The U District Station opening in 2021 will also be redesigned to include stairs to the train platform instead of depending entirely on escalators like the UW and Capitol Hill Stations do currently.

Share story

Sound Transit has given up on its failure-prone escalators at University of Washington Station next to Husky Stadium, and says they’ll be replaced soon by a combination of stairs and stronger escalators.

In addition, the U District Station opening in 2021 will be redesigned to include stairs to the lower level where people board the trains — instead of depending entirely on escalators like the deep UW and Capitol Hill Stations do currently. That will be done through a change order to the contractors.

By March of next year, an emergency staircase at Capitol Hill Station will be converted to all-day public use, the agency also says.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

The cost at UW Station alone is expected to be at least $20 million. Better cost estimates are planned in early 2019.

The UW Station has a total 13 escalators that break down far more often than expected. Moises Gutierrez, deputy executive director for engineering and design, and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff each apologized to transit riders for the outages, during a board meeting on Thursday.

“Our customers deserve a better experience,” Gutierrez said.

That train stop, about 90 feet below the surface, was built in a compact area, where only two up escalators and two down escalators connect the mezzanine to the boarding level. Staircases exist at the far north and south ends, but those are behind closed doors and designed for emergencies.

On Thursday, the agency said the two down escalators to the lowest level will be replaced by permanent stairs between 2019 and 2022. But first, the lowest flights of the emergency stairs, between a mezzanine and the track level, will be converted to full-time use by March 2019, Gutierrez said.

That will remove the risk that riders would be stranded by escalator or elevator failures, he said. The board approved $750,000 Thursday for security cameras, software and devices for the stair conversion.

At the U District Station, it might cost $4 million to $5 million to add a central bank of stairs at the mezzanine, to supplement the escalators to the bottom, said Julie Montgomery, director of architecture and art.

Escalator failures started soon after the UW and Capitol Hill stations opened in March 2016. Perhaps the worst hassle occurred at UW Station on March 18 this year, when escalator failures caused afternoon crowd to wait 45 minutes or so at the plaza to use the elevators.

More recently, Husky football crowds were being rationed post game, to limit how many at a time may board an escalator.

This spring, Rogoff declared a policy to open the north-side emergency stairs when lower escalators fail at UW Station. Citing safety concerns, he chose not to allow people to walk on stalled escalators like a staircase, as allowed in rare circumstances in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, a subway escalator in Rome hurtled soccer fans downward as several metal plates collapsed, causing 20 injuries including a severed foot.

Rogoff revealed previously that years ago, the agency ordered standard commercial escalators for UW and Capitol Hill stations instead of buying the toughest available “transit-grade” escalators. From now on, only transit-grade escalators will be ordered, his staff said.

All 13 UW Station escalators are to be replaced by stairs or transit-grade escalators by 2022, the agency pledges.

An equally bad problem, not addressed Thursday, involves escalators at stations owned by King County Metro that Sound Transit will inherit in 2020, several months before the light-rail extension to Northgate opens in 2021. The four stations — Westlake, University Street, Pioneer and Chinatown International District — have 36 escalators and 22 elevators. Maintenance needs are still being studied.

The long north-side escalator from the Pioneer Square Station mezzanine up to Third Avenue at Cherry Street, now Metro property, is especially notorious for shutdowns and yellow barricades. Another frequent headache is Sound Transit’s SeaTac/Airport Station next to International Boulevard South, where rider alerts sometimes tell elevator users to try neighboring stations.

The voter-approved light-rail stations farther out, to Northgate, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond and Federal Way, have already been engineered to guarantee full stair access when they open in the 2020s. A lower staircase has been a godsend at the 1989-built Westlake Station, where riders both upward and downward can keep moving during escalator closures.

Escalator failures are a national problem, especially at BART in the San Francisco Bay Area and WMATA in Washington, D.C. Besides wear-and-tear from heavy use, escalators nationwide have been damaged by debris, or by biowastes when people relieve themselves on conveyances.