Highway 99 Squeeze, week 1: WSDOT’s assessment

From an end-of-week e-mail sent by WSDOT:

Thank you, drivers. We’ve reduced SR 99 from three to two lanes between the West Seattle Bridge and Seattle’s sports stadiums. While drivers using the West Seattle Bridge in the morning can expect to add an average of 15 minutes to their commute, we have yet to see any significant backups southbound on the viaduct.

Drivers on the West Seattle Bridge looking to avoid traveling on the viaduct should consider using the Fourth Avenue S. off-ramp. WSDOT contributed funding to this project in order to keep people and goods moving during south end construction. This ramp provides eastbound drivers on the West Seattle Bridge with direct access to downtown Seattle.

How does the “15 minutes longer in the morning, but afternoon comparable” (our paraphrase) compare with your experience?

34 Replies to "Highway 99 Squeeze, week 1: WSDOT's assessment"

  • Oliver May 20, 2011 (7:35 pm)

    Actually, I grab a 54 or 55 around 7:20 and it’s been about the same time as before

  • Lorelee May 20, 2011 (7:38 pm)

    yes, additional 15 min in the am for me. It was already hard enough to get to work on time! This is just the beginning of major traffic revisions to come, right? We aren’t going to get a break from this until the tunnel (or whatever) is done. Please tell me I’m wrong!

  • Magpie May 20, 2011 (7:42 pm)

    I get a 55 around 7:10 and it has been taking about 5 minutes more, not too bad.

  • Elikapeka May 20, 2011 (7:51 pm)

    I had to do the commute twice this week. I’d say the 15 additional minutes was true for me going in, but coming home was also an additional 15-20 minutes. And that’s with no accidents, no disabled vehicles, no weather issues. Add that into the mix along and throw in opening the low bridge or a few trains blocking the surface streets, and it will be total gridlock.

  • MMB May 20, 2011 (8:08 pm)

    I’ve been getting up 45 minutes earlier (@5:45) and been getting on the road before 7, at which time there are plenty of other cars but no big problems. Commute to South Lake Union area from Arbor Heights this a.m. was 20 minutes – door to door. Coming home is another story – no good way to get on 99 from where I work so it’s I-5, which is kind of a mess. Yesterday there was a Mariner game starting at 12:40 which was a debacle, but today wasn’t quite so bad.

  • Mags May 20, 2011 (9:11 pm)

    Had to commute twice this week @ 8:15 and the bridge backup was pretty gnarly. Did police ever help out by ticketing bus lane offenders?

    Hey WDOT…The Fourth Ave. ramp is a not a time saver. Unfortunately it takes a really long time to get there by waiting in the huge back up of cars trying to get to I5. When bridge traffic is bad, it is still faster to get to Fourth Ave. via the lower bridge.

    City officials should encourages busineses (incl. city departments) to offer telecommuting, alternate work schedules, other creative means of keeping people of the roadways.

  • The Velvet Bulldog May 20, 2011 (9:18 pm)

    On Tuesday at 8am, it took me half an hour to get from Morgan Junction. About twenty minutes more than usual. And agree w/ Mags re: using 4th Avenue–you have to be able to GET there to use it.

  • Sna May 20, 2011 (9:21 pm)

    I dont know what WSDOT is looking at. There’s been a significant impact to getting onto the viaduct from downtown Seattle coming home at 5pm. Columbia is a complete mess.

    Traffic on the viaduct itself isn’t bad. Its getting onto it that is the problem.

  • commuter May 20, 2011 (9:24 pm)

    The afternoon commute is definitely longer in the afternoon for those getting on to the viaduct from the Columbia onramp but once you actually get on 99, it isn’t bad. The back up downtown is frustrating and the “helpful” police officer at the intersection of Second and Columbia just causes delays and they should probably think about other options. Overall, it is not as bad as I thought it would be but we have had pretty good weather this week. I appreciate the fact that people traveling in the bus lane is frustrating but seriously, having a police officer pull people over in the middle of rush hour will just block the lane and cause people to go even slower as they have to go around or pause to look and try to figure out what is going on.

  • WS Mom May 20, 2011 (9:56 pm)

    It has added 30 minutes to my commute. 99 is fine – it’s the back-up on the WS Bridge that is killing me. With kids in school/day care – the bus is not an option for me. Let’s face it… some of us need to drive. Uggh.

  • nighthawk May 20, 2011 (11:26 pm)

    I am not a regular commuter. My husband takes the bus downtown. He said it’s a few minutes longer but it’s not too bad because of the bus lane.

    The other day I was visiting a friend in Queen Anne and the drive back to W. Seattle was bad and that was only at 2 or so in the afternoon. There was a section where it went down to one lane from a stalled car. After that bottle neck it was smooth sailing though.

  • Watertowerjoey May 21, 2011 (7:14 am)

    4th is a great option but getting to it is a nightmare with all the trucking. If only there was some solution that kept truck traffic off the Spokane street viaduct – but I don’t think there is one.

    It would be awesome if they could somehow co-opt the southern most westbound lane on the SS viaduct/bridge between say 6-10 – it would flow much better. the traffic coming into WS in the a.m. is very light.

  • Busser May 21, 2011 (7:15 am)

    Both my AM & PM commutes have been longer this week, except the days I hit the bridge by 7am. I agree with the statements about getting to the 4th Ave exit, and the mess on Columbia in the afternoon/evening. Friday the officer directing traffic was doing it so poorly (stopping traffic mid-green cycle even when no bus to accommodate, etc) that I called the non-emergency line to complain. I’m reasonable and law-respecting but that officer was on a power trip. Please do the same if you think the SPD are making it worse.

  • Admiral Janeway May 21, 2011 (7:34 am)

    I travel by bus during the peak of rush hour. My a.m. and p.m. commutes are about 10 minutes longer.

  • Carraig na Splinkeen May 21, 2011 (7:46 am)

    The bus lane folks on WS Bridge (not SR 99 so much) are making things worse, if that was possible. Time for some enforcement!

  • Jack May 21, 2011 (8:25 am)

    WSDOT has its head up its tailpipe if it thinks that the afternoon commute it not hurt by this.

    The viaduct was backed up the tunnel on friday,
    and trying to get on at columbia is a mess.
    Of course, you also can’t get on from 1st ave anymore, and Alaska is all dug up, so taking the low bridge is tough.

    And a note about the “added 15 minutes”, that may not sound like much but that DOUBLES my commute.

    And it is worse coming home.

    I wish I had sold my W. Seattle home at the peak and move to somewhere with more options.

  • Think outside the bix May 21, 2011 (8:43 am)

    Bop across to Beacon, drop down from there via Beacon Avenue/Lander, or hop over to First Hill or Capitol Hill and head downtown from there. Easy, breezy, and a nice break from the boring Interstate or 99. Get out and see the city a little bit. There’s more to life than West Seattle.

  • Ricky Bobby May 21, 2011 (8:47 am)

    I’m relatively new to west seattle, so take this how you will. In my view when it comes to traffic in Seattle there is a lot of feeling that the grass is greener somewhere else when in reality the grass is a dried up shrivelled brown patch everywhere. There are neighborhoods that are much worse for sure.

  • yo May 21, 2011 (8:47 am)

    It’s taking about 5-7 minutes longer for me on 54 and 55 buses leaving Alaska Junction area btwn about 730-815.

    Traffic definitely seems worse on average, but the queue jump lane and the WS bridge bus-only lane limit the delay.

    Driving for me (I rarely drive to work, so this is tough) on the first morning took about 45 minutes and I left at 8am. This seems to be about 20 minutes longer than the norm, but it was the first day.

    I think the new norm is 15-20 minute longer commute for cars and 5-10 minute longer commute for buses. Also, I think the potential for VERY LONG delays is much higher now. A fender bender blockage at 8am could mean 1.5 hour commute by car into downtown.

    Sidenote: I’ve been doing some driving in N. Seattle / Shoreline / Edmonds the past few weeks. Traffic is terrible up there as well. A year ago I took 45th from Ballard to get to 99 at noon on a Saturday, and it was miserable. I rarely leave WS in general (save for work), so for me I think we are lucky that our traffic really isn’t all that bad in general. Well at least it is comparable to other neighborhoods or the eastside.

  • etoile May 21, 2011 (8:50 am)

    I bus from white center at varied times and I would say my commute has doubled both directions and my bus has been packed. It isn’t just traffic but more people on the bus means more stops and more fare paying time. I think there is a need to re-evaluate bus times as it seems most of them arrive in groups (120,125, 113 etc) and could be improved if they were spaced out a little. I also don’t think it would hurt if they added additional departures or looked into creating a 120 express (something that just stopped at core stops along delridge versus every stop).

  • Dizzle May 21, 2011 (10:35 am)

    What I find annoying is the new Time to SR99, I5, etc sign on Admiral that is not even remotely close. Every morning it says “SR99 4 mins” yet it is more than 15 mins before I even get over the bridge. Maybe they are based of using a helicopter or rocket car??

  • The Hepcat May 21, 2011 (1:24 pm)

    I too, have to drive. From WS, I go down Roxbury to the transfer station, jump on the bridge and take the I-5 exit. Just a few minutes of stoplights, and I’m Northbound to Seattle. Coming home, I shortcut Broadway to South 15th Ave. to Beacon Ave. Take that parallel to I-5 South to Spokane St. then down to the WSBridge. Yes, it sometimes takes a few minutes, but at least I’m moving! It avoids the gridlock almost always. Hope this helps.

  • redblack May 21, 2011 (1:37 pm)

    regarding getting to the fourth avenue ramp, next year the spokane street viaduct will be 3 lanes in each direction; 2 general purpose and one bus lane, i think. the first avenue ramp will be back to 2 lanes – as will first avenue itself. the lower spokane street roadway will be back to 2 lanes each direction, and the connection to east marginal and the lower bridge will be restored. in addition, the port is building that big flyover by the cement and concrete plants, so T-5 freight will no longer be stopped by trains, no matter which direction it’s going, and there will be fewer trucks on the spokane street viaduct.
    so access to downtown via east marginal, mainline 99, first avenue, and fourth avenue will improve greatly in about 15 months.
    regarding the commute times, mornings are a breeze, but that’s at 6 or 6:30. afternoons – around 4 or 4:30 – are getting sticky.
    mariners’ game days are going to be fun.
    and the dynamic messaging signs aren’t that dynamic. there should be southbound 99 commute times displayed on aurora avenue at queen anne.

  • Alex May 21, 2011 (2:23 pm)

    I like that suggestion Joey made to have some of the lanes on the bridge alternate to adapt to traffic flow. The bridge is plenty wide, and the traffic generally only flows into or out of W Seattle, practically never both. If the center lane was adapted to flow either E in the am and W in the pm, that might actually help quite a bit. Anything we can do to isolate that lane heading to I-5 north to stop people from needing to cut in at the last second (which blocks the bridge for everyone else, traveling to I5 south or 4th ave) should be done. Maybe extending those double white lines, or putting in a bigger lane divider to stop people cutting in would help..

  • Greg Phipps May 23, 2011 (6:02 pm)


    This is Greg Phipps with WSDOT Communications. I have been reading your comments since the lane reduction began and plan to add some of my own, hopefully on a reasonably regular basis. It won’t be possible to address every comment, but I’ll do my best to keep up. You can also e-mail me directly at phippsg@wsdot.wa.gov.

    I would echo Drizzle’s comment about using I-5 during the PM commute. I spent last Monday afternoon watching traffic on SR 99 and I-5. I-5 was congested, but it was not nearly as slow as SR 99, particularly between 5 and 5:45. You might want to check our flow map archives (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Traffic/Seattle/Flowmaps/Archive/default.htm)to get a good idea of the congestion patterns on I-5 during the time you usually head home.

    As far as getting to I-5, it seems that James Street would be a good choice because it enters onto the collector distributor roadway. This means you bypass the backup where the mainline and the stadium ramps merge.

    Finally, I thought I would include a link to our Flickr photo set showing construction of the highway that will replace the viaduct. I know many of you see the cranes every day, but might not be able to see much further down to see what is going on. Construction is really moving now and the progress in the last month has been pretty remarkable.


    Greg Phipps
    WSDOT Communications

  • Michelle May 23, 2011 (9:41 pm)

    Thanks Greg! Please keep posting- I think this will be a great addition to the WSB. Maybe you could even become a featured update every week or two on the WSB? It’s really helpful to be kept informed.

  • New commuter May 23, 2011 (10:00 pm)

    Can I ask Greg why there aren’t any direct buses to anywhere other than DT? I commute to UW from Fauntlory and I know alot of others who do too. Why must we change DT??? It takes forever. I’m sure the Vashon commuters would appreciate it too.

    • WSB May 23, 2011 (10:23 pm)

      NC, the bus system is a county service, while Greg is with the state transportation agency (which is accountable for Highway 99/Viaduct). Of course, they’re all supposed to be talking to each other, so maybe he can reply from that perspective. Overall, though, I’d suggest contacting King County Councilmember Joe McDermott with bus thoughts that are West Seattle (and environs) specific – TR

  • Miss Erin May 23, 2011 (10:59 pm)

    I take the 57 to work in SODO and my commute has gone from 15 minutes to a cool 45 this morning. The main cause of delay seems to be the construction on first. When traffic is completely stopped during peak travel times for multiple construction vehicles, no one moves. I appreciate the need to complete the project on time and the relative cost of the construction, but it seems like 7:30 – 8:15 is about the worst time to move a bunch of materials across one of the only channels of traffic from West Seattle.

  • Kathy May 23, 2011 (11:27 pm)

    Slightly longer times to get past the lane reduction but not more than 15 min added commute time so far.

  • Matt May 24, 2011 (7:00 am)

    The morning is 50 to 100% longer.

    The evening commute has been really distressing. 10 mph/stop and go on 99 along the length of the viaduct, like hitting baseball game traffic everyday.

  • rachel May 24, 2011 (7:14 am)

    Afternoons have been much worse. I commute to Northgate so it always sucked, but now getting home can take 1.5 to 2 hours (taking the #5 to DT then transfer to the 54 express if I’m lucky, local if I’m not). I recently stopped driving b/c our family went down to one car, and while I’m glad to be one less car on the road, it doesn’t really make up for the missed evening time with my kids. Driving would be significantly faster. If I still had my car, it would be an easy choice.

  • buddsmom May 24, 2011 (9:52 am)

    30 mins. from Arbor Heights N. bound 99 on an express bus this AM. One full hour to get from 3rd and Virginia to Arbor Heights once again on an express. It’s getting worse as the days go by.

  • Greg Phipps May 24, 2011 (10:02 am)

    Good morning! Here are responses to a couple of your questions

    Michelle: You’re welcome! For regular updates, I would suggest signing up for our weekly e-mail. Send an e-mail to Hilary Bingman at BingmaH@wsdot.wa.gov and she’ll add you to our subscriber list. We also send news releases and other project updates to the WS Blog and they are nice enough to post them. You can also get the latest project info at our What’s Happening Now page: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR99/HolgateToKing/CurrentWork.htm. I am mulling the idea of some kind of project photo of the day link in my signature at the bottom of each comment. I’m a big believer in the photo = 1000 words concept.

    My hope is to be as informal as possible, and as informative as possible. I won’t have the answer to every question, but I usually have a decent idea of who might. That leads me to the next question …

    New commuter: WSB is correct. Buses are operated by King County Metro, and we regularly coordinate with them, Seattle DOT, Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, the Port of Seattle and many more. This coordination happens before, during and after projects. I’ll check with KC Metro and see if they can respond to your question.

    Greg Phipps
    WSDOT Communications

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