Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, day 1: The media tour

Video, photos, and text by Christopher Boffoli
WSB photojournalist

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.

9 Replies to "Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, day 1: The media tour"

  • Kevin March 21, 2009 (7:20 pm)

    Great video Christopher, thank you for taking the time to produce the video. Very well done!

  • yo March 21, 2009 (7:45 pm)

    That was an amazing video; I love transportation infrastructure!

  • Mr. Matt March 22, 2009 (3:20 am)

    Neat vid – were you using a faux-steadicam for the walk and those quick pans ~49 seconds? :)

    Also the last shot reminds me that they really need to repave that intersection and onramp… still.
    That and the 1st ave ramp over Spokane on SODO are so chewed up and rutted it feels like it’s going to tear out the bottom of my car every day.

    K I’m done complaining now. :P

  • Christopher Boffoli March 22, 2009 (7:27 am)

    Mr. Matt: No Steadicams. It was all handheld which explains why it was all so shaky. I’m learning that shooting in 1080p is much less forgiving than the old blurry video of old. Fortunately I have the capacity to do at least a little bit of stabilization in post.
    Thanks for the kind comments everyone!

  • bridge to somewhere March 22, 2009 (9:20 am)

    nice montage and great reporting! i really like seeing/eading about those [normally] hidden parts of the urban environment/transporation infrastructure . . . was the tunnel control room pretty lame?

    the photo of the gap in the viaduct deck is certainly disconcerting!

  • bridge to somewhere March 22, 2009 (9:20 am)

    “eading” = “reading” :-)

  • christopherboffoli March 22, 2009 (9:51 am)

    bridge: The control room was tiny but interesting. My favorite bit was the antiquated control panels with colored lights and old 50’s typefaces. I’ve uploaded a few additional images to the WSB Forums here:
    As they are only a couple of inches wide, I don’t think there are any cars that are in danger of falling through those expansion joint gaps. But it was a bit unsettling to walk over them.

  • bridge to somewhere March 22, 2009 (11:12 am)

    awesome! thanks for the pics — they are interesting! the control room is in better shape than i would have expected, what with all the soot that cakes the walls of the tunnel

  • AD March 22, 2009 (1:22 pm)

    That was neat, thanks.

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