Build a new viaduct – over the old one?


Got a note inviting us to a briefing next week where a Florida man will try to get traction for his idea to replace the Central Waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct without having to tear down the old one first: The rendering you see above is from the website for the “Seattle Skyway” (which, a few pages in, also proposes an alternative replacement for the 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington); its proponent, Jim Powers, says the 70-foot-high “Skyway” could be built for less than a billion dollars. No cost estimates yet on the 8 Viaduct “scenarios” currently officially under consideration; Powers says his idea is really just a variation on “Option D,” officially sketched by the state as follows:


Powers’ briefing is next Wednesday night, the day before the next meeting of the Stakeholders Advisory Committee (4 pm Thursday 9/25, City Hall) that’s helping evaluate possibilities as state/city/county leaders move closer to a Central Waterfront decision.

33 Replies to "Build a new viaduct - over the old one?"

  • PSPS September 19, 2008 (6:14 am)

    An intriguing idea and I hope it gets some traction. There will be resistance to any such efforts, of course, from those who stand to benefit financially from the current ridiculous scheme that involves the loss of use of 99 for years.
    Any “solution” that includes an interruption of 99 traffic for any length of time will permanently divide the city in two because there will be no reasonable way to traverse the SODO area.

  • old timer September 19, 2008 (7:09 am)

    That’s a pretty imaginative solution he proposes.
    I wonder how it will go over with all the factions currently aligned with their respective positions.
    The fact that it may save money might be it’s downfall.

  • Christopher Boffoli September 19, 2008 (7:14 am)

    Unfortunately, this design would do nothing to mitigate the significant amount of traffic noise and constant exhaust. Replacing elevated freeways along our waterfront with bigger, higher structures doesn’t seem as forward thinking to me as reducing our reliance on cars and reuniting our city with its waterfront. Boston did it. San Francisco did it. Seattle can do it too.

  • cruiser September 19, 2008 (8:03 am)


    Where did they get that nice blue sky in that rendering and put that damn dog on a leash!

  • s September 19, 2008 (8:46 am)

    i work downtown. i fear that when/if the viaduct comes down, i will have to give up my beloved apartment in west seattle and become a resident of downtown.

    i am all for public transportation…but my bus goes on the viaduct, too!! there will never come a time when no cars are headed downtown during rush hour, so the busses will be just as stuck as the cars.

    now, if only we could have gotten the monorail we voted for…..

  • ellenater September 19, 2008 (8:58 am)

    lol, cruiser. my thoughts, also…

    I like this idea!

  • k2 September 19, 2008 (9:35 am)

    this is ridiculous…build a tunnel and connect it to the tunnel that already exists. reclaim all of that space as green space connecting downtown to the water front. it’s not that hard, boston did it, although they didn’t do it right since it was riddled with mob related hiccups…but it’s so easy and it wouldn’t fragment our city..

    MONORAIL? Are you friggin serious? What is this 1975? SO much concrete and land disruption goes into monorails and they’re UGLY.

    What we need to do is expand on the current SLUT and close down 3rd avenue and make it a light rail alley…extend it through to west seattle using the multiple train bridges we already have…and connect to sodo so you can get to the airport…

    Seattle is one of the few metro areas that just doesn’t get it.

  • JimmyG September 19, 2008 (10:38 am)

    The Big Dig in Boston worked out so well for that city. Could it have been more over-budget or more past it’s scheduled completion date?

    And there was no corruption involved. And no shoddy workmanship. Of all of the large transportation projects in the US the Big Dig is not the poster child of how to do it correctly.

    Minneapolis-St. Paul was somehow able to rebuild their bridge in one year. Seems with proper motivation a new viaduct could be re-built more quickly than what we’re being told.

  • Lachlan September 19, 2008 (10:40 am)

    Part of the problem with the viaduct area, as I recall, is the instability of the soil beneath it. Why build another tall structure? It seems like it would be in danger the same way the current viaduct is.

  • mellaw6565 September 19, 2008 (10:46 am)

    I really like this idea – anything that preserves one of the best scenic drives in America is ok with me, not to mention that it maintains a very needed highway to our area.

    A tunnel would scare the hell out of me given the fault lines, etc… I’d much rather take my chance on an elevated structure than getting suffocated in a tunnel anyday.

  • GenHillOne September 19, 2008 (11:01 am)

    And JimmyG – that bridge was built in one year, under budget, by Seattle’s Manson Construction

  • Bob September 19, 2008 (11:19 am)

    Twin Cities also got a successful light rail system put up in 3 years. Does us no good to compare to the Midwest, though. The ‘get it done” attitude back there that results in these successful projects could never take hold on the West coast.

  • Scott September 19, 2008 (11:36 am)

    Bus’s don’t pay taxes. The are highly subsidized by those that drive personal transportation… who’s going to pay for the bus/tunnel/monorail when there are no more cars?

  • quiz September 19, 2008 (11:48 am)

    I love this idea. What a wonderful solution.

  • CB September 19, 2008 (12:06 pm)

    Looks like it belongs in Florida. Imagine how bad all that white paint would look after a year or two. Just look at the top of Qwest Field for an example.

  • JanS September 19, 2008 (12:16 pm)

    so paint it another color…that’s minor(it’s just an artist’s rendering, after all). I like this idea, too. People are constantly talking about the instability of the soil, and how it would affect an above the ground viaduct. I think about how the instability of the ground would cause problems with a tunnel. That’s downright scary to me.

  • Stephen September 19, 2008 (12:22 pm)

    This idea certainly involves some ‘outside the box’ thinking, but being able to actually construct this elevated bridge idea would be a logistical/safety nightmare. The odds of traffic being permitted to travel during construction of the bridge sections are not good, and the amount of space that would be required for cranes and other heavy equipment would create issues near the piers.

    Perhaps if all the support structure was built (allowing traffic to continue) and the bridge sections were pre-cast and moved into place during a short window, traffic would be affected for months instead of years.

    There really is no realistic and elegant solution to rebuild the AW Viaduct without affecting current traffic, but this one is the closest I’ve seen.

  • the_bridge_to_somewhere September 19, 2008 (12:24 pm)

    The proposal doesn’t have the polish that would suggest adequate engineering work has been done on this proposal, but I’ll suspend my disbelief on that one and focus instead on one statement in particular: “BILLIONS OF DOLLARS COULD BE SAVED AND WITHOUT ADDED COSTS OF INTERRUPTING HWY. 99 TRAFFIC OR DISRUPTING LOCAL BUSINESS: By creating a sleek, beautiful, wing-like steel SKYWAY 30 ft. above the Alaskan Way Viaduct. We build using the old viaduct as a scaffold.” Notwithstanding the use of all caps here (comes across as not very professional), I’m curious as to how you can use the old viaduct as a scaffold on which to place the new bridge, while having no interruption to traffic on said viaduct/scaffold? Am I missing something?

  • cjboffoli September 19, 2008 (12:29 pm)

    JimmyG: Despite your stunning syllogisms, Seattle obviously isn’t Boston. And despite that projects significant problems, the new suspension bridge and tunnels are an extreme improvement over the horribly decrepit Central Artery elevated highways they replaced.
    The backfilled soil along the Seattle waterfront does make liquifaction a danger during earthquakes when the land tends to mimic the properties of jello. And I’m not a geologist, but I think as we’ve seen from the recent retrofit of some of the Viaduct’s column foundations, there is stable ground under there if you go deep enough.

  • Cleveland Ken September 19, 2008 (12:35 pm)

    Build it now.

  • Ron Burgundy September 19, 2008 (12:56 pm)

    For those of you who are pro-tunnel, you should consider this option: Why would you want to dig a tunnel through fill rather than rethink how we get through downtown. We could tunnel through solid ground like we did with the bus tunnel and train tunnel. We would then be creating a third oppion for getting through the city, could link our waterfront to our downtown, keep the current surface street for mass transit and create a 1.5 mile park/green area where the viaduct currently lies. This technology has been utilized throughout the world, including the Chunnel. It’s worth a thought.

  • Jenny September 19, 2008 (1:17 pm)

    That Seattle TUBE idea looks interesting. Just a little critique of the website: There’s no hint of who’s behind this on the website. You should also add some news updates/blog entries on the homepage, to let us know that the effort hasn’t gone dormant.

  • Thomas September 19, 2008 (1:38 pm)

    It’s a cheap trick of architectural renderers to put green grass, happy bikers, and scampering children around their designs. You’re being lied to.

    A raised viaduct, regardless of any other quality, would be noisy, dirty, smelly and basically not a place that anyone would bring their kids to play around. Raised highways just don’t come out like this–they more often end up being places for parking cars or for sheltering homeless people. Go hang around the current viaduct downtown at Madison, for example.

  • Mickymse September 19, 2008 (2:14 pm)

    k2, were you here when we were trying to build a monorail??? There’s a reason they build monorail in cities around the world, but light rail in the U.S. Follow the $$$. The defunct monorail project would have replaced fewer businesses and houses than light rail, cost less to operate, looked smaller and prettier, and was planned to come to West Seattle across the existing West Seattle Bridge — unlike light rail which is bigger, heavier, and will require a new bridge crossing to come here.

  • Donna September 19, 2008 (2:37 pm)

    For those that are scared of a tunnel because of earthquakes, ever ride BART? Thank goodness Orville & Wilbur Wright didn’t listen to similar fears.

  • chuck mitchell September 19, 2008 (3:04 pm)

    I’m sure you have heard of “the Bridge to nowhere”

    This idea should be nick’ “the viaduct to Somewhere” & pushed through by OUR Govenner.

  • 34th and Thistle September 19, 2008 (3:33 pm)

    A new elevated freeway of any kind is a noisy wall of concrete and traffic between downtown and the water. It’s a ticket to 75 more years of urban blight.

    A tunnel would be great – but whether cut and cover or a deep bore “tube,” it’s a fantasy, because there’s no money for it now.

    The best solution is “surface-transit” – a optimized surface street with synchronized lights, perhaps the option of a one way couplet of Alaskan Way southbound and Western Ave northbound; and more and better transit options.

    Keep in mind, also, that if surface-transit results in Armageddon as the naysayers insist, you can always come back and dig a deep-bore tunnel later if the money is found.

  • 34th and Thistle September 19, 2008 (3:49 pm)

    “those who stand to benefit financially from the current ridiculous scheme that involves the loss of use of 99 for years”

    Who stands to benefit financially from the loss of use of 99 for years?

    “will permanently divide the city in two because there will be no reasonable way to traverse the SODO area”

    Have you ever used East Marginal Way, 1st Ave. S., 4th Ave. S., Airport Way, I-5, or a bus on the Busway?

  • Keith September 19, 2008 (8:08 pm)

    I’ve been a fan/proponent of The Tube idea, but I’m not sure it’s an option still on the table. It might make too much sense for Seattle to take it seriously!

  • Stephen September 22, 2008 (1:10 pm)

    Follow up on my previous comment – building the viaduct higher would impair views of those who site-see and live along this corridor so they’d likely not be too keen on it.

    As for sound mitigation, engineers can design a bridge to redirect noise upward in lieu of all over (which is what the viaduct does now). Just think of how Qwest Field was designed to keep the visiting team in a sea of noise.

  • BillR September 23, 2008 (1:10 pm)

    Color me unimpressed.

    From the website, this guy does not even appear to be an engineer. From what I can gather, he has taken the design of a French Bridge that has practically no similarities with our needs a) its rural, b) it is a very tall span c) and then suggested that we can use the current viaduct as scaffolding to build the new one – with no structural discussion if this is even possible. His new viaduct would be considerably higher and wider than the current viaduct, meaning more visually impacting, and more likely to cut off connection between the City and Waterfront. From his amatuerish website I see no indication of thinking through the logistics of moving remarkably massive prebuilt sections into place on a city waterfront.

    As a final point…It also does nothing to reduce auto traffic… it expands it! We need transportation solutions that are less auto reliant, not more. Has anyone noticed we have less and less oil available each year, or is it just me?

  • k2 September 23, 2008 (4:29 pm)

    I didn’t say let’s see if we can mimick the big dig. I’m saying let’s build a tunnel, reclaim the space…in a city so concerned with green space I can’t believe you’d opt for a viaduct replacement…it’s absolutely idiotic.

    And seriously a monorail looking pretty? Like the crappy looking one we have that is at west lake? what happens when a new monorail gets stuck on the west seattle bridge, and catches fire like the lovely one we already have? People will jump to their death…fantastic…

    You know if we actually took the money to lay tracks all around the lake(s) we’d have public transportation money to dump back into the community.

    This city never gets anything done in a timely manner so all our comments are absolutely FUTILE.

  • ChadK September 24, 2008 (9:42 pm)

    I thought I’d point out to some people, in regards to reaching SODO and areas south quickly and efficiently, that perhaps some people do not live in West Seattle and might not have the alternatives of taking East Marginal Way, 1st Ave. S., 4th Ave. S., Airport Way.

    Y’know, those that might perhaps live in Ballard, Fremont (bisected by SR-99), Queen Anne, and Magnolia that would have an even lengthier bus ride to contend with, having to trudge laterally across town in order to reach the next limited access corridor, Interstate 5?

Sorry, comment time is over.