VIDEO: 2-week Alaskan Way Viaduct closure plan previewed @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition

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!

First:

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:

METRO REROUTING

*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:

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.

23 Replies to "VIDEO: 2-week Alaskan Way Viaduct closure plan previewed @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition"

  • Gordon Padelford February 26, 2016 (10:57 am)

    For folks wanting to learn more about or support the 20/25 MPH idea should visit: http://seattlegreenways.org/2016-campaigns/20-25-mph/

  • Robert February 26, 2016 (11:30 am)

    Could they turn the  current southbound offramp to the Stadiums into an onramp to SB 99?  I realize it is somewhat of a corkscrew but anything would help.

  • Sue February 26, 2016 (11:48 am)

    Wish they could give us more than 2 weeks’ notice. The expected delays in our commute will affect appointments that we make during that time period (such as my not being able to get back to WS in time for something), and it would be nice to plan around it. Not to mention I had hoped to take a week of vacation during that time period to minimize my commuting hassle, and I’m expected to give way more notice than that. I do not have the luxury of work hour flexibility nor telecommuting.

    • sam-c February 26, 2016 (12:17 pm)

      Yes, makes it impossible to plan ahead.  I am sure my frustration is pretty minimal compared to a lot of West Seattle-ites who take the viaduct all the time but it is still frustrating….

  • sam-c February 26, 2016 (11:50 am)
    From the link 99closure.org:
    “When will the closure take place?
    The timing of the closure date will depend on the rate of Bertha’s progress. “
    did they give an estimate at all? based on Bertha’s current progress? 
    Like, 1 month from now, 4 months from now, 9 months from now?
    • WSB February 26, 2016 (12:28 pm)

      Sam, yes, sorry if I didn’t write it clearly enough in the story, but based on how things are going *now* they expect it will start before the end of March. That’s the best they can guess right now. Honestly, even two weeks’ warning seems like a gamble to me, given the way things have gone and not gone with the tunneling, but they seem pretty committed to setting a date once it looks like they’re two weeks away. And also – what we heard last night is NOT on the website yet – it was definitely a preview – and a plan that is still being finalized. – TR

      • Sue February 26, 2016 (12:32 pm)

        I’m really hoping that’s true that it happens in March, because come April we have the Mariners home games to contend with, and will only make these reroutes worse. That mucks up commuting on a normal day with the viaduct.

  • Ricky Courtney February 26, 2016 (12:07 pm)

    Why isn’t SDOT putting temporary bus-only lanes on 4th Ave S? They wouldn’t need to take away a general purpose lanes in most areas, just restrict parking.

    Does Metro/SDOT/Water Taxi not realize there’s a large, very underutilized park & ride lot under the High Bridge near Luna Park? Why not add a temporary stop for the Water Taxi shuttle nearby? 

    Does King County realize that their extended C Line won’t travel on Bell Street? Putting temporary bus-only lanes there won’t do anything to help. They’d need to be on Blanchard and Lenora.

    • Sue February 26, 2016 (12:31 pm)

      There is a water taxi stop right at Spokane & Harbor Avenue (near Kitty Harbor) that isn’t far from that park & ride.

  • Wsgal February 26, 2016 (3:12 pm)

    Oh dear, and what happens if Bertha must be stopped under viaduct for ____ amount of time while it’s closed. Assuming, it would remain closed?  

    • WSB February 26, 2016 (3:22 pm)

      That’s in the story. “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.”

  • vtb February 26, 2016 (4:16 pm)

    They thought it was going to happen in March before Bertha was shut down due to the sink hole.   Even with that one month delay, they still think it’s going to happen in March?  I realize this is a somewhat unpredictable event, but that math doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Mallinson February 26, 2016 (4:25 pm)

    I’ve never understood why those tracks at Occidental and Lander aren’t covered or don’t have a “tracks not in use” sign already. I am always equal parts bemused and frustrated when my bus driver stops at tracks that have no possibility of train traffic. It’s adorable madness.

  • dcn February 26, 2016 (5:17 pm)

    It sounds like they are considering making the curb lane of the off-ramp to 4th Ave S a temporary bus only lane. Right now, two lanes can turn right (northbound) onto 4th Ave S. Both these lanes back pretty far up the ramp on many mornings, often because the light at Spokane Street and 4th Ave S backs up the cars heading north on 4th.

    More car commuters will take 4th Ave S during the viaduct closure since they won’t  be able to take 99 into work. If they take away one of the two lanes for cars on the off-ramp, I can see traffic backing all the way up onto the Spokane Street Viaduct. It would hurt buses too because the buses wouldn’t be able to get to the off-ramp, unless they also made the right exit only lane of the Spokane St Viaduct a bus only lane as well. Even with a police officer there making sure things keep flowing, it’ll be a total mess. I hope they realize that and don’t try it. I don’t work downtown, so  buses and water taxis are not viable commute option for me. Neither is a flexible work schedule.  

  • dsa February 27, 2016 (12:52 am)

    DCN is correct about 4th being a forced detour and the 4th off ramp and the 4th and Spokane street signals will likely be  congestion makers in the morning.   WSDOT will be one causing this problem, they should be ready with traffic cops at the intersections to get traffic flowing.

  • Kay K February 27, 2016 (9:21 am)

    Also of note might be the planned opening of the Light Rail line to UW on March 19. It will allow me to catch the light rail in SoDo and completely breeze through downtown under the the street level traffic. (I hope)  :)

    • WSB February 27, 2016 (10:05 am)

      That came up too. March is a big month in the local transit world. And of course, if the tunneling had remained on its earlier schedules, the beneath-Viaduct dive would have been long over by now …

  • JanS February 27, 2016 (1:18 pm)

    reading all this made my head hurt. I thank my lucky stars every day that I am lucky to be able to work at home. Downtown is never a destination for me. If I need to go to Pill Hill, I go up over Beacon Hill, and never make early morning appointments. This looks like a train wreck waiting to happen. What could possibly go wrong?

    • WSB February 27, 2016 (1:36 pm)

      Past closures actually have gone fairly smoothly – including 2011, as mentioned in the story – because people have tried alternate methods. We’ll have extra coverage, of course.

  • Mary February 27, 2016 (7:11 pm)

    Did anyone cover how bike commute route will be handled?  The main bike route to downtown from WS is right underneath the viaduct.  And, it looks like this will come just as the heavy bike commute season is starting.

    • WSB February 27, 2016 (7:16 pm)

      I don’t believe they are closing anything but the Viaduct itself – unless something happens on the surface – but I apologize for not explicitly addressing that and we’ll make sure it’s part of our followups.

  • maddy February 27, 2016 (7:36 pm)

    For safety reasons if they shut down the Viaduct to traffic, wouldn’t it also be wise to close traffic under the Viaduct?  If the Viaduct came crashing down wouldn’t it be just as dangerous to be  underneath it. 

  • Mary March 1, 2016 (7:21 pm)

     I received this reply from WSDOT today in response to my question concerning the bike routes under the viaduct.

     

    “Thank you for your inquiry and for your interest in the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. There are no local street or bike trail detours expected during the approximate two-week closure of the viaduct, so the bicycle and pedestrian route from West Seattle to downtown via Alaskan Way South and the Elliott Bay Trail should be a valuable option to avoid possible road congestion. Should construction unexpectedly require any detours to the trail or surface streets, detour routes will be clearly marked.”

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