West Seattle, Washington
Rode the Emerald City Ride with Cascade Bike Club this morning. Even the rain didn’t dampen the excitement of being on the viaduct. Great fun!
You can see some other scenes from the ride on the Cascade Twitter feed.
One more reminder – Sunday morning, if you’re not participating in the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Emerald City Ride, you won’t be using northbound Highway 99. From about 6 am to 11:30 am, it’ll be closed from here to Western Avenue; 6 to 9:30 am, it’ll also be closed north of that stretch, all the way north to Bridge Way. Here’s the full WSDOT alert. (The full list of road-access changes for the ride is here.)
WSDOT has just gone public with two new videos of/about the Highway 99 tunnel, as its completion and opening approach. The video above is described as work as the double-deck highway inside it was finished. Below, a narrated clip explains the next phase of work:
Now crews are installing and testing the tunnel’s operational and safety systems. It’s a big job. Inside the tunnel there are:
*More than 300 cameras to monitor traffic and security at all times as part of an incident-detection system.
*Automatic ventilation systems designed to keep air quality and visibility high.
*Automated sprinkler systems designed to put out a fire quickly at its source.
Together, these systems will make the SR 99 tunnel one of the “smartest” tunnels ever built. This video explains how the critical air quality and fire safety systems work together:
Read more here.
As we’ve been reporting, and as WSDOT reiterates today, the tunnel *might* open as soon as this fall. When it’s pronounced ready to go, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be shut down and two to three weeks of work to finish connections to the tunnel will commence. (We reported more about that – and the status of tunnel-toll-decisionmaking – recently here.)
4:29 PM: Just in from WSDOT via Twitter: The Alaskan Way Viaduct has reopened early, and its inspection is fully finished, so NO closure will be needed on Sunday.
6:37 PM: And in case you’ve missed our recent reports of government officials saying the Viaduct’s permanent shutdown might be as close as September, something similar is reiterated in the WSDOT news release about the conclusion of today’s inspection: “These twice-yearly inspection closures help make sure the road remains safe for drivers until the new SR 99 tunnel opens. The new tunnel may open as early as this fall.”
As we first mentioned a week and a half ago, next weekend brings what just might be the last of the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s twice-yearly inspection closures. It’s officially scheduled for two days as usual – 6 am-6 pm Saturday, March 24th, and 6 am-6 pm Sunday, March 25th – but these closures have tended in recent years to just need the first day.
For history fans, summaries of the inspections going back more than 15 years can be read here. As for why we note that this might be the last semiannual inspection, yet another briefing last Thursday (like this one three weeks ago) suggested the AWV might be out of service before October arrives.
Leading the briefing about the tunnel-project status, tunnel program leader David Sowers from WSDOT. “We have a big year ahead of us, and that’s an understatement. … The light at the end of the tunnel is upon us.”
“What do we need to do to open the tunnel?” Three bullet points: 1. Complete tunnel walls and roadway decks – the “final topping slabs” of the driving surface will be finished later this month, Sowers said. Second step, “commissioning” – installing and testing tunnel systems. Mid-August is when the contractor thinks those will all be done, Sowers said.
Then when the tunnel is verified as safe and ready to go, STP hands it off to WSDOT, and the Viaduct closure begins – “branded” as 17 days, but more like “about three weeks of time” to “reorient the existing corridor that now goes onto the Viaduct, into the tunnel,” says Sowers. He says there’ll be one big difference from past major closures – once the tunnel opens, post-closure, everyone will have to get used to the new connections from both ends.
Here’s his slide showing what happens on the south end during that closure time:
1:37 PM: Dearborn, in that slide, “is a street that doesn’t exist yet,” Sowers elaborates. He’s now on to explaining that the Viaduct demolition, Battery Street Tunnel decommissioning, and North surface street connections are being combined into one contract, and they’re expecting proposals from four contractors “in the middle of next month.” That contract will be worth about $100 million.
Next – Carl See, senior financial analyst for WSTC, leading the tolling-status section of the briefing. He’s focused on presenting results of a study that was requested about two months ago. He says some key factors have changed since the analysis began. Here’s the slide showing them:
Note “all requested toll rate scenarios maintain initial toll rates” in $1-$2.50 range, the former overnight and weekends, the latter during PM weekday commute, and other steps inbetween. Beyond the possible rates, there are a variety of scenarios the commission wanted to analyze, including how much tolls might rise over the years ahead. Most of the options performed similarly over the years ahead, See said. The analysis also included a look at whether traffic would be “ramping up” post-tunnel opening and a mention of the possibility that there might be a no-tolling period at the start for drivers to get used to the tunnel.
1:53 PM: Three tolling options came out “generally at or above preliminary coverage target” for debt service, See says – options 1a, 3a, 5a. Here are the two slides that explain (note that they are both variants of the $1-to-$2.50 assumption, which remains a proposal – no final decision for a few months):
A lot of what they’re analyzing involves not just how much money is generating but what kind of a “cushion”/reserves will be generated. That would be needed, one commissioner notes, in case toll revenue drops off at some point, so some other part of the state budget wouldn’t have to be dipped into, to cover for a shortfall. In response to a question, See says they still have time to analyze other options … but not much. The commission should “settle on key financing assumptions, and determine if other scenarios are needed” by next month. They need to get some updated information before making that decision – including “updated debt service requirements for $200 million capital funding from Office of State Treasurer.”
It’s pointed out from the commission side of the room that “everybody wants to keep it nimble … we’re going to have to keep it flexible” depending on what actually happens with traffic and resulting toll-paying once the tunnel opens.
Timeline for decisionmaking includes public meetings in late spring, according to what was just shown:
March-April, stakeholder discussions continue
April 17-18, commission meets, decides on finance assumptions and whether more analysis is needed
April-June, more stakeholder outreach and public input meetings – plus more toll-scenario requests IF needed
June 19-20, tolling subcommittee of WSTC will have recommended toll-scenario options for the full commission to review
June-July, more “stakeholder outreach and public input meetings”
July 17-18 meeting, proposed final toll plan approved by commission
July-September, more “stakeholder outreach and public input meetings”
Commission meeting September 11th – public hearing and final decision
And one commissioner stresses that even with a no-toll grace period at start of tunnel operations, the tunnel rates do need to be finalized before opening.
2:25 PM: The tunnel update is over. The financial analyst is now on to a somewhat-related item, status of a proposal to standardize exemptions across the state’s tolled facilities – tolls are the purview of the Transportation Commission, which is why the tunnel decision is in its hands. They’re also looking at systemwide fees and rates, which are charged in different ways (think about the difference between ferries and bridges, for example) – look for public-input meetings on all this later this year, too. So we’re wrapping up our coverage here.
The Highway 99 tunnel’s expected to open in a matter of months, but the toll rates have yet to be finalized. The decision is in the hands of the Washington State Transportation Commission, which usually meets in Olympia, but will be meeting in downtown Seattle next Wednesday (March 14th). It’s a day-long meeting with multiple topics; tunnel tolling is scheduled for 1:30 pm – it’s a briefing/discussion, not a vote, as there’s no final proposal yet. The meeting is at Puget Sound Regional Council HQ (1011 Western, fifth floor), open to all, with a public-comment period in its final half-hour, starting at 4:10 pm. Meantime, you can see WSDOT’s latest tunnel-construction update by going here.
P.S. Semi-related reminder – as we reported on Thursday, one of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s last pre-demolition inspections will close it Saturday, March 24th, 6 am-6 pm (and the next day if needed, though most recent inspections have just used the first scheduled day)
WSDOT won’t send out a notice until it’s closer, but for your advance planning, we’ve confirmed that – as listed on the city’s weekly Construction Lookahead – the next Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closure is set for Saturday, March 24th, 6 am-6 pm. The state also reserves the right to close it again the same hours on Sunday, March 25th, but recent closures haven’t needed that second day. In confirming this with AWV spokesperson Laura Newborn, we noted that many people are likely to be on the road on March 24th getting to and from the March For Our Lives; she says they set the date before the march was planned, but hope it won’t be too much of an impact since the march route is from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center.
P.S. The most recent estimate for the permanent closure of the AWV is September – that’s what County Councilmember Joe McDermott told the West Seattle Transportation Coalition last month.
If you are headed out of West Seattle tomorrow morning, remember that – as we’ve been mentioning in our weekday morning traffic coverage – the Battery Street Tunnel and part of Highway 99 north of it will be closed for several hours because of the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K. The BSTunnel will be closed both ways between 6 am and 11:15 am; north of it, NB lanes will be closed to North 45th Street until 11:15 am, and SB lanes will be closed from N. 38th southward until 10:25 am. See other downtown closures here.
Thanks to Bruce for the tip via Twitter: Road work has a lane closed on the SB Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99, and that’s backing up traffic, even at this hour. We found the advisory on the right sidebar of this WSDOT page – it says the left lane will be closed between Columbia and Royal Brougham every night through Thursday night/Friday morning, 7 pm-5 am.
Since the Alaskan Way Viaduct might close forever before this year is out, this might be one of your last chances for an up-close-and-personal look: Cascade Bicycle Club is including The Viaduct on its Emerald City Ride route this spring, and even if you’re not up for the full route, you can sign up for the 3-Mile SR 99 Viaduct Experience, “designed for families with children and beginning riders.” It’s not a race, so, the club explains, “You’ll be able to stop, look around, take a photo, and enjoy the view.” This is happening the morning of April 8th on the northbound Viaduct (so even if you’re not interested in the ride, note that it’ll be closed to motorized vehicles for a few hours). Registration just opened today, and you can find out more here.
1:49 PM: That photo tweeted by SFD shows a truck crash that has closed the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct from the Battery Street Tunnel southward. No injuries, and the driver got out OK, but the SB lanes of The Viaduct will be closed until this is cleared.
Buses are being rerouted too, according to an alert just in from Metro. Updates to come.
2:32 PM: A tow truck is on scene.
3:23 PM: No time estimate yet on SB Viaduct reopening. But there’s some bad news if more people head to the West Seattle Water Taxi to get around the 99 problem – King County just sent an alert that the smaller Spirit of Kingston is on the WS route tonight. Meantime, most SB surface routes are backed up, according to info including the SDOT Travelers’ Map (look for the red).
3:32 PM: The southbound Viaduct has just reopened. The left lane is closed for repairs, though.
6:35 PM: The repair closure isn’t over yet, according to SDOT.
6:57 PM: All lanes are open again. (See comments below for some examples of this afternoon/evening’s nightmarish traffic.)
6:18 AM: Reminder that the Battery Street Tunnel closure is under way right now – closed for an inspection related to plans for its decommissioning after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is taken out of service. The closure is scheduled to continue until 10 am; if you are headed northbound on 99, you will have to exit at Western, and if you are headed southbound, you will have to exit at Denny.
10:19 AM The SDOT webcam above verifies the tunnel has reopened.
WSDOT‘s newest Highway 99 tunnel update is out, and the state says that Seattle Tunnel Partners‘ newest schedule indicates “the tunnel could open to drivers as soon as this fall.” They’re not ready to estimate a date yet, and WSDOT notes that a “significant amount of work remains between now and tunnel opening,” but it’s getting closer. And WSDOT’s update includes the reminder that when “the tunnel is ready to open, SR 99 through downtown Seattle will be closed to traffic for approximately three weeks” so that connections can be finalized. You can read the entire update here.
P.S. As we’ve been reminding you in the morning traffic/transportation updates, the Battery Street Tunnel will be closed for four hours this Saturday morning, 6-10 am, for an inspection related to its future decommissioning
ORIGINAL JANUARY 5TH REPORT: Early heads-up: One week from tomorrow – on Saturday morning, January 13th – the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close for four hours, both ways from Seneca to Denny, including the Battery Street Tunnel. This is for an inspection related to plans for decommissioning the BST when the Highway 99 tunnel goes into service and takes the Viaduct out of service. The closure is scheduled for 6 to 10 am on January 13th.
JANUARY 8TH UPDATE: The boundaries of the closure, originally published on SDOT’s weekly construction/closure advisory, were wrong, WSDOT tells us today, and it’s basically just the Battery Street Tunnel, so if you are northbound during the closure, you will be able to exit at Western; if you are southbound, you will be able to exit at Denny. And the Elliott Avenue onramp to SB 99 will remain open.
(WSDOT photo: Southbound tunnel portal near the stadium zone, photographed 2 weeks ago, shared to WSB Flickr group)
Though the Highway 99 tunnel is a little over a year from replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the tolls aren’t set yet – though the $1 vicinity was recommended almost four years ago. So what will they be? The next step toward decisions is set for next week, when the state Transportation Commission meets in Olympia, with the agenda for its two-day meeting including:
On December 12, the Washington State Department of Transportation Toll Division will present initial traffic and toll revenue projections for the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct portion of SR 99. The Washington State Legislature has directed that tolls raise $200 million toward project construction costs over time. Although the commission will not adopt toll rates until fall 2018, the data will be used to determine how toll rates will vary by time of day to manage congestion on the facility and impacts on surface streets.
You can see the full agenda here. The full meeting announcement notes that the tunnel toll rates are not expected to be finalized until fall of next year. (If you follow the link, you’ll see the two-day meeting includes some other hot topics, including the pilot project for a road-usage charge, and getting ready for “self-driving” vehicles.)
In case you haven’t already seen it – with the planned opening of the Alaskan Way Viaduct-replacing tunnel getting closer all the time (still estimated for early 2019), WSDOT has put together a two-minute video featuring a drone’s-eye view of what it looks like inside right now. It’s been six and a half months since the tunneling machine finished its part of the job. A short WSDOT update accompanying the video says the tunnel’s upper deck is 85 percent complete. For a more-detailed progress report, go here. And if you’ve forgotten details such as “how do you get from West Seattle to downtown once the tunnel opens,” this might help.
Two weeks ago today, a crash on the northbound Alaskan Way Viaduct sparked a van fire that resulted in more than two hours of morning-commute trouble. We brought you updates during our morning traffic coverage that day. As noted there, the vehicle that burned was a van belonging to Cupcake Royale, which said its driver was unhurt. The fire, while briefly big, as the photo above shows, was out before too long – SFD was dispatched at 6:14 am and the last engine left at 7:13, according to the incident log – but the burned van blocked a lane on the Viaduct for another hour and a quarter.
Given the commitment to clear key routes quickly, we asked what happened. Seattle Police, which handles incidents on the Viaduct though it’s a state structure, pointed us to the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which oversees the city’s towing contract. FAS deputy communications director Cyndi Wilder researched it for us:
Initially, it appeared to be a breakdown in communication that caused the towing response time. However, we’ve reviewed information from SPD and Lincoln Towing’s dispatch data, and we determined that the response time to clear the incident was due to delays in retrieving the flatbed truck SPD requested.
SPD had requested three tows, which included the request for a flatbed truck. The City’s tow contractor, Lincoln Towing, dispatched two line trucks to the scene and sent a third to Lincoln’s Aurora Avenue North location to pick up the flatbed truck. The line trucks arrived on the scene at 6:58 a.m. and 7:05 a.m. Due to heavy traffic to pick up the flatbed truck and return to the incident scene, the flatbed did not arrive at the scene until 8:15 a.m.
Although Lincoln Towing’s response times met the performance standards of the towing contract (excerpts from the contract are below), we are working with Lincoln Towing on ways to improve response times for future incidents. When special equipment is requested (like a flatbed truck), we’ve asked Lincoln Towing to reach out to its subcontractors to determine if they have the requested equipment in a location where they can respond to the scene more quickly.
Here are the excerpts Wilder provided from the city’s towing contract:
5.a.ii- Minimum Performance Standards
With an officer standing-by or inside the Downtown Traffic Control Zone (DTCZ), Vendor will respond within 30 minutes when a Class A tow truck is needed to perform a tow. When a Class B, Class C or Class E tow truck is needed to perform a tow, Vendor will respond within 60 minutes.
7.a.ii-Exemptions to Minimum Performance Standards
……The following subsections describe situations when the City will grant an exemption
Two or more Tow Trucks Requested to One Impound Site: When two or more tow trucks are requested at one impound site, the first arriving tow truck will be held to the response time standard. SPD will grant an exemption for each tow truck arriving, provided the second tow truck arrives at the location of the impound within 60 minutes.
Back in 2015, after the notorious “fish-truck crash” blocked southbound 99 for nine hours, a variety of policy changes were recommended. Looking back at that, we’re seeing fodder for another followup.
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) October 8, 2017
Crossing the eastbound West Seattle Bridge about 10 minutes ago, we noticed the ramp to NB 99 was open again, unannounced. And now WSDOT has confirmed the closure is over – Highway 99 is open again both ways.
Inspectors for the Washington State Department of Transportation completed their work early and reopened southbound State Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle for the remainder of the weekend.
Drivers, please note: Northbound SR 99 remains closed between South Spokane Street and the Battery Street Tunnel for work related to the future SR 99 tunnel.
Northbound SR 99 and the viaduct will reopen to traffic by 5 a.m. Monday, Oct. 9.
If you missed the brief mention in today’s morning traffic report – WSDOT has scheduled the next twice-yearly Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closures for next weekend. But this time, it’s a 2-part plan:
–NORTHBOUND Highway 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and Battery Street Tunnel is scheduled to be closed all weekend, 11 pm Friday, October 6th, until 5 am Monday, October 9th. In addition to the twice-yearly inspection, parts of this stretch are also scheduled for other projects including utility work.
–SOUTHBOUND Highway 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and Battery Street Tunnel is scheduled for closure 5 am to 6 pm each day on Saturday, October 7th, and Sunday, October 8th.
(As always, we’ll be monitoring all this for updates in case the closures end early.)
Back on Monday, we reported that WSDOT was launching (and advertising) an info campaign about the Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition that’ll start after the Highway 99 tunnel opens, expected in early 2019. As part of it, an “online open house” was set to go live today. While it wasn’t ready when we looked this morning, it is now. Go here to check it out, including some of the side topics that have been discussed here, including the transitional tunnel-to-Viaduct plan, and what happens to the Battery Street Tunnel. The last page of the “open house” site includes a chance to comment – and remember there’s also an in-person open house downtown a week from tonight (drop in 5-8 pm Thursday, August 10th, 1400 Western Ave.).
Though the Highway 99 tunnel is still about a year and a half from opening, WSDOT is ready to talk about what happens once it’s open – the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Published on the AWV website today:
With tunnel boring complete, we’re deep in the planning stages for demolition of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct. On Thursday, we’ll launch an online open house to show what’s ahead and give the public a chance to comment on the work to come.
Removing the seismically vulnerable viaduct will be the most visible change to Seattle’s waterfront in decades. The demolition work begins after the new State Route 99 tunnel opens, which is estimated for early 2019.
WSDOT has successfully completed this type of work before. In 2011, we demolished the viaduct’s southern mile and built a new road in its place. However, the remaining section of the viaduct is more challenging, as it is much closer to buildings, businesses, homes and the busy Colman Dock ferry terminal.
Demolition is expected to take up to nine months, with the viaduct being demolished in sections to minimize localized disruptions. This contract will also involve other project elements, like filling in the Battery Street Tunnel and reconnecting several surface streets across Aurora Avenue North, which will take additional time.
Several weeks before the new tunnel opens, WSDOT will shift Alaskan Way to the west of the viaduct, which will allow traffic to move along the waterfront before and during viaduct demolition. This new video below explains some of the planning for the demolition.
Online open house
The online open house will be live from August 3 – 14.
In-person open house
WSDOT is also hosting an in-person open house on August 10 for anyone interested in the work or who wants to speak with project staff. Representatives from Waterfront Seattle, Center City Connector Streetcar, Colman Dock, King County Metro and One Center City will also be available to answer questions.
Date: Thursday, August 10
Time: 5 to 8 p.m. (walk-in style, no formal presentation)
Where: Waterfront Seattle, 1400 Western Avenue
We’ll publish a reminder Thursday when the “online open house” is ready to go.
(Note: WSDOT is advertising the open houses on WSB right now to help get the word out.)