Third Ave. to keep its rush-hour restrictions

When the Metro bus tunnel reopens Sept. 24, Third Avenue will remain bus-only during rush hour, even though buses will return to the tunnel.

Third Avenue will remain transit-only between 6 and 9 a.m., and 3 and 6:30 p.m.

"By every measure, using Third Avenue for buses has been a very smart move," Mayor Greg Nickels announced Friday.

Since the tunnel was closed two years ago so Sound Transit could install rails in it, cars have been allowed to travel only one block on Third Avenue during rush hour before having to turn off the street.

Many motorists have been ticketed for trying to drive on Third during rush hour, and that apparently won't change. Metro also installed "skip stops" on Third, where buses don't stop every block, and that also will remain in effect.

Keeping Third Avenue closed to traffic will improve downtown mobility, said Marty McOmber, spokesman for Nickels. "It gives more flexibility to Metro and other agencies."

Eighteen bus routes will move into the tunnel when it reopens, and several bus routes are moving from First, Second, Fourth and Fifth avenues to Third Avenue to take advantage of the transit priority there. New stops are being added on Columbia and Seneca streets.

A recent report by Metro found that bus-travel times on downtown surface streets improved by 26 percent since September 2005, when the tunnel closed.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054