Say goodbye to what might be the oldest dated street sign in the city, as just one small part of the big upcoming project to change the ramp configuration of, and widen, the Spokane Street Viaduct – once known as the “West Seattle Freeway,” currently considered part of the “West Seattle Bridge” between Highway 99 and the I-5 northbound/southbound ramp split. As money to pay for it continues advancing through the City Council — it’s time for a closer look on exactly what this project will involve, and how it’s likely to change your driving life before, during, and after. We recently sat down at SDOT headquarters with the city’s project manager for the Spokane Street Viaduct work, Stuart Goldsmith, and its communications manager LeAnne Nelson, and here’s what we found out:
We showed you that rendering last week (thanks to Nelson for sending us all the relevant visuals). It’s the section of the Spokane Street Viaduct project that will be built first — a new offramp from the eastbound side at 4th Avenue S. It’ll be two lanes, one way, till it breaks into three lanes at the very end, for heading southbound (toward Costco), northbound (toward downtown) or straight ahead (for traffic to City Light headquarters across the street). We’ll get to the second part of the work — the widening — in a bit, but first, more about the 4th Avenue offramp:
Design work isn’t completely finished but it’s close, and construction is scheduled to start this fall. Goldsmith notes, “4th Avenue is actually underutilized” — and this ramp should change that. But the construction will make things difficult for a while — The eastbound side of lower Spokane Street will be closed between 1st and 4th Avenues, and that closure will last about a year and a half. (Starting in spring 2009, this will overlap with about a year of the westbound closure of lower Spokane St. in the same area, once the widening project gets under way.) The ramp is a flyover, and column construction will require that closure.
The planned detours are as follows (click here for an enlarged view of the entire project area, street names and all):
Eastbound traffic, north via East Marginal Way to Hanford, then to 1st Ave. S to Lander to cross the tracks (here’s a map):
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Westbound traffic, diverted up 6th Ave. S. to Lander to 1st Ave. S., around Hanford, to East Marginal Way.
Before all the work is done, the lower Spokane Street roadway — bumpy, rutted, problematic (note the second half of this recent WSB post) — will be repaved.
SDOT is not expecting too much impact on the Spokane Street Viaduct itself during this phase, but some lane restrictions on occasion will be unavoidable, especially once they’re ready to “tie the new ramp into the existing roadway,” Goldsmith says.
The agency is strategizing how to minimize impacts from that and from other aspects of the second phase of the project; one thing they’re studying, he told us, is the possibility there could be a flexible barrier so that lane configurations could be changed between morning and afternoon rush hours — 2 lanes in the busy direction, 1 lane in the not-so-busy direction — but he emphasized during our recent conversation that it’s just being studied right now, and nowhere near a sure bet.
Now, the widening project, with construction tentatively scheduled to start about one year from now — six months after work on the eastbound 4th Ave. S. ramp begins.
What’s going away: The abrupt right-turn westbound exit at 4th (here’s an aerial view – the ramp’s the tail of what looks like an upside-down T):
Also going away, the long-closed westbound onramp from lower Spokane St. at 4th (related to the 15-year-old sign at the start of this report):
as well as the existing onramp that’s used now, the one you get to either by heading west on Spokane St. or turning right off southbound 1st Avenue S. Those are being handled as part of this phase of the project, because it’s being built entirely on the north side of the existing Spokane Street Viaduct. The ramps will be replaced with one new, long ramp at 1st Avenue South, one lane heading off (northbound into downtown), one lane heading on (southbound onto the SSV/Bridge). This ramp starts at 1st/Hinds (map).
The widening itself will add a 41-foot-wide section to the Spokane Street Viaduct between East Marginal Way and 6th Avenue S., which the city says will “make space for a new westbound acceleration-deceleration lane, an eastbound transit lane, wider lanes and shoulders, and a permanent median.” (Longtime West Seattleites will recall that the center barrier now in place on the Spokane Street Viaduct is a narrow “temporary” barrier added in 1999 after years of sometimes-deadly undivided two-way head-on traffic.) Here are the “before” and “after” renderings:
Off the SSV itself, the city also plans to add a curb and 10-foot-wide sidewalk along the north side of lower Spokane Street and a “planted median” on 4th Avenue S. north of Spokane.
The decision hasn’t been made on this one yet, but there’s talk of possibly extending the eastbound bus lane on The Bridge to that new 4th Ave. offramp once it’s done.
And again, the westbound section of lower Spokane St. will close during this work, with columns etc. going up. to support the new half of the SSV.
If all this isn’t enough, note that work on the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be starting soon; we asked Goldsmith about the prospect for related complications, and he said project managers are doing their best to work together to “minimize impacts,” but suffice to say – there’s going to be a whole lot of building and tearing down going on, for more than a few years.
We tried to break this all down into digestible chunks but nothing suffices for some good old-fashioned in-person question-asking, and you should be able to do that at tonight’s Viaduct open house at Madison Middle School, 5:30-7:30 pm (invitation flyer here) — even though its primary focus is supposed to be “what should be done with the central section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct?” these events also have included information about related projects such as Spokane Street, which is aimed at relieving some of the pressure that will be created when the central AWV comes down in 2012. You can also subscribe to the city’s official e-mail list for periodic updates on the SSV project; go here.