Alaskan Way Viaduct now open again, ‘lane reduction’ in place

(Added 1:46 pm, northbound trip through the lane-reduction zone. Note the 35 mph stretch. SB video added below)
Just in from WSDOT – the Alaskan Way Viaduct is now open again, with the new reduced-lane configuration between the West Seattle Bridge and the stadiums. Here’s the official announcement:

Crews reopened the State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct ahead of schedule Sunday after completing work to narrow the highway for construction between the West Seattle Bridge and Seattle’s stadiums.

SR 99 reopened at noon, Sunday. During the closure, crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reconfigured the lanes and set up a new construction zone.

The early reopening brings an early start to long-term lane reductions on the south end of the viaduct. This section of SR 99 is now reduced from three lanes in each direction to two. The lane reduction provides crews with enough room to safely continue building the new side-by-side highway that will replace the viaduct between S. Holgate and S. King streets.

“This is a long-term traffic change that will affect drivers as they commute to and through downtown Seattle,” said Ron Paananen, WSDOT’s Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement program administrator. “If drivers can adjust their schedules, ride the bus, join a carpool or vanpool, or telecommute, that will help reduce congestion on the viaduct.”

WSDOT South End Projects Director Matt Preedy said drivers should also be prepared for narrower lanes shifted to the east, a 35 mph speed limit and no shoulder through the work zone.

“Drivers can protect themselves, their fellow commuters and workers by slowing down, paying attention and eliminating distractions,” Preedy said.

SR 99 will be a four-lane highway through SODO through at least 2013 and possibly longer, until the central waterfront portion of the viaduct is replaced. Due to the duration of the lane closures, WSDOT, the city of Seattle and King County Metro Transit invested in several road and transit improvements to keep people and goods moving during construction. WSDOT’s investment of $125 million provided for:

* Roadway improvements: Improved SR 519 and built a new Spokane Street Viaduct Fourth Avenue off-ramp.
* Transit investments: Added bus service to and from southwest Seattle and new programs to encourage the use of transit, ridesharing, and teleworking. .
* System reliability: New real-time driver information signs on I-5, SR 99 and other routes to downtown.
* WSDOT Incident Response Team patrols on SR 99 during the morning and evening commutes to clear stalls and collisions faster.

WSDOT traffic engineers expect longer travel times on SR 99 and the West Seattle Bridge during the morning and evening commutes, and before and after events at the stadiums. Drivers can help minimize delays by using transit and by trying an alternate route or an alternative to their normal commute.

We are off to get a look, and will add photos/video soon as we’re back, for those who’ve been wondering what it will look like when they commute via the reduced-lane Viaduct tomorrow. ADDED: Northbound video is atop the story; southbound video here:

48 Replies to "Alaskan Way Viaduct now open again, 'lane reduction' in place"

  • genesseehillmike May 15, 2011 (1:52 pm)

    I just drove the route. The bottleneck of going to two lanes both north and south from roughly the WS bridge to the stadiums is going to be a nightmare during rush hour, although it is just a minor slow down today (only a small volume of traffic either way). The least common sense aspect is the bus lane on the right-hand side as traffic coming off the WS bridge enters 99 north. Commuters have to immediately merge left to get out of the bus lane, but the bus lane ends several hundred yards later (just as you start going up to the elevated viaduct portion as you pass Home Depot). Thus the buses will be merging right back in. Makes no sense and will cause two slinky slow downs to the already congested bottleneck. Why have a “bus lane” for a few hundred yards in the middle of all this?

  • z May 15, 2011 (1:58 pm)

    Where’s McGinn’s bike lanes? SR 99 will be a four-lane highway through SODO through at least 2013.
    boo! this bites.

  • Robert May 15, 2011 (2:02 pm)

    Thanks for the video – that is really useful.

  • Mtnpeak May 15, 2011 (2:20 pm)

    @genneseehillmike: I imagine the bus lane was really just designed to be a slightly longer merge lane for the buses, not a true travel lane. I’m no traffic engineer though.

  • Recall McGinn May 15, 2011 (2:50 pm)

    Thanks for posting these videos, it gives me an idea of what to look forward to tomorrow.

    This will be a major inconvenience but at least it’s better than having no viaduct while the tunnel is being built.

  • JanS May 15, 2011 (3:01 pm)

    and, what a great weather video…!!! Thanks, TR/Patrick…

    • WSB May 15, 2011 (3:12 pm)

      Glad it’s helpful; now of course it’s stopped raining but I don’t know if realistically we’ll be able to go do it again minus the windshield wipers :) But tomorrow we will be covering the commute as-it-happens …

  • LatteRose May 15, 2011 (3:02 pm)

    Thanks for the video!

  • CandrewB May 15, 2011 (3:04 pm)

    Just asking, Southbound from the Battery St Tunnel, which is two lanes, does it then go up to three from the Elliot on-ramp only to go back to two at the stadiums? Won’t this create an unnecessary bottle-neck right at the Columbia St on-ramp where all of the buses have to enter?

  • CandrewB May 15, 2011 (3:10 pm)

    Just watched and answered my own question. Now, can they restrict a lane from the tunnel so this guaranteed bottle-neck doesn’t cause back-ups from the stadiums, up Columbia and then into 3rd Ave during the evening rush?

  • Prince of Pigeon Point May 15, 2011 (3:38 pm)

    No matter what’s being done for traffic, it never gets better, only worse.

    I was talking with my father who officially retired years back but continue to be engaged in the community in many ways, including working for the Mariners.

    He pats me on the head for moving to within 6 miles of my office with no freeway or West Seattle Bridge to contend on a daily basis as part of my commute which I cycle occasionally.

    When I was a youngster I lived in Edmonds and worked on Harbor Island…I took the bus or rode my motorcycle on 99. It was almost always around a 25 minute trip.

    Today when I do have to venture out during commuting time, like last Thursday to University Village from West Seattle, it took a whopping 45 minutes.

    My dear old dad it right…it does not matter….it just gets worse never better.

  • genesseehillmike May 15, 2011 (3:44 pm)

    WSB. Great video. Timely and thorough coverage (as usual).

    Mtnpeak: Check the video of the NB commute. If the far right-hand is supposed to be a “merge lane,” why limit it to buses only? The buses and cars coming off the WS bridge ramp to NB 99 are already in single file (having put up with the stop-and-go merge at the bottom of the off-ramp upon leaving the bridge). As this single-file line enters NB 99, the cars are expected to merge left immediately into a busy lane with existing traffic that is coming up from behind on W. Marginal. After making that abrupt and tricky merge, the cars then have to slow down a few hundred yards later so the buses can re-merge back into single-file just like they were when they entered NB 99. IMHO this is going to create two extra (and unnecessary) stop-and-go’s. But, like you, I’m no traffic engineer (although I once stayed at Holiday Inn Express).

  • Watertowerjoey May 15, 2011 (4:03 pm)

    Prediction #1) The Bus only merge lane will create the backup. Busses “nosing in” will cause cars to stop(rather than slow down as they would for a car merging), and then it’s all over. The bus drivers will take it to the very, very end before merging in. Awful plan and it won’t cause one person to “ride the bus”.

    Prediction #2) When the SB lineup for the WS bridge starts to form (sun, volume, whatever) it is going to be IMPOSSIBLE to get to WS from downtown in less than 30 minutes.

    Get rid of that bus lane!

  • Cakeordeath May 15, 2011 (4:08 pm)

    Thanks for the video! Very useful! WSB rules!

  • homesick May 15, 2011 (4:10 pm)

    so glad i’m such an early bird. hope it won’t be horrible at 6am.

  • boy May 15, 2011 (4:15 pm)

    for safty reasons people and common sense just use the bus lane for a safe merge. It is just a white line on the road. So you ride in the bus lane alittle longer to get up to speed then merge in. But I’m sure people will treat the white line on the road as a brick wall and have to merge in at all cost before it says buses only. Bring your extra extra large cup of coffe it is going to be a long mornnig. Maybe some extra food and water rations and a pee bottle.

  • Genesee Hill May 15, 2011 (4:19 pm)

    From 1960 to the present, the population of King County has more than doubled. Hmmm…do you think that has anything to do with the longer commute times? Just look at the Junction area in the last 25 years, or so. Notice any trends? Like a bit more housing, perhaps?

  • Paula T May 15, 2011 (4:55 pm)

    I’m so glad my commute is only 4 blocks from home. I wish you all patience to get through this traffic nightmare.

  • Jim May 15, 2011 (5:01 pm)

    According to the WSDOT website, this south portion replacement project (which is, they say, independent of the central portion replacement project) is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2013. At that time, again according to their website, SR 99 will be 3 lanes each way south of S. Atlantic. So when they say that the current lane restriction may continue past 2013, is WSDOT referring to the two lane detour they will build connecting the south replacement to the existing central portion of the viaduct from S. Atlantic to S. King?
    Otherwise, I don’t understand this “SR 99 will be a four-lane highway through SODO through at least 2013 and possibly longer” part of the announcement.

    • WSB May 15, 2011 (5:06 pm)

      Jim – that was explained, although with tortuous difficulty, at the event I covered two weeks ago when this was announced. According to Viaduct project boss Ron Paananen, the only scenario in which this would be three lanes before the completion of the tunnel-or-? is if that project stalls, somehow. Basically, as I understood it, it’s two lanes each way TFN, period, absent some unexpected scenario. – TR

  • Genesee Hill May 15, 2011 (5:17 pm)

    Thank you, TR, for your exceptional patience with us.

  • Darkseid May 15, 2011 (7:01 pm)

    It is always the selfish car drivers that whine about the bus lanes.

  • sa May 15, 2011 (7:26 pm)

    We all know how successful the current bus only lane on the West Seattle bridge is.

  • Genesee Hill May 15, 2011 (7:27 pm)


    Yup. They want every lane open for their cars. And the sidewalks and bicycle lanes, as well.

  • Genesee Hill May 15, 2011 (7:32 pm)


    Please explain. How successful is the bus only lane on the West Seattle Bridge? You say we all know. I am not too brilliant. I don’t know. Please explain.

  • metrognome May 15, 2011 (8:04 pm)

    the bus lane is actually a combination ‘get-up-to-speed lane’ for when traffic is light and a ‘cue jump’ lane for when traffic is heavy (i.e. allows buses to bypass stopped cars.) When you consider that a 60 ft artic with a standing load has at least 80 people on it, allowing the bus to ‘jump’ the cars is an advantage for bus riders.

    sa — actually, the bus-only lane is quite successful at moving people during a.m. rush hours and those other times when the bridge is backed up by allowing them to cue jump the cars; this can shave several minutes off the trip time for bus riders. See note above on the number of people that fit on a full bus. Problems with the bus lane are usually caused by car drivers who ‘must’ enter the NB 99 exit lane immediately or who otherwise don’t know how to merge in heavy traffic.

    GenHill — don’t try to be rationale. WS is the center of the universe, so bad things should never happen to the chosen. Of course, if you have driven up Aurora thru Shoreline in the past few years, for example, you will note that WS residents are not the only ones being inconvenienced by long construction projects. And they don’t have rail either.

  • anon May 15, 2011 (8:07 pm)

    another thanks for the video, WSB — very helpful!

  • Lura May 15, 2011 (8:09 pm)

    Both videos are great captures of a typical mid-May afternoon in Seattle.

    I drove north today. Despite all the comments above about the “abrupt” merge, you’ve got about 1/4 mile to do the merge.

  • eileen May 15, 2011 (8:21 pm)

    Thank you WSB – it is so helpful to “see” it before you drive it. I ride the bus/take the water taxi, but I’m sure there will be a day here and there I will have to drive. That said – I am concerned about the short bus lane too.

  • Pem May 15, 2011 (8:27 pm)

    As a previous comment on the same topic read, why can’t we finish one of the many pending projects before we begin another. All viable alternatives have been taken off the table. Truth be told, there are some of us who simply cannot depend on unreliable and inflexible public transportation.

    McGinn’s approach to transit is just wrong. You catch more flies with honey. The extra time in the commute will not move people from cars to buses. It will upset the masses and my personal hope is that there are a select few city and state leader who lose their job because of it.

  • Mn May 15, 2011 (8:33 pm)

    Mess mess ness

    • WSB May 15, 2011 (8:43 pm)

      Just to keep things straight:
      Those mentioning the mayor of Seattle may be doing so just because all these projects seem irrevocably interlocked. Which in some ways, they are.
      But the current one we’re discussing tonight – the South End Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement, aka Holgate to King St. – is entirely a state project. And it is separate from the Central Waterfront project, which is the tunnel-or-?, not yet finalized. Whatever the Central Waterfront winds up with, this will tie into, say project managers.
      Just saying … Highway 99 is a state highway and this is 100 percent a state project.
      To its south, the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project – aka West Seattle Bridge between 99 and I-5 – is a CITY roadway, including the 1st Avenue South ramp that’s going to be done later this year, and the new 4th Avenue South offramp. It started during Mayor Nickels’ administration.
      Then of course, we have Metro Transit and the Water Taxi, which are both COUNTY entities.
      Yes, there will be a test.

  • Genesee Hill May 15, 2011 (9:01 pm)

    Thank you, TR!

    Yes 99 is a State Highway. Mayor McGinn apparently thinks it is not. The widening of the Spokane Street viaduct will be a HUGE improvement. The Costco exit already is a big improvement. The 1st Avenue onramp to the westbound West Seattle Bridge WILL be a big improvement.

    Mayor Nickels was, dare I say, a GREAT mayor. Done in by a triple whammy snowstorm. And, perhaps, the nickname Mayor McCheese!

    Mayor McGinn, on the other hand, although I agree with much of his agenda, was dishonest during the mayoral campaign. Just dishonest enough to barely get elected.

    Now, you all say, Genesee Hill, LET IT REST! SHUT UP ALREADY!

    I will, for now.

  • jim May 15, 2011 (9:09 pm)

    TR Don’t forget the flyover on lower Spokane which is a Port of Seattle Project…

    • WSB May 15, 2011 (9:30 pm)

      You’re right, Jim – and I am going to nag the port one of these days for an update on that. It’s the least-discussed project in the whole massive package of what’s going on around here. Every so often I get a question from someone who sees it taking shape off the south side of The Bridge, “what IS that?” And there’s not even an updated webpage. I participated in a journalists’ roundtable with the Port a month or two ago and I told them they should shout a bit louder about that, since transportation is always a hot topic – so far they haven’t taken my ‘advice’! – TR

  • chas redmond May 15, 2011 (9:20 pm)

    I s’pose the only really apropos comment would be: “Ah, Life in the Fast Lane!”

    Don’t forget Michigan/Albro/Beacon-23rd back way. There’s a few other sneaky ways to get around the South End.

  • Evan May 15, 2011 (9:32 pm)

    I find it disconcerting that the only viable option to West Seattle’s compounding (and seemingly never ending) traffic woes is to spend the same amount of time you would be sitting in mind-numbing traffic jams by driving to Georgetown/Boeing Field to then get downtown. I’m one of those people and even I think it’s crazy! I’m so angry at the City and the State for creating these messes for West Seattleites to deal with for years to come. And then I read things like this:

    I can’t wait for the collective voice of West Seattle to vote this guy out in 2013.

    On a note of schadenfreude, I noticed in this WSB story that the Mayor was in West Seattle for an event on Saturday: I hope he got stuck in that horrible bridge traffic to know what happens to a community that’s “not a must” in transit planning.

  • Genesee Hill May 15, 2011 (9:42 pm)

    Neat, TR!

    I have seen that taking shape below and have thought to my pathetic self: What is that? I must not be paying close enough attention to WSB’s excellent reporting. Perhaps I am WAY too busy writing dorky and rude comments!

  • I. Ponder May 15, 2011 (10:43 pm)

    I don’t understand how some people can be whining about car traffic and blaming the Mayor. Maybe it’s time they started taking the bus or water taxi downtown. If you decide to do it, the traffic you encounter is your own fault and the fault of other like-minded people. If you’re going to keep doing it, accept responsibility for being part of the traffic problem, tough it out and stop whining about it. I drove to the north end and back yesterday via I-5. Saw several car battles and additional instances of aggressive road-rage style driving. Is that also the Mayor’s fault? I recognized one road warrior. Nice guy when he’s not driving.

  • Sara May 15, 2011 (10:56 pm)

    Thanks WSB… this blog is the best.
    Also, when is the 1st Ave S on-ramp supposed to be finished?


    • WSB May 15, 2011 (11:02 pm)

      The latest estimate remains “this fall” – which the way things have worked with these projects could mean anything from August to December. My money would be on earlier rather than later. P.S. I still highly recommend the new-ish 4th Avenue exit for anyone wanting to experiment with a 99 alternative to downtown, assuming you don’t use 99 to get to the far north side of downtown (or beyond) in which case it’s not likely much of a time savings.

  • Alex May 15, 2011 (11:02 pm)

    I just wish there was an option to reach i5 south or 99 south from admiral/alki without getting stuck behind all the bridge traffic. I’m not even trying to go north, but the gridlock trailing across the bridge (and subsequently up admiral way) will prevent me from getting to work tomorrow morning, whether I take the bridge or not. There is no alternative for the southbound driver than the bridge, except by slowly traversing the whole of west Seattle to get to highland parkway. And they tell us it will never get better? Ouch. I’m very curious to see how many minutes get added to our collective commutes tomorrow…

  • NotMe May 15, 2011 (11:39 pm)

    I hope everyone that wants to be angry for the next 2 years will take it all out here. This is better than taking it out on people tomorrow on the road.

  • 2wheels-a-go-go May 16, 2011 (2:06 am)

    As I bike up West Marginal during rush hours, I’ll be sure to wave at all of you stuck in 99 traffic as I pass you on my way to work.

  • Watertowerjoey May 16, 2011 (6:56 am)

    2wheels – if you and every other bike rider would just get about 50 “converts” I would greatly appreciate it!

    Keep trying, please!

  • Amber of Affordable Seattle May 16, 2011 (7:53 am)

    I take the Viaduct daily, and this morning went by without a hitch. I wish they would reduce speed in the two lane area to assist with people merging… as some of the more aggressive drivers MUST have their ’50’ and will ride your tail to get it…. am I the only one that thinks reducing to 40 would smooth the process?

  • Westside J. May 16, 2011 (12:48 pm)

    News Flash: None of you are any better than anyone else, regardless of if you ride a bike or the bus or drive a car every day. Get off your high horses.

Sorry, comment time is over.