Seattle metropolitan area resident was $92,113 in 2022;[57] the previous year, the region ranked tenth in the U.S. for per capita income.[58]

The area is home to several of the wealthiest people in the United States and the world by net worth. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos both held the title of world's richest person, as determined by Forbes, while living in the Eastside city of Medina.[59][60] Another Eastside suburb, Sammamish, has a median household income of $201,370—the second-highest among cities in the United States.[61]

Housing and homelessness[edit]

The Seattle area has a housing shortage that has contributed to affordability issues in the early 21st century, particularly due to demand outpacing construction of new units.[62] The metropolitan area had the seventh highest number of new units built among large cities in 2016, of which 63 percent were in multifamily buildings.[63] The state legislature passed a new housing law in 2023 that allow for medium-density units in areas of all cities that supersede local zoning regulations; the new law could allow for 75,000 to 150,000 new units in the region, but exempts certain pre-existing homeowner associations and other contract-based communities.[64][65] As of April 2023, the median price for a single-family home was $722,000 and the median rent for a one-bedroom unit is $1,505 across the metropolitan area.[66][67] In King County, an estimated 309,000 new units are needed by 2044 to handle anticipated growth.[68] As of the 2020 census, the Seattle metropolitan area had 1,650,246 total housing units, of which 94.8% were occupied. Of the 85,814 vacant units, 41.1% were for rent, 4.4% were rented but not occupied, 10.1% were for sale, 5.1% had been sold but not yet occupied, and 16.9% were designated for seasonal or recreational use.[2]

King County has the third largest population of homeless or unsheltered people in the United States according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).[69] The agency's January 2023 report, based on the point-in-time count system, estimates 14,149 people in the county have experienced homelessness;[70] the King County Regional Homelessness Authority adopted a different methodology based on the number of people seeking services and estimated that 53,532 people in the county had been homeless at some point in 2022.[69][71] According to a survey collected by service providers for the county government, 68.5 percent of respondents said they last had stable housing in King County and 10.8 percent had lived elsewhere in the state.[72] Approximately 57 percent of the homeless population counted by HUD in King County was classified as unsheltered, either living in vehicles, encampments in public spaces, or other places.[73] The number of unsheltered individuals increased significantly in the late 2010s, leading to clearing of encampments and other structures by local governments.[74][75]

The county has 5,115 emergency shelter beds and tiny house villages, of which 67 percent are in the city of Seattle.[76] Additional shelters, parking lots, and encampment sites are operated by charity organizations and churches in the area;[77] during severe weather events such as heat waves and cold snaps, local governments open additional shelter spaces, but often reach capacity.[78] In 2021, a total of $123 million was spent on homelessness services by local governments in King County, including cities and the regional authority.[76] The regional authority's five-year plan, released in 2023, estimates that $8 billion in capital costs would be required to build and staff 18,205 new units of temporary and transitional housing to address the homelessness crisis.[79]

The January 2023 point-in-time survey conducted in Pierce County identified 2,148 people who were experiencing homelessness, of whom 59 percent were in shelters and 21 percent were unsheltered—either outdoors or in vehicles.[80][81] The city of Tacoma has 1,225 shelter beds and 137 permanent housing units as of 2022; the city government plans to temporarily increase shelter capacity while transitioning to more permanent and long-term housing for homeless people.[82] In Snohomish County, 1,285 homeless individuals in 1,028 households were identified in the January 2023 survey; of them, 594 were in shelters and 691 were unsheltered.[83] Approximately 1,500 students in the Everett School District, the county's largest school system, were identified as homeless in 2022.[84] The county has 683 year-round shelter beds and increases capacity during inclement weather; the county government purchased two former motels in 2022 to provide an additional 130 rooms.[85]

Economy[edit]

The Port of Seattle, part of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, is a major container port and trade hub

The region had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $517.8 billion in 2022, the tenth-highest in the United States.[3] In the same year, the Seattle area also had a GDP per capita of $128,316, the third-highest figure among large metropolitan areas in the United States behind San Jose and San Francisco.[86] As of November 2023, the largest employment sector is professional and business services, with approximately 401,200 employees, followed by trade, transportation, and utilities (369,100), education and health services (318,400), and government (276,700). A total of 2,181,500 jobs are available in non-farm sectors in the Seattle metropolitan area; the unemployment rate was 3.5% in November 2022 and 4.0% in November 2023.[87] The average weekly wage was $1,868 across the metropolitan area in mid-2023, compared to $1,332 nationally;[87] the region has some of the highest hourly minimum wages in the United States, ranging from the state minimum of $16.28 to $19.97 in Seattle for large employers and $20.29 in Tukwila as of 2024.[88]

Seattle is noted for its technology industry, which developed in the late 20th century and grew significantly with the development of Microsoft and Amazon.[89] The industry has 290,000 workers based in the Seattle area, ranking second nationally behind the San Francisco Bay Area, and comprises 13 percent of the regional workforce;[90][91] from 2005 to 2017, Seattle was one of five metropolitan areas that had 90 percent of the new technology jobs created in the United States.[92] Amazon is the largest private employer in the region, having grown from fewer than 5,000 local employees in 2009 to approximately 60,000 in 2020;[93] Microsoft, the second-largest tech employer in the region with 57,000 employees as of 2021,[94] has several subsidiary video game studios in the region. The Eastside is also home to developer and distributor Valve, Bungie, and Nintendo of America.[95] Since the late 2000s, the area has also become home to satellite offices for Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Meta, and Salesforce.[96][97] Seattle has historically had few venture capital firms to invest in startups until the 2010s with the advent of new companies founded by alumni of older tech companies in the area;[98] in the early 2020s, several Seattle-area startups were labeled unicorns with a valuation of at least $1 billion.[99]

The region also has a large aerospace industry that is dominated by Boeing, historically the largest employer in Washington state with 60,244 workers as of 2022.[100] The company has major commercial jetliner assembly plants in Everett and Renton alongside testing facilities in Seattle and smaller component manufacturers in other areas.[101][102] The Boeing Everett Factory is the world's largest building by volume and is the assembly site of the 747, 767 and 777 programs, including their variants, alongside most 787s.[103] The company was headquartered in Seattle until their move to Chicago in 2001; in subsequent years, widebody production of the 787 was moved to Charleston, South Carolina.[102] The Seattle region is also home to several startup electric aircraft and component manufacturers, including Eviation and MagniX, who emerged in the 2010s.[104] The decade also saw the establishment of several space technology companies in the area, including Kent-based Blue Origin, Vulcan Aerospace, and satellite offices for SpaceX;[105] the industry has 13,000 jobs in the Puget Sound region as of 2022.[106]

The region is major hub for international trade and handles most of Washington's exports, which totaled $78 billion in 2018, through three major seaports on Puget Sound.[107] The Northwest Seaport Alliance was formed in 2015 to enable cooperation between the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma, rival public ports situated 32 miles (51 km) apart.[108] The two ports combine to form the fourth largest container port in the United States and has the second largest concentration of warehouse space on the West Coast.[109][110] The independent Port of Everett is a smaller port but handles exports of a similar value to Seattle and Tacoma due to its proximity to the Boeing Everett Factory.[111] Other maritime industries in the area include shipbuilding and commercial fishing,[32] particularly boat fleets based in Seattle that travel annually to the northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea near Alaska.[112][113]

The city has a major coffee retail industry that developed in the 1970s and 1980s and spawned several chains that remain headquartered in Seattle, including Starbucks and Tully's Coffee.[114] Seattle had the third-most coffee shops per capita in 2019 among U.S. cities, including independent shops and other roasters.[115] The city proper serves as the headquarters for other major companies in various industries, including online travel agency Expedia and wood producer Weyerhaeuser. National retailers REI and Nordstrom were also founded in Seattle and remain headquartered in the area.[107][116] Bellevue is home to the head offices of truck manufacturer Paccar, telecom network T-Mobile US, and clothing retailer Eddie Bauer.[117] Warehouse retailer Costco is headquartered in Issaquah and has more than a dozen locations in the Seattle area.[118] The region has several large shopping centers that range from traditional enclosed malls like Alderwood Mall and Westfield Southcenter to newer outdoor designs such as University Village.[119][120] While suburban areas have had few retail vacancies since the COVID-19 pandemic, Downtown Seattle has had a slower recovery with a vacancy rate of nearly 14 percent as of late 2023.[121][122] In the retail grocery sector, the most popular supermarket chains in the region are owned by Kroger (Fred Meyer and QFC) and the Albertsons Companies (Albertsons, Safeway), alongside warehouse retailers like Costco.[123]

Tourism[edit]

Aerial view of Pike Place Market, the most-visited tourist attraction in Seattle

The Seattle area is a tourist destination, especially during the summer months, for domestic and international visitors. The metropolitan area's tourism industry employed 209,000 residents in early 2020, later reduced to 181,000 by 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[124] In 2022, an estimated 33.9 million visitors in Seattle and King County spent $7.4 billion;[125] the region had reached a peak of 41.9 million visitors in 2019.[126] Pike Place Market in Downtown Seattle, a large public market with more than 220 shops and restaurants,[127] draws 10 million annual visitors and is among the most-visited tourist attractions in the world.[128] Other major attractions in Seattle include the Space Needle, the Seattle Center Monorail, Seattle Great Wheel, the Amazon Spheres, the Seattle Underground Tour, and the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood.[124][126] The city is also home to three cruise ship terminals operated by the Port of Seattle that serve excursions through the Inside Passage to Alaska.[129] An estimated 1.8 million passengers visited Seattle on 291 departures during the 2023 summer season with an estimated economic impact of $900 million.[130][131]

The region has several convention centers that are able to host large events, such as trade shows, fan conventions, corporate meetings, and conferences. The first portion of the Seattle Convention Center (formerly the Washington State Convention Center) was built over Interstate 5 and opened in 1988;[132] it expanded to a second building in 2023 to meet growing demand for event space in Downtown Seattle.[133] The convention center can hold simultaneous events and has over 1.5 million square feet (140,000 m2) of exhibition and meeting space.[134] Its largest annual events include PAX West (formerly the Penny Arcade Expo), Emerald City Comic Con, Sakura-Con, and the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which each attract over 10,000 attendees.[135] Smaller convention centers in the area include the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, the Lynnwood Event Center, and the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.[136][137]

The areas outside of Seattle proper attract fewer tourists and draw largely from local and regional visitors. In Snohomish County, a majority of visitors in 2019 were from Western Washington and included a large number from within the metropolitan area.[138] Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county's largest tourist attraction was the Future of Flight Aviation Center adjacent to Paine Field, which offered tours of the nearby Boeing Everett Factory and drew 300,000 annual visitors.[139] Pierce County had 8.8 million visitors in 2021 and estimated that they spent a total of $1.4 billion.[140] Mount Rainier National Park, located mostly in the county, had 2.3 million visitors in 2022—primarily between July and September.[141]

Government and politics[edit]

The Seattle MSA comprises three counties, nine federally recognized tribes, and 77 municipalities classified as cities or towns, each with their own governments.[142] These include 39 municipalities in King County, 23 in Pierce County, and 20 in Snohomish County; several cities also extend beyond the borders of a single county.[143] Approximately 71 percent of Puget Sound region residents live in an incorporated city or town; the rest are in unincorporated areas under the direct jurisdiction of counties, which act as the local government.[144][145] These developed unincorporated areas generally lie within the urban growth areas for existing cities that could annex them or in county-designated areas that would allow communities to vote for incorporation.[146][147]

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the designated metropolitan planning organization for the Seattle MSA and Kitsap County, has voluntary membership from 82 municipalities, four tribes, four public ports, and six public transit operators.[144][148] It maintains a long-range plan for population growth, economic development, and regional transportation that is overseen by an executive board and general assembly of all members.[142][144] The organization also distributes state and federal funding for projects within the four-county area.[149] Other inter-county organizations include special districts and regional authorities for transit, libraries, and firefighting.[143]

The Seattle MSA is part of seven congressional districts (the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th) that each elect a member of the United States House of Representatives.[150] The boundaries are redrawn every 10 years by the state's independent redistricting commission based on the results of the decennial census.[151] The 8th district is the only one to span all three counties, taking the rural eastern portions and including areas east of the Cascade Mountains.[152] According to the 2022 Cook Partisan Voting Index, six of the congressional districts lean towards Democratic candidates while the 8th district is even between both major parties.[153] In the state legislature, the metropolitan area is part of 28 districts that each elect two House members to a two-year term and one senator to a four-year term.[154][155] By the 2021 session, almost all legislative districts in the region were represented solely by Democrats in the Senate and House, with the exception of exurban districts.[156]

Transportation[edit]

Airports[edit]

Aerial view of Seattle–Tacoma International Airport prior to construction of the third runway

The largest airport in the region is Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, a major international airport that serves as a commercial hub for Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines.[157] It is operated by the Port of Seattle and lies between Seattle and Tacoma; both cities contributed financially to its construction, which was completed in 1944 for military use and later expanded for commercial aviation.[158] Sea-Tac served 46 million passengers in 2022 and was the 11th busiest airport in the United States and 21st busiest in the world by passenger volume.[159] As of 2023, the airport has 91 domestic destinations and 28 international destinations in North America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.[160][161]

The area's other conventional passenger airport is Paine Field in Everett, 30 miles (48 km) north of Downtown Seattle. The airport is owned by the Snohomish County government and primarily used for general aviation and various industries, including the nearby Boeing Everett Factory. The passenger terminal, operated by a private company, opened in 2019 and serves domestic destinations, primarily in the Western United States.[162] As of 2023, Alaska Airlines is the sole airline at Paine Field and serves up to eleven destinations during peak seasons.[160]

Proposals to build a reliever airport for Sea-Tac were investigated in the 1990s prior to the decision to build a third runway at the airport to handle increased traffic.[163] The state legislature convened a new commission in 2019 to search for a suitable site for a reliever airport, which could include expansion of Paine Field or construction of an outlying airport by 2040.[164] The commission identified four sites in the southern Puget Sound region but was dissolved before a final recommendation due to public opposition to a new airport.[165]

Limited passenger service is also available from Boeing Field in Seattle, which primarily serves cargo and charter traffic.[161][166] Kenmore Air, a passenger floatplane operator, serves two airports in the area: the Kenmore Air Harbor Seaplane Base on Lake Union in Seattle and Kenmore Air Harbor on Lake Washington in Kenmore.[167] The metropolitan area's other general use airports include Arlington Municipal Airport in northern Snohomish County;[168] Bremerton National Airport in Kitsap County;[169] the privately-owned Harvey Airfield in Snohomish;[170] and Renton Municipal Airport, adjacent to Lake Washington and the Boeing Renton Factory.[171]

Roads and highways[edit]

The Seattle area has a grid-based road system that originates at designated points in each of the three counties; streets and roads are numbered from this origin point with cardinal directions as prefixes or suffixes.[172] The origin for the King County grid is 1st Avenue and Main Street in Downtown Seattle; from there, numbers increase outward until they reach the county border and reset.[172][173] The northernmost street in King County is 205th Street Northeast, which runs along the county line and is known as 244th Street Southwest in Snohomish County.[174][175] Cities are permitted to have separate numbering and naming systems for streets,[172] including retaining older names prior to the harmonization of street numbers following the adoption of a countywide 911 system in the late 20th century.[176][177]

In addition to streets and roads under the jurisdiction of the local and county governments, the state legislature designates a network of state highways that are maintained by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).[178][179] These highways are primarily funded by the state government through a fuel tax and annual fees on vehicle registration that are collected by other departments.[180][181] Several highways connect beyond the Puget Sound region, including crossings of the Cascade Mountains through mountain passes—of which three have winter access during normal weather.[182] Some city streets in the state highway system, such as Aurora Avenue North on State Route 99 (SR 99), have shared jurisdiction or ownership between WSDOT and local governments.[183][184]

The state highway system comprises undivided highways as well as controlled-access freeways,[185] which include several routes on the national Interstate Highway System that cover a total of 182 miles (293 km) in the Seattle metropolitan area.[186][187] These freeways were built by the state government in the 20th century to conform with standards set by the Federal Highway Administration and are numbered as part of a national scheme.[188][189] The main West Coast freeway, Interstate 5 (I-5), travels through the region and serves the cities of Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett; its busiest section in Downtown Seattle carried 274,000 vehicles on an average day in 2016, while approximately 2.6 billion person miles were traveled on the corridor between Federal Way and Everett in 2017.[190][191] The only east–west Interstate in the area is I-90, which connects Seattle to Bellevue, Issaquah, and Eastern Washington via Snoqualmie Pass.[182] I-5 has two auxiliary routes in the region: I-405, which serves the Eastside and functions as a bypass of Seattle;[192] and I-705, a short spur into Downtown Tacoma that opened in 1990.[193]

Other major freeways in the area include SR 16 from Tacoma to the Kitsap Peninsula; SR 18 from Federal Way to Snoqualmie; SR 167 from Puyallup to Renton; SR 509 from SeaTac to Seattle; SR 520 from Seattle to Redmond; SR 522 from Bothell to Monroe; and U.S. Route 2 (US 2) from Everett to Snohomish.[185][194] Plans for a larger network of freeways and expressways were drawn in the 1950s and 1960s, but were later cancelled or downsized due to public outcry and budget issues. Among the cancelled projects were the R.H. Thomson Expressway in eastern Seattle, the Bay Freeway in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, and an outer bypass of the Eastside unofficially named Interstate 605 that was proposed several times.[195] The highway system includes several of the longest floating bridges in the world due to the depth of local water bodies and their soft silt, which make conventional bridge designs more challenging.[196] Lake Washington has three of the bridges: a pair carries separate directions of I-90, while the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge carries SR 520 and is the world's longest floating bridge at 7,700 feet (2,300 m).[196][197] The SR 520 floating bridge is one of two toll bridges in the area, along with the eastbound span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on SR 16, which was constructed with toll revenue.[198] The toll bridges and the State Route 99 tunnel in Seattle use the Good to Go electronic toll system, which charges based on a transponder or by reading a vehicle's license plate with fees collected by mail.[199]

The region's freeway system includes a network of high-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV lanes) to encourage use of mass transit and carpools during peak periods;[200] the lanes also include bypasses at ramp meters and special ramps at some interchanges.[201][202] As of 2018, 250 miles (400 km) of the planned 369 miles (594 km) in the network have been constructed and carry 38 percent of all freeway miles traveled.[190] it was the third-largest system of HOV lanes among U.S. metropolitan areas in 2008.[203] A 40-mile (64 km) section of HOV lanes on I-405 and SR 167 are planned to converted to high-occupancy toll lanes (HOT lanes) by the late 2020s.[204] The Good to Go system is used to collect tolls for single-occupant vehicles in the lanes and are set by variable demand with a maximum of $15; vehicles with three or more people are exempt from the toll with a compatible transponder.[205]

Railroads[edit]

The region is served by two Class I railroads primarily used for freight: BNSF Railway, which owns several lines that connect the north–south I-5 corridor and across the Cascade Mountains; and the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns a short section from Tukwila to Tacoma and has operating rights on other BNSF lines.[206] Amtrak operates intercity passenger trains on these railroads with stations in the Seattle metropolitan area. The Cascades serves the Portland–Seattle–Vancouver corridor with multiple trips per day; the Coast Starlight operates daily service to Oregon and California from King Street Station in Seattle; and the Empire Builder connects the region to Eastern Washington and Chicago.[206] The Cascades travels along the Pacific Northwest Corridor, a designated study corridor for potential high-speed rail service.[206][207]

Mass transit[edit]

The Seattle metropolitan area has seven major transit agencies that provide public transportation across several modes, including buses, light rail, commuter rail, and ferries. Most transit modes in the region use the ORCA card, a smart fare card system introduced in 2009.[208][209] Fares are discounted for people aged 65 or older or those with disabilities; since 2022, all fares for passengers 18 years old and younger have been waived as part of a state program.[210] According to 2019 estimates from the American Community Survey, approximately 10.7 percent of workers in the Seattle metropolitan area used public transit to commute—the sixth most per capita among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.[211] The high ridership, particularly for buses in the 2010s, was attributed to subsidized fares and other benefits offered by large employers for commuters.[212]

Sound Transit is a regional authority that manages Link light rail, Sounder commuter rail, and Sound Transit Express buses on freeways.[213] It was created in 1993 and has a district covers 1,000 square miles (2,600 km2) and 2.9 million people across 50 municipalities.[214] Link, the regional rapid transit system, carried 23.9 million passengers in 2022 on its two lines: the 1 Line from Seattle to SeaTac, and the T Line in Tacoma.[213][215] Sound Transit's major capital projects funded by several sources, including property taxes and fees on motor vehicle registrations, that are enabled by ballot initiatives approved by voters in 1996, 2008, and 2016.[214][216] The light rail system plans to expand to 116 miles (187 km) by 2045 and cover several major corridors at a total cost of $149 billion.[216] Other local rail systems include the Seattle Streetcar network, which comprises two lines,[217] and the Seattle Center Monorail, a popular tourist attraction that carries 2 million riders annually.[218]

The largest local transit agency is King County Metro, which operates buses, paratransit, vanpools, and rideshare in King County. It also operates an electric trolleybus network in Seattle as well as the city's streetcar system.[219] Metro is one of the bus agencies in the United States by ridership, carrying 63.6 million annual passengers in 2022.[215] Snohomish County has two transit providers: Community Transit, which serves most of the county and also operates commuter express service to Seattle; and Everett Transit, which serves the city.[220] Other providers include Pierce Transit in Tacoma and Pierce County; Kitsap Transit in Kitsap County;[221] and Intercity Transit in Olympia and Thurston County, which operates fare-free.[222]

Ferries[edit]

MV Suquamish, an automobile ferry part of the Washington State Ferries fleet, on the Mukilteo–Clinton route

The state-run Washington State Ferries system is the largest maritime transit system in the United States and carries both passengers and vehicles as an extension of the state highway system; it also serves as a tourist attraction in addition to its role as a commuter mode.[223][224] The ferries carried 17.4 million passengers and 8.6 million vehicles in 2022; prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and service cuts, it had carried 25 million annual passengers.[225][226] The system was created in 1951 after a state takeover of the Puget Sound Navigation Company's main lines in the region.[223] Colman Dock in Downtown Seattle is the system's main hub and is served by routes from Bainbridge Island and Bremerton.[227] Vashon Island has two terminals at opposite ends of the island: the north terminal is used by the Southworth–Vashon–Fauntleroy triangle service that connects east to West Seattle; and the south terminal at Tahlequah is part of the Point Defiance–Tahlequah route from Tacoma.[228] Two routes serve Snohomish County: the Edmonds–Kingston run connects to the Kitsap Peninsula and the Mukilteo–Clinton run travels to Whidbey Island.[229] The Pierce County government operates the Steilacoom–Anderson Island ferry with automobile service to two island communities in southern Puget Sound.[230]

The King County Marine Division operates the King County Water Taxi, a passenger ferry service that connects Downtown Seattle to West Seattle and Vashon Island.[231] The Vashon Island run was formerly a passenger ferry operated by Washington State Ferries from 1990 until 2006, when the state government cut its funding; the county government later acquired the service under a new ferry district.[232] The passenger-only Kitsap Fast Ferries system operated by Kitsap Transit connects a terminal near Colman Dock to three terminals on the Kitsap Peninsula.[233] Kitsap Transit launched the system's first route, Seattle–Bremerton, in 2017 to provide a faster alternative to the existing state ferry run; it expanded using a fleet of catamarans designed for low wakes.[234] The agency also runs a passenger-only foot ferry between Bremerton and two terminals in Port Orchard using the historic Carlisle II and other boats.[235][236] The Port of Everett runs a seasonal passenger ferry between Everett and Jetty Island in Possession Sound.[237] These services are similar to that of the historic Mosquito Fleet, a collective name for passenger ferries operated on Puget Sound from the 1880s to 1920s.[238]

In addition to public operators, several private ferry and excursion services are based in the Seattle area. The Victoria Clipper connects Downtown Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, via an international passenger ferry.[239] Argosy Cruises operates sightseeing cruises in Elliott Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Canal; from 2009 to 2021, the company also operated Tillicum Village, a performance and culinary cruise on Blake Island.[240]

Utilities[edit]

The Gorge Dam on the Skagit River, a hydroelectric dam operated by Seattle City Light

There are six electric utilities that distribute electricity to customers in a local market within the Seattle metropolitan area.[241] They draw most of their electric power from hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest, along with wind, natural gas, and coal.[242][243] In 2020, these utilities generated or sold over 43,019,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, of which 52 percent was from hydroelectric sources.[244] The largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, is a private company that covers most of King County and portions of Pierce County; as of 2022, it derives half of its electricity from coal and natural gas.[242][245] The company is one of two non-government providers alongside the Peninsula Light Company, a non-profit cooperative on the Key Peninsula.[241][246] The remaining local providers, Seattle City Light, the Snohomish County Public Utility District, and Tacoma Power, are public utilities who are also members of the Energy Northwest consortium.[247] They generate their own electricity and also purchase it from the federal Bonneville Power Administration, which operates 31 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.[248] The cost of electricity in the metropolitan area is approximately 25 percent below the average for the United States due to its reliance on hydroelectricity;[249] as of 2019, the average price of electricity ranged from 7.9 cents per kilowatt-hour in Tacoma to 10.2 cents for Puget Sound Energy customers.[250]

The region derives most of its tap water from sources in the Cascade Mountains that are fed by melted snowpack that accumulate during the autumn and winter and fill reservoirs as they melt.[251] The water is collected and treated by three major public utilities that distribute it for consumption: the City of Everett manages the water supply for most of Snohomish County, which is derived from Spada Lake on the Sultan River; Seattle Public Utilities serves 1.3 million people in King County and has two major water sources on the Cedar and Tolt rivers;[252] and Tacoma Public Utilities uses the upper Green River in King County to serve Pierce County and portions of southern King County.[241]: 7.6 [253] The utilities and other providers also rely on groundwater wells that draw from a series of underground aquifers in the region, but their use has diminished since the mid-20th century.[241]: 6.7 [254] The treatment process generally includes the addition of water fluoridation and the use of chlorine as well as ozone or ultraviolet light disinfection.[255][256]

Wastewater is collected locally and sent through sewers and pump stations to regional treatment facilities to be discharged into local waterways, primarily Puget Sound.[241]: 7.4 [257] The combined sewer system in older areas, including most of Seattle, also carries untreated stormwater that is dumped with wastewater during overflow events;[258] cities and utilities have undertaken projects to build separate stormwater tunnels and holding tanks to address the issue.[259] Solid waste is collected from curbside bins and dumpsters by local governments or contracted out to companies including Waste Management, Allied Waste, Republic Services, and Recology.[260][261] County and city governments also operate collection and distribution sites to sort waste before it is sent to a regional landfill or by rail to a waste-to-energy plant.[262][263] The curbside collection service also includes recycling pickup, which Seattle began in 1988,[264] which is sorted and processed locally and overseas.[265] In 2015, curbside collection of food waste for composting began mandatory in Seattle after the program was expanded from commercial establishments to all households.[266] Various cities in the metropolitan area banned single-use plastic bags and imposing charges on reusable or paper bags from 2009 onward,[267] ahead of a statewide ban that took effect in 2021.[268]

Residential and commercial central heating systems in the metropolitan area are primarily supplied by electricity or natural gas, with some parts of Seattle using steam district heating.[269][270] Puget Sound Energy provides natural gas to approximately 850,000 residents in the three metropolitan counties but has announced plans to transition to electric heating under new state regulations.[245][271] Natural gas, primarily sourced from Canada and states in the Rocky Mountains,[272] and petroleum are transported through a series of pipelines that travel along the Interstate 5 corridor in Western Washington.[273] The region is also served by oil refineries that primarily receive crude oil from Alaska via ship and from North Dakota via freight trains that pass through the Seattle area.[274] The local refineries produce gasoline and diesel fuel that is primarily used for transportation; prices for gasoline in the Seattle metropolitan area is among the highest in the United States, averaging 45 cents higher than the national average from 2017 to 2021, due to a more limited wholesale market.[275] The region historically had the lowest number of households using air conditioning in their homes in the U.S. due to the temperate summer climate. A series of major heat waves in the late 2010s and 2020s contributed to the number of households with air conditioning to increase from 31 percent to over 53 percent by 2021.[276][277]

The Seattle metropolitan area has several broadband and fiber-optic internet service providers, including CenturyLink, Charter Spectrum, Comcast Xfinity, Wave Broadband, and Ziply Fiber;[278][279] approximately 85 percent of households in the metropolitan area had access to broadband internet service in 2014.[280] Comcast Xfinity has the largest market coverage in the area, with 95 percent of households in 2015, with little overlap with competitors.[281] The Seattle area is also served by the three major cellular network companies in the U.S., including Bellevue-based T-Mobile US, and has had 5G coverage since the late 2010s.[282][283] The region is part of five area codes under the North American Numbering Plan: 206 in Seattle; 253 in Tacoma and the southern Puget Sound region; 360 for most of Western Washington; 425 in the Eastside and southern Snohomish County; and 564 as an overlay for the region introduced in 2017.[284] Area code 206 was originally assigned to all of Western Washington until it was split in the 1990s with the introduction of new local area codes.[285]

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