Spokane Street Viaduct project: How it’ll change your life


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):

View Larger Map

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.

19 Replies to "Spokane Street Viaduct project: How it'll change your life"

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS May 13, 2008 (11:20 am)

    Man oh man is SODO going to be a bigger cluster than it already is! There’s no way around it but it is not going to be fun for a long time. Sit on the bus or sit in your car or take your life into your hands by walking/biking out of WS.
    Regarding the oldest sign .. I still see people use this onramp when I am on heading to WS from I 5. Cars sneak through sometimes but mostly it’s motorcycles.. if people only knew why this ramp was closed, they wouldn’t dare try it, especially now since no one has been expecting any traffic for 15 years to come up from this area.
    A tip if anyone hasn’t already noticed, the SPD uses this ramp on occasion to stage motorcycle cops for speed traps. They have also been here every 4th of July so watch it. :)

  • Vanessa May 13, 2008 (11:38 am)

    Does this mean there will be no exit to 4th from the west bound lanes?

  • Frank May 13, 2008 (12:00 pm)

    There is an exit to the SODO area from west bound. If you are on I-5 take the Forest Street exit, if coming from Beacon Hill take the 6th Ave S exit.

  • Frank May 13, 2008 (12:02 pm)

    And from North bound I-5 you can get to SODO from the Beacon Hill/West Seattle exit by taking the ramp that goes to 6 Ave So.

  • WSB May 13, 2008 (12:18 pm)

    Yes – 1st will be the only exit westbound, from SSV. As Frank notes, I-5 has options. That’s probably a followup … new routes…

  • Michael May 13, 2008 (12:27 pm)

    Hooray for removing the huge logjam that is that hard-right exit to 4th. That will definitely help the evening commute every bit as much as widening the road.
    And it will ease traffic on the EB 1st Ave exit to have a 4th Ave exit. (Sorry, rat man, but I see SODO as not a “cluster” but a great option that has saved me immense amounts of time over waiting in the WSB single-lane “conga line” for the NB I-5 exit, thanks to Edgar Martinez Drive. When they start tearing down the Viaduct? THEN it will be a “cluster.”)

  • Michael May 13, 2008 (12:30 pm)

    Oh, and one more question: does this mean they’ll finally be able to return the Spokane St. Viaduct’s speed limit to 45?

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS May 13, 2008 (1:00 pm)

    I feel the same way about the logjam, I look fwd to that being relieved. Yes, SODO it will be cluster when 99 is gone. Imagine if a train blows through AND there is a Mariners or Seahawks game! :) The biggest problem I see with this detour is having to cross the tracks or stacking up who knows how many blocks to take Edgar M DR to avoid the trains.

  • Andy May 13, 2008 (1:05 pm)

    I’m a little confused, what’s the timeline on the 1st Ave S on/off ramps? Will there be any way to get on the bridge from SODO while they’re re-doing that portion?

  • Frank May 13, 2008 (2:34 pm)

    Wow!! Good question!
    The only way to get on WSF from SODO, iirc, is that on ramp.
    Maybe they will reopen the 4th Ave ramp while the new on ramp from 1st Ave is being built?

  • miws May 13, 2008 (2:46 pm)

    I can’t believe it’s been 15 years already since they closed the 4th S on-ramp!



  • Scott May 13, 2008 (5:42 pm)

    Dawn Tabor – anyone remember this name?
    Her accident and resulting death was the ‘last straw’ that closed the 4th Ave on-ramp to the West Seattle Freeway (at that time).

  • WSB May 13, 2008 (5:52 pm)

    thanks for the archive link, Scott. eerie to read that article and see the part about “it ultimately needs to be widened” … and to realize it’s only just happening now, FIFTEEN YEARS LATER. Dawn Tabor’s little girl who survived the crash would be grown up now.

  • Susan May 13, 2008 (7:37 pm)

    This project doesn’t seem like it will address the always confusing and frustrating 1st Ave South issues: turning south on 1st off of the bridge; turning right on the bridge when heading northbound on 1st Ave. S. Does it?

  • miws May 13, 2008 (8:09 pm)

    Yes, thanks for the link, Scott. I was going to look that up myself.


    Although I didn’t remember the names, I did remember the basics of the accident, including the tragic death of Ms Tabor and her little boy, and that it was the reason for the permanent ramp closure.


    I still had a car back then. I made a vow to myself after the accident, that I would wouldn’t go over the speed limit along that stretch of road. As far as I recall, I stuck to it until my car broke down a couple of years later, and it was back to the bus.

    I would drive it everyday, eastbound, on my way to work via I-5. (Taking 99 home.)


    Again, hard to belive it’s been 15 years….

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS May 14, 2008 (7:43 am)

    Yes, thanks Scott for the link to the story about the fatality in 1993 that I alluded to in my original post.
    I cannot imagine why this on ramp was built in this way or deemed an option to access what was then a freeway with higher speed limits and no center divider. Hindsight is 20/20 but even at the time it must have seemed like a highly dangerous concept.

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS May 14, 2008 (7:45 am)

    I think I have made this point before but why do a certain number of deaths and/or accidents have to happen before a dangerous or poorly designed stretch of road like this one, is closed?

  • eric May 14, 2008 (11:38 am)

    “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 one it’s done.”

    This is a no-brainer – make an easy connection to the 5th Ave busway, straight into the tunnel.

    This should have been done years ago!

  • Scott May 14, 2008 (4:07 pm)

    Do we really need a ‘bus ONLY’ lane?
    Why not take the example available in so many other places and encourage carpooling?

Sorry, comment time is over.