LYNNWOOD — Buses rolled by, cranes beeped and workers jackhammered during construction of a light rail station Tuesday, as elected leaders and Community Transit staff signaled the start of work on the new Swift Orange bus rapid transit line.
In two years, 60-foot articulated buses will cruise with up to 10-minute frequency over 11 miles between Edmonds College and Mill Creek.
“Behold the power of great infrastructure policy,” Community Transit CEO Ric Ilgenfritz told a large crowd before the ceremonial groundbreaking at the Lynnwood Transit Center.
In the crowd were Gov. Jay Inslee, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen, and state legislators including transportation committee chairmen Jake Fey and Marko Liias, who steered a nearly $17 billion transportation package this session.
Bus rapid transit is dubbed “rail on wheels” for its fast and frequent service. Like rail service, passengers pay before they board, which saves time. There also aren’t as many stops as traditional bus service.
Snohomish County has had Swift bus rapid transit since 2009, when the agency started its Blue line, mostly along Highway 99 between Everett and Shoreline. Swift Green launched in 2019 between Boeing at the Seaway Transit Center and Bothell.
It has been a popular service, comprising about 33% of all Community Transit rides. Ridership didn’t plummet like on general buses during the pandemic, according to the agency’s data.
The Orange line will have 13 stations in both directions between Edmonds College to the west and McCollum Park to the east. It should be 25% faster than existing local service, according to Community Transit.
When it starts in 2024, Swift Orange buses will connect with Sound Transit Link light rail at the Lynnwood Transit Center, also called the Lynnwood City Center. It will share some stations with the Green line along the Bothell-Everett Highway, and it intersects with the Blue line at 196th Street SW and Highway 99.
Traffic signal improvements and technology on the buses are included in the development to help secure trip reliability.
The $75.6 million capital project also includes construction of new transit centers at Edmonds College and McCollum Park. The Mill Creek park and ride lot will be demolished and rebuilt, Community Transit’s Christopher Silveira said.
Most of the Orange line’s money comes from federal grants to help build the stations and buy 15 New Flyer buses for Community Transit’s Swift fleet. Each of the 52-seat buses can carry 70 passengers and has three roll-up bike racks inside.
“Whether it’s a bus, a ferry or light rail, we love it,” said Nuria Fernandez, administrator for the Federal Transit Administration. “It’s about giving the taxpayer what they deserve, and that’s the best transportation system this county can offer.”
Cantwell and Murray said they would continue to support transit investments from the federal government.
The new vehicles will keep the same paint scheme as existing blue-and-green Swift buses. No orange stripe will join them, because each bus could be deployed to a different line.
Work is expected to start in two weeks, first at Edmonds College, then at the McCollum Park and Swamp Creek park and rides.
There are other Swift lines in early stages of development, including the Gold line north to Arlington, and a potential Silver line that would run east to Highway 9 at Cathcart Way. Those two lines each received $10 million in the legislature’s Move Ahead WA package.
“We’ve got many, many more Swift lines to build,” Liias said.