By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Now that the Highway 99 tunneling machine is back at work, planning is back in high gear for closing the Alaskan Way Viaduct for about two weeks while the digging happens beneath it.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition got a preview of the plan – including Metro bus reroutes – last night.
The preview included details such as how close the tunneling machine will be to the underside of The Viaduct’s columns (within 14 feet at one point). If it continues operating as planned from hereon out, the closure is likely to start sometime in March, and WSDOT hopes to set a date with about two weeks notice.
“We do understand it’s going to have regional impacts and businesses and travelers are going to need notice,” said Chris Brown of WSDOT, one of the two main briefers along with, providing Metro details, Chris Arkills, the West Seattleite who is County Executive Dow Constantine‘s transportation adviser.
Everything they said – and everything WSTC members/attendees asked – is all in our video atop this story, one hour and 15 minutes worth. You can listen instead of watching, as there are no visuals – no projector. Brown began with some backstory on the project – we’ve reported on that so often, we’re not recapping it here, but he explored a few points that we do mention after the closure-related info – keep reading!
If you remember the closure for demolition of the Viaduct’s “southern mile” back in 2011, this will be similar, he said – that was nine days, this will be about two weeks. The closure zone will be from South Spokane Street (the West Seattle Bridge) to the south side of the Battery Street Tunnel, which will remain open, if you want to get onto Northbound 99 downtown from the ramp on that side.
Brown described the closure as “precautionary,” to allow them to better monitor the Viaduct while the tunneling machine is beneath it, and to allow better planning rather than running the risk they’ll have a concern and have to shut down the Viaduct without notice. They’ll have baseline data from the semi-annual inspection next weekend (March 5th), and once the two-weeks-or-so closure is over, they’ll inspect it again.
He also detailed some of what was done before tunneling – including “installing steel micro-piles” driven into the ground between the bottom of the foundation of the Viaduct and the alignment of the tunnel – “we basically built an underground bridge.” Right now they’re looking at “in that space… putting in grout tubes, so if we have an issue, we have the ability to pump grout in, and can respond accordingly” if there’s a need.
How deep under the Viaduct will the tunnel machine be? 83 feet under the surface, and “within 14 feet of the bottom of one of the columns of The Viaduct.” Main message for the contractor (Seattle Tunnel Partners): “We’re telling them to mine diligently and safely.”
What if the machine breaks down while it’s under The Viaduct – will that mean an indefinite closure? asked WSTC’s Deb Barker. In most scenarios, Brown said, they would just stop down and reopen the Viaduct while the machine is evaluated.
What’s planned to keep traffic moving? Electronic messages on the sign network; extra response teams roaming to take care of breakdowns; adjusting signal timing with SDOT; put uniformed police officers at key intersections; additional Metro buses on standby; additional Water Taxi runs …
From information both he and Arkills provided:
*The routes affected are 21, 37, 55, 56, 57, 120, 125, RapidRide C between West Seattle and the Central Business District (CBD); buses traveling between East Marginal Way and the CBD – 113, 121, 122, 123.
*11 additional buses will be “ready on standby at the beginning of the closure period and the utilization of these buses will be closely monitored”
We don’t have this in electronic format yet, but these are the maps shown on a handout at the meeting, for northbound and southbound reroutes:
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) February 26, 2016
Arkills explained that since northbound buses will take the 4th Avenue S. ramp, “there’ll be a traffic officer there to make that intersection move faster” – they’ll come up 4th and use Prefontaine to get onto 3rd Avenue, and all will be the same from there.
East Marginal buses will come up 5th instead.
“Southbound is a little more complicated,” said Arkills – buses will come down 3rd to Yesler, jog over to 5th by Uwajimaya, then to Airport Way … People will have to allow more time for their bus commute. But if you think driving’s going to be any better, you’re wrong. I would budget an extra 10, 15 minutes for (bus travel).” Stagger your work schedule and/or telecommute if you could. “In my experience, the public does get creative … we lived through the last Viaduct closure because people adapted their schedule.”
Also under consideration, per the handout:
*Restrict 3rd Ave to transit only 24/7, rather than just during AM/PM peak hours
*Restrict curb lane on Spokane Street Viaduct offramp to 4th Ave. S. to bus/HOV only
*Post “tracks out of service” sign at railroad crossing at S. Lander/S. Occidental so buses don’t need to stop
*If Viaduct closure starts after Metro service change on March 26th, install temporary Bus Only lane on Blanchard and Bell Streets for C Line extension
This was something Arkills observed – the timing of all this is somewhat nerve-wracking, since Metro has a huge service change coming up on that date, including the splitting of the C and D Lines.
For the Water Taxi:
*Five daily trips will be added to the Vashon run, in hopes of cutting down on vehicle traffic that would go via Washington State Ferries and ultimately over roads including The Viaduct. This will be done via the Spirit of Kingston, the former WS Water Taxi that is now the WT’s backup boat.
*For the West Seattle run, no additional trips are expected because the recent change to the Doc Maynard has given the route “capacity of nearly 3,000 seats per day.” Unless the closure starts after April 7th, the WS run will remain on its winter schedule. (Asked “why not start the spring schedule early?” Arkills indicated the midday weekday runs – which are not part of the winter schedule – are under-utilized even in high season.)
*What IS planned for the WS run:
(The county) is working with SDOT to create additional parking near Seacrest Dock … Signage along Harbor SW and permission to advertise parking at the street end of Bronson Way will free up approximately 160 parking spaces.
Additionally, (the county) is working with the Port of Seattle to lease a portion of Pier 2 for parking … the Water Taxi would provide a shuttle running continuously between the parking facility and Seacrest Dock during the commute periods. This facility would add additional parking for in excess of 200 cars (pending contract execution)
The entrance to Pier 2 is at Florida, across from the Harbor Avenue 7-11. Also mentioned at last night’s meeting, though not in the handout – vanpool parking at Don Armeni Boat Ramp.
And there will be parking restrictions on Harbor Avenue to free up more potential commuter parking. (Some downtown parking restrictions are planned, too – of most interest through a to/from-WS prism, 4th Avenue S. between S. Massachusetts and S. Spokane.)
Asked if WSDOT is working with the Coast Guard to limit low-bridge openings during the Viaduct closure: “We asked very nicely, and they said very nicely, no,” said Brown, even to the simple question of whether the low bridge could be opened less often.
Helmick observed that the plan “puts a tremendous amount of pressure on 4th Avenue S.”
“Do you have a better idea?” was the response.
Other observations/suggestions ensued; watch the video to get the full scope of the discussion. And keep an eye on the website the county is using for closure info – 99closure.org.
At the start of the briefing, Brown went quickly through everything that had been done in the project so far. He said the state has not yet awarded the contract for building the ramps to the south end of the tunnel. He also noted the Battery Street Tunnel would be decommissioned – “fancy term for filling it full of dirt” – they “can’t take the top off it” because it’s holding up some structures.
To get to the tunnel, “you’ll still take the same route from the West Seattle Bridge,” and you’ll have opportunities to get off Highway 99 before going in. It’ll be a flyover to Dearborn Street, which will have a new extension to take you onto Alaskan Way, “the major north-south corridor,” it was explained. “That’s how you’ll get off going northbound,” said Brown. Southbound, the lanes will be over the northbound lanes at this point, and you’ll get off and get to the intersection with Royal Brougham Way. To get on, there’ll be a ramp from Alaskan Way South, to merge onto 99.
If you need to catch up with other details of what’s being built – here’s the project website.
Other topics at the WSTC meeting:
VISION ZERO: Gordon Padelford from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways talked about speed limits in the prism of the city’s Vision Zero initiative. Discussion ensued regarding lowering speed limits to increase safety. 20 mph speed limits can make a big difference in neighborhoods without sidewalks – like Arbor Heights, pointed out WSTC co-chair Helmick (who is also co-chair of the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council). Padelford said his organization is supporting 20 mph for all neighborhood streets, and 25 mph as the “default” speed limit for arterials.
WSTC LIGHT-RAIL SURVEY: Helmick said the recent survey drew more than 1,000 responses – and also many comments from those who filled them out, something WSTC hadn’t expected. So they’ll be going through those. Helmick said they’ve been in contact with Councilmember Lisa Herbold about this and that Herbold is requesting West Seattle meetings before the draft Sound Transit 3 plan – no word back on that yet. At the very least, WSTC plans to take its results to ST.
NEW BOARD MEMBER: Chas Redmond was voted in to fill a board vacancy. He has a long history of transportation-related advocacy in West Seattle and also ran in the recent District 1 City Council race.
FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD MEETING: Redmond represented WSTC at a recent downtown meeting arranged by Councilmember Herbold regarding the year-old-but-not-resolved issue of whether to underground utilities when the Fauntleroy Boulevard project is built.
For 75 minutes, he said, they asked a lot of hard questions; city reps and community advocates were there, including some who had served on the Triangle Planning Advisory Committee. Redmond said City Light has surveyed the area thoroughly and believes it would cost $9 million to $12 million for their work and SDOT’s work. “There are about 12 service providers other than City Light who use those poles,” he noted, including a variety of “new fiber ISP [Internet Service Provider] types.” There is “legislation afoot” – by end of March, Herbold asked City Light and SDOT to come back around for another meeting presenting the next steps in process for this, where they could go to get funding. City Light, it seems, does have a budget that could “completely cover its contribution,” so finding the money for SDOT’s share is the major challenge.
What about the possibility that Sound Transit 3 might send light rail through the area, affecting whatever is, or will be, done on the Fauntleroy Boulevard project? Consensus was, that’s not likely to happen, Redmond said.
GATHERING OF NEIGHBORS: Coming up March 12th – with WSTC participation, including panels and breakout sessions. Here’s the schedule that came in while we were at the WSTC meeting. Be there to talk about West Seattle’s “Growing Pains”!
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays, 6:30 pm, usually at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center, but check westseattletc.org because it does change sometimes.