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An Optimistic Look Ahead for Sound Transit's Eastside Services

November 9, 2022 - by BDA Staff

Sound Transit has been under pressure the last couple of years for transit service reductions and recently the project delays to East Link Light Rail. The burning question for a lot of Eastsiders is "when can we expect service to begin?" Sound Transit's new CEO Julie Timm answered this question and more as the featured speaker at the October 25th Downtown Talks, a speaking series hosted by the Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA).

King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci kicked off the October program with insights from the Sound Transit Board. Takeaways from Council Chair Claudia Balducci’s remarks was the Board is focused on service realignment and has indicated interest to learn more about opening East Link on the Eastside while construction continues on the I-90 bridge. Following the update, she formally introduced Timm to the Downtown stakeholders in attendance as the featured speaker for the program.

Timm spoke honestly about how she’s been on the job for a limited amount of time, and her near-term focus is understanding the issues, system’s network, and agency’s structure. However, she shared stories from her previous work that provided insight into her leadership style and approach. The audience heard about her experience at WeGo Public Transit in Nashville, Tennessee and the Greater Richmond Transit Company in Richmond, Virginal where she served as CEO. A relevant takeaway from her remarks was a story about how she successfully led an effort to reboot Richmond’s transit use to match pre-pandemic ridership levels by realigning services to destinations that needed equitable access, such as hospitals.

Following Timm’s remarks, she sat down with BDA President and CEO Patrick Bannon for a fireside chat about the state of Sound Transit projects and services important to Bellevue and the Eastside. Kicking off the conversation, Bannon asked about the status of Eastlink and inquired about the proposed idea of opening Eastlink on the Eastside while construction continues to fix the issues with the I-90 bridge crossing. He also noted that the BDA joined several Eastside cities and organizations in encouraging Sound Transit to explore the feasibility of opening Eastlink

on the Eastside. Timm acknowledged the request is valid and worth exploring.

Timm noted that there were many steps to explore the idea of opening Eastlink on the Eastside. The agency would need to analyze how an Eastside launch impacts to the suite of other ST2 projects, impact existing services, and require buy-in from the Sound Transit Board. How the Eastlink would be staffed without the I-90 bridge connection to Seattle was a challenge brought up. Timm shared that the evaluation would need to examine where and how Sound Transit service providers could access Eastlink. Additionally, she noted that even if the Sound Transit Board approves the idea, federal oversight regulations would take between 12-15 months to conduct before opening Eastlink services. All said, Timm reiterated the idea is still worth exploring.

The conversation between Timm and Bannon shifted to the decreased transit ridership levels and how to boost transit use. She shared an approach to increasing ridership by breaking down accessibility barriers and offering fare-free transit. Timm explained how the approaches effectively increased ridership in Richmond, Virginia after spiked decrease caused by the pandemic. Timm suggested that the business community needs to play an active role in rebooting transit ridership levels because of its relationship to how the workforce moves.

While Timm has only been in her position for less than two months, she is already making waves. Timm's transparent leadership style allows her staff to express their authentic selves. She encourages not only her team but the business community in attendance to challenge the agency and how it delivers services. Overall, Timm was optimistic about the future of transit in this region.

About Downtown Talks
Downtown Talks is a breakfast series programmed with leaders and subject matter experts to share the latest information on issues important to Downtown Bellevue. It is also networking for local leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Thank you to our partners Amazon, Heritage Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Puget Sound Energy and Vulcan Real Estate for making Downtown Talks possible. 

The next BDA Downtown Talks will be in December! Sign up to receive details on future dates and program details.