Video, photos, and text by Christopher Boffoli
WSDOT maintenance crews closed the Alaskan Way Viaduct for 12 hours today for its semi-annual inspection and repairs, and are scheduled to do it again 6 am-6 pm tomorrow.
And as West Seattle drivers no doubt cursed the increased congestion as they navigated alternate routes off the peninsula, a select group of lucky people donned hard hats and reflective vests for walking tours of the 56-year-old structure. Transportation Department organizers said that the weekend’s public tours were open to anyone who signed up, though they filled up quickly. Hundreds of people were scheduled to tour the Viaduct this weekend and many more were put on waiting lists.
In addition to the public walking tours, a media tour was organized for first thing this morning, and WSB went along for a closer look at what’s being done this weekend – not just the inspection, but also some work related to the Viaduct’s proposed replacement.
According to WSDOT Project Manager Ron Paananen, “Closing the Viaduct gives us an opportunity to do inspection, maintenance and preservation work all at one time, as opposed to forcing us to do lane closures at night, spread over many weeks.” As the first media tour began at 9 a.m. this morning, crews were already busy cleaning and re-striping the roadways as well as surveying the structure to test for settlement.
Over the course of the weekend, crews will search for and remove loose concrete, repair guardrails and exposed rebar, clean traffic cameras, inspect lighting and drainage systems, and will repair expansion joints. Along the tour, WSDOT employees pointed out several joints where empty, inch-wide gaps revealed the street below. The van tour went to the far north end of the work area, the Battery Street Tunnel, which is closed around the clock all weekend, unlike the Viaduct itself.
Additional work in the tunnel included testing and maintenance of the ventilation and fire suppression systems. Using a fleet of specialized equipment, WSDOT crews were also washing down the walls of the tunnel. And just outside of its northern end, a contractor was drilling soil samples for the proposed deep-bore tunnel planned as part of the future Viaduct replacement. Paananen said that although the tunnel currently being planned will not follow the course of the current tunnel the soil samples were being taken at the point where the new tunnel will join the existing path of SR 99.
During the tunnel portion of the tour, media reps were escorted through the tunnel’s sliding emergency doors and into a small, hidden control room where the tunnel’s caretakers used to attend to its ventilation and emergency systems in 24 hour shifts. The systems are now automated. But the control room, a tiny bathroom, a stairway providing an escape route to the street, and a collection of 1950’s era hand-painted signs remain.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct was completed in the spring of 1953 and carries an estimated 100,000 cars each day. Both decks of the Viaduct will be closed again tomorrow between Spokane Street and the Battery Street Tunnel until they open again at 6 p.m. on Sunday night. But the tunnel will remain closed until 5 a.m. on Monday morning to provide crews with extra time to inspect the fire suppression system.
Results of the inspection will be made public next week.