C-Tran to shoulder pilot project

Buses will be able to use shoulder along state Highway 14 in certain situations

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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A few months from now, drivers needn’t be alarmed if they’re stuck in a traffic jam on part of state Highway 14 and a C-Tran bus passes them on the shoulder.

The C-Tran Board of Directors approved an interlocal agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation that paves the way for an 18-month bus-on-shoulder pilot project.

Likely starting in September, the project will allow buses on routes 41, 65 and 164 to drive on the eastbound and westbound highway shoulder between Interstate 205 and Northeast 164th Avenue when traffic in the main lanes drops below 35 mph. Buses won’t be allowed to drive more than 15 mph faster than the other lanes and up to 35 mph. Still, the highway’s shoulders will maintain their primary function as a safety area for roadway emergencies.

C-Tran spokeswoman Christine Selk said the pilot project is expected to make trips faster and improve reliability during the busiest travel times. It could also help the agency hold down costs by reducing the need to deploy additional drivers and buses.

“(W)e figure to save 4 minutes westbound (in the morning) and 2.5 minutes eastbound (in the evening) when we operate (bus on shoulder), and if we travel the full length under the conditions of traveling 15 mph faster than traffic in the regular travel lanes,” she wrote in an email. “Most of the time, we do not expect to travel the full length. Obviously, at times that traffic is stopped due to some event, the savings could be significantly greater.”

Before the pilot project goes live, WSDOT will restripe the highway to widen the shoulders and post a few signs, for which C-Tran will pay up to $35,000.

That particular segment of Highway 14 was chosen for the pilot because it doesn’t contain interchanges or on- or offramps, and its shoulders are wide enough to handle a bus.

Regional transportation officials hope to collect data and proof of a concept that could be applied to other freeway corridors in the bistate region.

Bus on shoulder is not a new phenomenon outside of Vancouver. Regional Transportation Council staff counted 16 transit agencies around the nation, including one in the Seattle metro area, that have a bus-on-shoulder system in place. Many of them were created more than 20 years ago.

In the spring, while studying Highway 14, the RTC also looked into the potential of bus on shoulder on the I-205 corridor from the Northeast 18th Street interchange south to Interstate 84 and lightly examined Interstate 5 from Northeast 99th street into Vancouver. The corridors have unique complications that would merit additional study and work, the RTC said.