(SCROLL DOWN for updates – as of our firsthand check at 4:20 pm, the backup’s cleared; 4:50 pm, added list of city/port traffic-reduction measures; 10:19 pm, adding new SDOT news release with yet more details)
(Thursday morning photo by Don Brubeck)
For a second day, a major backup of port-bound semi-trucks is backing up the westbound Spokane Street Viaduct to I-5, as well as surface streets – photos like these continue to come in:
This of course isn’t the first time a queue of port-bound trucks has affected traffic. But it’s the first time in a long time that we’ve heard of this magnitude of backup, persisting on into the day. So we contacted the Port of Seattle and SDOT to ask about the cause and what if any management steps have been taken. Port spokesperson Peter McGraw’s response:
The terminal operator is working very hard to get cargo moving on and off their docks while handling three large vessels. What we’ve been seeing here the past couple days is a surge of export commodities– goods from eastern Washington. So between the extra loads and the ongoing work disruption, we’re seeing an unusually high amount of back-ups. We’ll be keeping a close eye on things today, working with our transportation partners and the terminal operator to move cargo as quickly and safely as possible.
DOT’s Marybeth Turner says the city is concerned:
SDOT has expressed its concerns to the Port of Seattle about the truck queuing occurring on city roadways. We will meet with both the port and the terminal operator today about these impacts and potential solutions those parties can employ.
McGraw’s mention of “ongoing work disruption” refers to the situation we first mentioned two months ago – West Coast terminal operators and longshore workers are in mediated contract talks, eight months after their contract expired. An ILWU news release circulated earlier this week says the terminal operators’ organization reports they’re running out of room for containers on the West Coast docks; that organization, the Pacific Maritime Association, continues to accuse the union of slowdowns. Since last November, large ships at anchor, waiting to get into either Seattle or Tacoma, have been visible from West Seattle; right now MarineTraffic.com shows eight in all – three in Elliott Bay, and five outside Manchester (some shown in this photograph from early today):
(Photo by James Bratsanos)
ADDED 1:21 PM: Yet another vantage point of the truck backup:
— Scott Sweeney (@ssweens) January 15, 2015
3:39 PM UPDATE: Commenters (and people we’re hearing from on Twitter, too) say it hasn’t gotten any better. We’re going out for a firsthand look. Check the comments for some travel advice. SDOT advises avoiding the westbound Spokane St. Viaduct.
4:13 PM: We’ve just traveled the eastbound bridge – no more truck backup visible on Spokane St. Viaduct. Got off at 1st and noted that a motorcycle officer appeared to have lower Spokane blocked, westbound, just west of 1st. We’re circling back around to check.
4:20 PM: The officer is out of the road, in the median, and westbound Spokane is open again, no backup or slowdown. We have also crossed the low bridge and it’s open and clear.
4:50 PM: From Anthony Auriemma in Councilmember Tom Rasmussen‘s office, an update on what’s being strategized:
SPD will have an officer working traffic from 7 am-3 pm during the slowdowns. Their primary job will be to assist with cross traffic and assist with preventing the intersections from getting blocked.
· SDOT is working on updated signage and traffic alerts. You may have noticed that SDOT this afternoon began advising drivers to avoid the Spokane Street Viaduct and to use alternate routes such as 1st Avenue South.
· SPD is joining SDOT at the Traffic Management Center (TMC) to help with traffic conditions. As you may recall from the Transportation Committee briefing, this is part of the improved incident management protocols that SPD and SDOT agreed to after the June 99 meltdown. Councilmember Rasmussen visited the TMC this afternoon to check out conditions and make sure SDOT was working to find solutions.
· SDOT is attempting to secure Terminal 5 for remote parking as an interim solution.
· Other engineering and enforcement solutions are still being worked out between SDOT, SPD, and the Port.
And just after we published this, Auriemma e-mailed again to say that T-5 has been secured for parking starting tomorrow.
ADDED 10:19 PM: Rare late-night news release, just in from SDOT, with a few more specifics of what’s happening:
To ensure that traffic flows safely and efficiently near Port of Seattle facilities, the City of Seattle will take measures Friday to address trucks backing up onto city and state roadways due to Terminal 18 delays.
Based on discussions with the port, starting Friday morning trucks will be detoured off city streets into a holding area at nearby Terminal 5, where they will stage for entry into Terminal 18. Truck drivers will be directed to this holding area using fixed and variable messages signs.
Also on Friday SDOT will install “No Stopping, Standing or Parking from 3:00 AM to 6:45 AM” signs on Harbor Island to ensure vehicles stage at Terminal 5 prior to the opening of Terminal 18’s gates. The Seattle Police Department is providing officers to support traffic flow and prevent the West Seattle Bridge, Spokane Street Viaduct and intersections near Harbor Island from being blocked by commercial vehicles.
“The City of Seattle and the Port of Seattle are working jointly to address traffic issues created by delays at Terminal 18,” said SDOT Director Scott Kubly. “These measures will allow the port to process its trucks without creating congestion for drivers and transit riders.”
“I have been working with SDOT, SPD and the Port of Seattle to address the congestion created by port facilities, and will continue to work on this problem as long as the delays continue,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. “I appreciate these quick measures being taken by the Port and the City, which will ensure drivers and transit riders can make their trips without unnecessary delay.”