This month marks one year since the Viaduct Vote. Some things have happened in the ensuing year, perhaps most notably Governor Gregoire declaring what’s left of The Viaduct will come down by 2012 (if not sooner). Second most notably, the state, city, and county agreed to work together to figure out what to do in the wake of the city vote that said no to a tunnel and no to an elevated replacement. Details of that ongoing work have emerged recently at a meeting here and a meeting there, like the briefing the Seattle City Council got today from key city, state, and county leaders. No discussion of what happened this morning — this was all about what’s to come — but there’s no denying that traffic mess was a clear reminder of what traffic nightmares could be in store if dramatic, creative action isn’t taken before and during the upcoming construction projects. Here are some of this afternoon’s highlights:
First, the context. There’s the Central Waterfront Project — the heart of The Viaduct, the future of which has yet to be determined – will the concept of a tunnel or elevated structure re-emerge? or will it be “surface/transit”? or? – but some sort of a recommendation is promised by year’s end, following a process including public meetings such as this one in West Seattle, and Stakeholder Advisory Committee meetings. Pete Spalding and Vlad Oustimovitch represent WS on the SAC; its members are supposed to be cleaving to the “guiding principles” listed here.
The rest of the Viaduct work, as the three governmental entities see it, is broken into six major projects: #1, the work to keep four central Viaduct columns from settling any further (recent WSB video coverage here). #2, relocating power lines that run along part of The Viaduct’s lower deck; #3, safety improvements to the Battery Street Tunnel; #4, potential retrofitting/reinforcement of the north end from Lenora to the BS Tunnel; #5, taking down and replacing the southern mile of The Viaduct; #6, non-Viaduct specific improvements such as “transit enhancements” to help traffic move in the corridor, including the widening and ramp changes coming up for the Spokane Street Viaduct end of the West Seattle Bridge, and the city’s in-progress Urban Mobility Plan.
During today’s briefing, discussion of #3 included something we don’t recall hearing much about before – and from the councilmembers’ questions, we don’t think they had heard much about it, either (though it’s described on this WSDOT page) – the permanent closure of the two short Viaduct ramps (one onramp, one offramp) immediately south of the Battery Street Tunnel. They’ll remain for emergency access only. The tunnel work is scheduled for 2009-2010.
#5 is the project that continues to get the loudest drum-banging, since that mile from Holgate to King represents almost half the length of the viaduct. The double-decker roadway will be replaced by a side-by-side highway, some of which will still be elevated to get up over train tracks and the Atlantic area. Briefers were also enthused about a U-shaped bypass that will get some drivers not only under this section of 99 but also under those tracks; they’re excited about the bike/pedestrian paths in the works, too (yet another item for which more details were promised at that upcoming April meeting). Since the south-end work is to be done before the Central Waterfront project begins, its north end will be a “transitional piece” that transportation managers insist will fit with whatever the CW winds up with. This work will start in late 2009; it will create new access to downtown from 99, at King Street. Wondering how much of a mess things will be when the south-end work starts? The briefers today acknowledged there will be some “capacity reduction” but say they’re still sorting out exactly how much and how to deal with it.
That’s also the topline for the fuzzier piece of the viaduct-future puzzle, the matter of getting more people out of single-occupancy vehicles and into transit – more than just the much-touted 2011 West Seattle Rapid Ride bus route. Lots of terms were thrown around today, such as “Transportation Demand Management” and much mention of “incentives,” but exactly where the rubber meets the road — what will it take to get you and me out of our cars and into buses, or stagger our commutes, etc. — seems to be very much in play.
Toward the “discouraging driving” end, there also was a side discussion of “congestion pricing” — better known as “tolls” — with lots of potentially favorable noises coming from some councilmembers, but the discussion getting capped with a declaration that the ball’s in the Legislature’s court, because tolling would require a “regional solution” rather than piecemeal “let’s charge x on highway x, y on highway y, nothing on highway z,” and so on.
One last note — State reps noted that work on #4, a partial retrofit from Lenora to the Battery Street Tunnel, has been tabled till the Central Waterfront plan is in place (this is a big deal, according to Slog).
Several times, council Transportation Committee chair Jan Drago wanted to know if “large signs” were in place to let citizens know about the projects that ARE proceeding, current and future. The answer seemed to be no, though the concept of signage plays a big part in many of these future items — in the spirit of those new “Viaduct Closed When Lights Flashing” signs (despite last week’s glitch), transportation managers are promising all manner of signs to tell us what’s ahead, what’s jammed, when the bus is coming, etc. etc. Sounds almost as if a forest of signs is in the roadside future.
Regarding the Central Waterfront Project — with an actual proposal still months away, today’s toplines were fairly bureaucratic: An “independent project manager” has just been hired, and was described as “good with knocking heads and taking names and numbers.” Besides the mentioned-earlier Stakeholder Advisory Committee, there’s also a technical advisory group with 14 agencies involved; it started meeting this month and, like the SAC, will meet monthly through October.
The Urban Mobility Plan portion of the briefing was more or less specifics-free. Council members were assured several times that some details are to come in the next briefing, April 7, with King County Councilmembers on hand then too.
So what else is next, and where do you come in? It was mentioned again today that two more public meetings like the Cooper Elementary session are scheduled elsewhere in the city, but they’re not on the WSDOT public-events list; the next Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting is, on March 27.
And before then, as mentioned previously, The Viaduct closes March 22-23 (Easter weekend) for its next round of weekend inspections.