To get to her maintenance job at Homewood Suites, Rosa Oseguera rides the #152 Bus for two hours a day, commuting from Auburn to Lower Queen Anne. It’s a journey that requires the bus to travel along part of I-5.
Oseguera, who hails from Honduras, says she speaks little English, but is able to read and write it. Sitting on the #152, she says she was largely unaware of the transit changes caused by the upcoming I-5 construction, which will close down several lanes and reduce the size of open lanes between S. Spokane St. and I-90 from Aug. 10 to Aug. 29. “I hadn’t heard anything,” she says in Spanish. “I saw a few signs [posted on the buses] but nobody said anything to me about it.”
As she doesn’t have a driver’s license, Oseguera says it’s entirely possible that she will arrive late to work because of the bus delays, but hopes her employer will understand. It’s a concern shared by many other bus commuters in the Seattle area.
Across the aisle and up the economic ladder from Rosa sits an employee of the downtown HomeStreet Bank. The employee, who didn’t want her name used, says she’s well aware of the changes. “The [King County] Department of Transportation came to work and did a presentation. I didn’t go to the meeting, but emails were circulated around the office,” she says. “I’m thinking about taking the train for two extra dollars round trip.”
With I-5’s imminent construction reducing traffic capacity by as much as 60 percent, many residents are being forced to find alternative routes to work. The expected traffic snarls are of particular consequence to those who depend on public transportation to make their commutes, like Oseguera. All 22 of the bus lines that travel through the construction zone will be rerouted and, according to the King County Department of Transportation, are likely to experience service disruptions and delays. According to King County Transit Spokesperson Linda Thielke, those lines carry approximately 11,000 people each day.
The rerouted lines will continue to serve all stops they currently do, allowing commuters to access the bus in their usual locations.
According to Linda Thielke, the transportation department’s visit to HomeStreet Bank was a result of a state law that requires all workplaces with more than 100 employees on site to take steps to reduce the number of single-car commuters. Such employers have an ongoing dialogue with the Metro Transit Service, and as such were most accessible for briefing on the I-5 interruptions. “We’re constantly working with [big employers], but with the construction they have even more of an incentive to find transit solutions,” Thielke says.
The transportation department is also offering special deals on its VanPool program. Normally, VanPool rents vans to a group of no less than five riders for a total fee of between $300 and $400 a month. According to Cathy Blumenthal, King County Ride Share Coordinator, the department has lowered the August price to a flat fee of $45 per rider and temporarily waived some of the restrictions, such as requiring riders to own a personal automobile and be able to provide off-street parking for their vehicle, which might be prohibitive to low-income users. Additionally, Blumenthal notes, grants are available for low-income or disabled riders that would cover most to all of the cost of a membership.
“We know that people need solutions to get to work during the I-5 construction process,” says Blumenthal. “We’re trying to provide transit by providing people with vans at a low cost.”
But even so, some, like the managers at Homewood Suites, Oseguera’s employers, were caught by surprise. “We didn’t have any contact from the Department of Transportation. We heard about it through the news,” says Chris Shelton, general manager at Homewood. “We always try to help our workers to work around something like this. A lot of our employees do not have Internet access, but hopefully we can use ours to update them on bus schedules.”
Still, Shelton says he is disappointed that his employees were not informed of the August service disruptions while the bank employees were. “It seems like the [commuters] who should be the least concerned about the changes are the ones who are getting the most information.”
For those who work in smaller offices or do not speak English, help may be on the way. On Aug. 6, all bus lines affected by the construction began running audio announcements explaining the construction situation to their passengers and announcing transit alternatives. Additionally, according to Thielke, the King County Department of Transportation has plans to use new software that will translate all official communications into Spanish and other languages spoken in the area.
Parties interested in vanpools can find out more here http://transit.metrokc.gov/, or call VanPhone at (206) 625-4500.