The folks who operate Snohomish County’s commuter buses are as exhausted as anyone else by the daily sea of brake lights entering Seattle on southbound I-5.

Sound Transit and Community Transit propose to end several bus routes at Northgate Station when light-rail service begins there, sometime in 2021, instead of continuing to drive a few miles farther through congestion.

Passengers would hop off the bus and ascend to the elevated light-rail platform to catch a train into Seattle.

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“We believe that some people are going to be open to the idea, and some people will say ‘I want a direct bus ride,’ ” said Martin Munguia, Community Transit spokesman.

The proposals, released this week for public comment, would truncate Community Transit routes 800, 821, 855, 860, 871 and 880 at Northgate, instead of finishing in the University District. These routes carry 3,800 riders on about 90 buses per weekday.

Sound Transit would shorten routes 510, 511, 512 and 513 at Northgate, so travelers enter downtown by train. They would wait three to seven minutes at Northgate for a train south, and three to 14 minutes going north, between arriving trains and departing buses. These routes serve 9,200 daily boardings.


Trains leaving Northgate should consistently reach U District Station in six minutes, and Westlake Station eight minutes later. But bus schedules are hostage to traffic snarls, especially from the Ship Canal Bridge through the Stewart Street exit.

“Many times I’ve spent 30 minutes from the moment you hit the bridge, coming into Seattle. Just eliminating that is a big win,” said Marc Carlson of Lynnwood, at a bus stop Friday evening. Curtailed bus trips should also reduce downtown congestion for other drivers, he said.

Michael McKinnon said the 2021 train-bus combo will help when afternoon events block his 4 p.m. bus to Everett. “It’s been so bad because of protests or Mariners games, I’ve quite literally jumped on light rail to the UW Station, then found some way to get home,” he said.

Nikol Belkova said the transfer at Northgate wouldn’t bother her. “But if the bus came late and I missed the train, I would not like it.” She’s already making a two-seat ride, combining an express bus to Snohomish County transit centers, with a local bus home or to family gatherings.

With the time and money they don’t spend driving downtown, the agencies hope to boost service between Northgate and Snohomish County. For instance, Sound Transit 512 from Everett could arrive every six minutes at peak times, instead of current 10-minute frequency, spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said.

Based on public feedback, some routes could remain direct to the University District or downtown.


Community Transit’s 400-series buses will continue heading downtown until 2024, when they’ll terminate at the new Lynnwood City Center or Mountlake Terrace light-rail stations. Swift buses to Aurora Village will then reach Shoreline North/185th Station, a third bus-rail connection.

The Transportation Choices Coalition supports making Northgate Station a transfer hub. The reliable train into downtown is why the region invests in light rail, said advocacy director Kelsey Mesher.

“We expect that eventually making connections between bus service and light-rail service will become second nature and a normal thing,” she said.

Other proposals include stopping Route 522, the Lake City Way express, at Roosevelt or Northgate stations instead of downtown; and shortening Routes 555 and 556 from Issaquah to end in the U District, instead of Northgate. Riders can find a description of proposed changes and a survey at 

King County Metro Transit will reshuffle service around Northgate.

Community Transit has long said it will send buses into Seattle until rail reaches Lynnwood — making this a significant policy change. But the Northgate transit center will have more space for its buses than expected, Munguia said. And congestion is worsening.

High-occupancy vehicle lanes of I-5 flowed at the desired 45 mph from Everett into Seattle during only 18% of peak hours in 2017, the state’s Corridor Capacity Report says. A 1.5-mile left shoulder for buses opened in Lynnwood last fall, in an effort to shrink the 71-minute average bus time.

A tricky question is how freeway buses will travel from the Northgate Way interchange on First Avenue Northeast and turn into Northgate Station. Done wrong, this segment will cancel the benefits of a speedy train. The Seattle Department of Transportation will decide next year what bus signals or lanes to build.

Information in this article, published Nov. 16 at 6 a.m., has been corrected. Kelsey Mesher’s position at Transportation Choices Coalition is advocacy director, not communications director. 

Traffic Lab engagement editor Michelle Baruchman contributed to this report.