The confusing University Street Station in downtown Seattle should be renamed Union Street/Symphony Station, a Sound Transit committee proposed Thursday.
The change would coincide with a three-station extension to Northgate and increased train capacity, scheduled for September 2021.
Tourists, sports fans and the visiting families of university students frequently become disoriented and hop off light-rail trains at University Street, unaware they should continue three miles north to the University of Washington Station, next to Husky Stadium.
If the agency does nothing, confusion would grow when the U District Station, near Northeast 45th Street, opens along with Roosevelt and Northgate stations, also in 2021.
A name change requires not only new signs, but potentially about 50 technical alterations to include audio and digital notices inside the trains, dispatching software, tags on firefighting equipment and training manuals.
Transit staff published an estimate of $5.3 million this week to make the changes, but CEO Peter Rogoff said Thursday he’d never consider spending that much.
Instead, the staff cobbled the name Union Street/Symphony, to match the “USS” acronym used by operating devices and workers. That saves $4 million in changes that wouldn’t have to be made, said Harry Demarest, director of operations engineering and technology.
The actual cost, excluding contingencies and tax, should be “about a million,” spokesman David Jackson said.
There’s one big problem — none of the station exits face Union Street. Though the north edge of the station sits beneath Union, one exit faces Seneca Street, another University Street, and a third runs under Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, toward the corner of University Street and Second Avenue.
Which raises the question, why not continue using “USS” internally, even if passengers call it Symphony Station, or Seneca Street Station?
Jackson said mismatched acronyms would risk causing confusion in critical situations, such as a fire. For instance, some future dispatcher might see “USS,” fail to recognize that as a mid-downtown Symphony Station, and mistakenly report an emergency at UW or U District station that starts with a U, he said.
Officials praised the combined name.
“I think Union Street Symphony would also be a great name for a rock band,” said Paul Roberts, an Everett city council member who chairs the Rider Experience and Operations committee. A final vote is scheduled next Thursday by the full 18-member board of directors.
During unscientific public outreach, Symphony Station placed first with 25% of votes, followed by Benaroya Hall at 24%, Seneca Street at 20%, Midtown at 13%, Downtown Arts District at 10% and Arts District at 8%.
King County Metro Transit named the station University Street in 1990 when its transit tunnel opened for buses. It now serves trains only, and Sound Transit takes ownership later this year.
University Street downtown was the first home of the UW, founded in 1861 as Territorial University. The campus in 1895 moved northeast on a slope facing Mount Rainier and rapidly developed during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.