Viaduct squeeze followup: Metro’s West Seattle commute tips

Back on Monday, when WSDOT issued its two-week warning of the impending Big Squeeze on the Alaskan Way Viaduct between the West Seattle Bridge and the stadiums (our reports are here and here), Metro told us they would have info out by week’s end, regarding how this would affect Metro, Water Taxi, etc. And now it’s here. What follows the jump is the Metro news release, which is somewhat generalized, but we have followed it with West Seattle-specific tips provided courtesy of Linda Thielke at the King County Department of Transportation:

State Route 99 will be reduced to two lanes in each direction between the West Seattle Bridge and Seattle’s sports stadiums in the SODO area beginning May 16. King County Metro Transit hopes motorists will help reduce the number of vehicles in the construction zone by sharing the ride on a bus, vanpool, or water taxi.

“King County has been working with the state to beef up transportation service between downtown Seattle and West Seattle, White Center and Burien for more than a year,” said Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond. “We think we have some terrific options that could significantly reduce congestion and delays during construction. Plus, with gas prices soaring, you can also save some money.”

Starting Monday, May 16 at 5 a.m., the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is reducing lanes on SR 99 on the Alaskan Way Viaduct to continue construction of new southbound lanes. This is a long-term lane closure. To prepare for these changes, there will be a full closure of the viaduct the weekend of May 14-15 and buses will be rerouted for that closure.

WSDOT says more than 87,000 vehicles use this stretch of SR 99 each day, with the heaviest volumes during the morning and afternoon commutes. If traffic volumes in the SODO area remain at current levels, drivers can expect increased congestion and delays on SR 99 during the commute periods. Spillover traffic could also affect alternate routes, including I-5, the West Seattle Bridge and city streets.

“WSDOT and Metro are asking people to change their commute if possible,” said Desmond. “Not only will it reduce some of the congestion, but it will also relieve your personal stress of trying to navigate through back-ups and delays.

“It’s convenient, affordable, and you’ll be in good company – more than half the people who commute into downtown Seattle already share the ride,” he said. “And, national studies show that Seattle area bus commuters save an average of nearly $12,000 annually compared to driving alone.”

Travel options include:

Bus – In anticipation of increased congestion on the south end of the viaduct, WSDOT has funded new bus trips on key routes connecting downtown to Southwest Seattle. It is also installing a bus-only lane northbound between Spokane Street and Lander Street to keep buses moving. Overall, Metro has 11 viaduct bus routes with more than 500 daily trips in both directions. There is also bus service to West Seattle/Southwest Seattle/Burien along the First Avenue South and Fourth Avenue South corridors.

The viaduct bus routes that connect downtown Seattle and the following neighborhoods are: West Seattle via routes 37, 55, 56X; White Center via 21X, 54, 54X, 113, 125; and Burien via 120, 121, and 122. Although letting someone else do the driving will be less stressful, bus riders can expect to see some transit delays or back-ups on the viaduct and nearby streets if traffic volumes don’t decrease in the construction area.

Metro is not currently seeing significant overcrowding on any of the bus routes in the SR 99 south corridor. It anticipates being able to handle more bus passengers, especially if they can be flexible in their travel times and routes they choose.

More bus service is proposed to begin in October for some routes. Overall, WSDOT is contributing approximately $30 million for transit service, which is allowing Metro to increase frequency on several routes, maintain existing schedules, provide rider information, and improve travel-time monitoring equipment.

Vanpools & vanshares – Vanpools are a flexible, cost-effective way for groups of five to 15 commuters to share their ride to work. Vanshares help fill in the gaps between transportation hubs and work. On average, vanpool members can save more than $6,000 annually on gas, insurance, and other commuting costs.

To get started, sign up for a ridematch at to receive a customized list of others who live and work near you. You can search for existing groups to join or start your own vanpool. And, if you form a new vanpool or vanshare, or track your existing vanpool commute, you could qualify for rewards and incentives.

West Seattle Water Taxi – The King County Water Taxi offers 18 round-trip sailings between Seacrest Dock in West Seattle and Pier 50 on the downtown Seattle waterfront on all weekdays, with more service on Friday evenings. There is weekend service as well. Connections to Seacrest from other areas of West Seattle can be made on Metro routes 37, 53, 773 and 775.

Bus riders can contact Metro Transit at (206) 553-3000 for help in planning bus travel, or visit Metro at Also, sign up for Transit Alerts at

Information to help drivers plan for the lane reduction and learn about commute alternatives is available at For more information on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement program, visit, or call the Alaskan Way Viaduct hotline at 1-888-AWV-LINE.

Now, those West Seattle-specific tips:

* No. 1 tip — Avoid the Rt. 55 trip that leaves California & Atlantic at 7:51 a.m. That one is consistently full.

* Along with Rt. 55, routes 120 and 125 are seeing heavier loads. The Rt. 120 is particularly busy on Sundays.

* Routes that are now busy and are most likely to get busier during commute times are: 21 Express, 54, and 113

* The routes that seem to have the most open seats are: 37, 54 Express, 56 Express, 121, and 122

* Most of the time, Rt. 54 has good capacity to take on new riders, and will gain even more trips this fall. So, if riders can get to, or are near, Alaska Junction that will remain a good option.

34 Replies to "Viaduct squeeze followup: Metro's West Seattle commute tips"

  • Valerie May 5, 2011 (12:31 pm)

    Well, I don’t have to LIKE it – but “they” didn’t consult me ;-) and it’s gonna happen amyway, so THANKS, WSB, for all the information! I’m sure this will make many of our lives a little easier as we adjust to these changes!
    I’m hoping the anticipation proves to be worse than the reality, as it was a couple of summers ago.

  • JayDee May 5, 2011 (12:42 pm)

    While the NB squeeze is clearly problematic, the SB squeeze could be just as bad — Imagine a bad Mariner’s (or Sounders–they have more fans) game day, except everyday. Tough call as to which SB lane would be worse.

  • D May 5, 2011 (12:50 pm)

    This hasn’t happened yet? I thought that was the reason for today’s horrible traffic. If not that, what was the deal with traffic today? It was miserable.

  • Alex May 5, 2011 (12:53 pm)

    This is like being told to take an asperine to heal a broken bone.

  • CJP May 5, 2011 (1:15 pm)

    @D- if you’re talking about bad N and S bound traffic on 99 from ~7-730am this morning, there was an accident and police stopping one lane on both sides. It looked like a south bound pickup truck came over the jersey barrier into the north bound lane, and there was a wrecked black sedan scrunched agains the western barrier on the south bound side.

  • D May 5, 2011 (2:09 pm)

    Thanks, CJP. I was headed east just after 8, and the backup was probably left over from that.

  • jsrekd May 5, 2011 (2:10 pm)

    Interesting PR. I don’t know which 54 they’re riding on, but if I don’t catch one before 3:15 p.m. headed back to WS, I stand all the way home. I guess there’s sometimes still some room for standing ;-)

    It’s going to take some patience folks, I’m still hopeful my commute doesn’t increase drastically…guess time will tell.

  • buddsmom May 5, 2011 (2:13 pm)

    Morning 21X runs from 7:00 on are SRO before 35th and Morgan. One day last week I counted 27 people getting on at that stop.

  • RP May 5, 2011 (3:09 pm)

    I’ll be driving into work EVERY day. The 113 is consistantly late and no parking left in the P&R. Metro’s answer to late buses was to bump the timetable up 10 minutes a few years back…AND it’s still late!!Wouldn’t doubt it if they do the same thing soon. I thought “Exactly!” when I read: “bus riders can expect to see some transit delays or back-ups on the viaduct and nearby streets if traffic volumes don’t decrease in the construction area.” It’s not going to decrease. Let’s get real about this. Everyone be prepared for a mess…No, it’s not negativeity, it’s called ‘Living in Seattle’.

  • chas redmond May 5, 2011 (3:27 pm)

    “Metro is not currently seeing significant overcrowding on any of the bus routes in the SR 99 south corridor.”
    and then later
    “Avoid the Rt. 55 trip that leaves California & Atlantic at 7:51 a.m. That one is consistently full.”
    “Along with Rt. 55, routes 120 and 125 are seeing heavier loads. The Rt. 120 is particularly busy on Sundays.

    * Routes that are now busy and are most likely to get busier during commute times are: 21 Express, 54, and 113”

    dunno – sounds like Metro is just babbling and nothing is changed and they are not really offering anything to get us out of our cars. No new buses – if the 7:51 #55 is always crowded – then, hey Metro, wake up – add another bus one minute later.

    That’s the problem with Metro – the planners are smart but the politicians and managers are fraught with angst over what someone will think and therefore are paralyzed from doing anything actually – you know – useful.

    Where’s the 50 crosstown bus. Where’s my connection to Link? Where’s the late-night 60?

    No, King County Metro still hasn’t actually recognized that in order to get people from West Seattle out of their cars they have to provide an alternative which is timely, reliable, runs at least 18 hours a day and runs on time centers of at least 15 if not 12 or 8 minutes. It’s still operating on a commuter basis and that’s not cutting the mustard.

    Sorry – Metro – not a good enough response.

  • KT May 5, 2011 (3:28 pm)

    I think they should let carpools into the bus only lane…at least those people are doing something to cut down on the congestion.

  • RP May 5, 2011 (3:34 pm)

    chas redmond, I second that!!!

  • Admiral California May 5, 2011 (4:10 pm)

    I think I’m going to be seeing a lot more of the Water Taxi this summer. No traffic jams on Elliott Bay!

    Unfortunately, this is happening at the exact moment when my office is moving from downtown to South Lake Union, so my commute’s getting longer in two ways…

  • Worried May 5, 2011 (4:15 pm)

    Property values will drop. Who’ll want to live in West Seattle if the commute takes forever? We’ll see a drop in demand for housing followed by a drop in prices. West Seattle marginalized again. Where is the next Charlie Chong?

  • jns May 5, 2011 (4:53 pm)

    I think I might get a bike. I ride the 120/125 and it’s ALWAYS standing room only both ways during my commute. If traffic is going to suck that much more, I may as well get some exercise.

  • D May 5, 2011 (4:54 pm)

    Yeah, KT. Letting carpools in the bus lanes would actually be a big help.

  • wca May 5, 2011 (5:00 pm)

    Assuming there will be increased commute time in the affected 99 corridor both directions during commuter hours, how can Metro expect to keep to the existing bus schedules without increasing the number of trips available on an affected route? If the buses lag, stops previous will have more riders waiting. When a bus finally shows, and it’s full – you’re SOL. They will just drive on by….

  • SLC May 5, 2011 (5:20 pm)

    I totally agree Chas Redmond… And another thing – how about a P&R big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to commute? Oh, and how about giving us “West-Siders” access into the bus tunnel? Oh no, you have to live in the burbs for that – ugh…

    I bought my house in 07 when the city had voted that we would have an operational, functional tunnel. But instead, they put it up for a vote AGAIN and now we get to have our lives dismantled so that WSDOT can build a tunnel essentially to Ballard from W.S.??? Oh, that makes TONS of sense not to have an exit downtown – not even for transit.


    The only way to fix this is light rail to the city from White Center and/or West Seattle. In order for me to take light rail from White Center, I have to drive 40 blocks South and another 2-3 miles East to the Tukwila Light Rail station which takes about 20 minutes in traffic. Then, I have to sit on the train for 39 minutes as it meanders all the way East and through the CD, only to then come back West again, having only filled 25% of the train – and that’s with people who get off two stops later – not downtown. Or I could drive it in 25 minutes, door to door. Duh!?!?!

    Meanwhile, 95% of West Seattle is sitting on the bridge because they’re all the working stiffs, lawyers, accountants, etc. that commute between 7:30 and 8:30 in the AM. Tell me again why there isn’t a link to light rail from West Seattle?!?!?

    It’s getting tempting to go get a job in Tacoma… Or I can just accept the bitter pill being forced down my through by the city. On the bus, it’ll take about the same as the light rail, but the light rail can’t get stuck in traffic so looks like I’ll be doubling my commute in a week or so. Not like I have anything better to do anyway…

  • Darwin May 5, 2011 (5:42 pm)

    I think it’s the 54 in the mornings from West Seattle to Downtown. The standing room only 55 comes before it and everyone jumps on not realizing a sitting room only (depends on the day) 54 is about 4 minutes behind. I’m sure some people ride past 2nd and Seneca but most everyone seems to clear out at that stop. If only they could get the schedule for the water taxi shuttle in tune with the Rachel Marie’s 10 minute crossing time. . .

  • Peter on Fauntleroy May 5, 2011 (6:21 pm)

    In defense of Metro, you have to understand that Metro never recovered from Tim Eyeman’s assault of mass transit: I695. In order for Metro to accommodate riders’ needs (some excellent suggestions above), the legislature must repeal I695. If you’re unhappy with Metro service (as we all are) don’t blame Metro. It’s Tim Eyeman’s fault. And yes, let’s build a light rail line to WS!

  • JayDee May 5, 2011 (7:25 pm)

    In defense of the WT shuttles, they do seem to have shifted attitudes to: If the boat’s leaving the dock, so do we. They used to sit for 8 to 10 minutes later for no apparent reason.

  • Cascadianone May 5, 2011 (8:03 pm)

    +1 on Light Rail to West Seattle. That is so critical.

  • Kacey May 5, 2011 (8:40 pm)

    McGinn’s strategy is to make commuting by car so painful as to force people into taking public transit, rather than making public transportation an attractive option in its own right. And public transportation is not a good option – it is not reliable or quick, and it is not convenient if you need to make a number of stops on the way to or from work. And, you can be sure that if people actually try to accommodate the request to take public transportation during this period, McGinn will use it as yet another argument against the tunnel.

  • East Coast Cynic May 5, 2011 (8:56 pm)

    +2 and a few more I’ll bet on Light Rail to WS. They just have to figure out how to get it up our hills.

  • Michael May 5, 2011 (10:48 pm)

    Interesting that Metro needs to “warn” us that the 120 often runs full…
    Apparently not realizing it’s the only bus available on much of its route.
    In fact, in some areas a person would have to walk MILES out of their way to catch a different bus.
    What she says IS true, though: at times the 120 will simply bypass stops at the northern end of Delridge because it’s too full to pick up. Yet we haven’t had additional buses on that route.
    Buses: still not a viable transportation alternative in Seattle.

  • redblack May 6, 2011 (5:59 am)

    kacey: you’re blaming the seattle mayor for congestion caused by construction on a state highway, and a transit system run by king county?

  • CJP May 6, 2011 (11:59 am)

    These lane closures are in effect right now. Just drove both south bound and north bound, and the barrels are already out.

    Is this a /different/ closure? Or did they just decide to go two weeks early??

    • WSB May 6, 2011 (12:20 pm)

      Different, there have been a lot of repair lane closures, this one was apparently 10 am-2 pm for yesterday and today, explained: “Expect single lane closures on the Alaskan Way Viaduct/SR 99 between S Holgate St and S Massachusetts St during the day.” Not sure why, repair or maintenance.

  • CJP May 6, 2011 (12:27 pm)

    Huh! Ok. I couldn’t find anything about it on their ‘happening now’ site. Oh well. thanks! :)

    • WSB May 6, 2011 (12:51 pm)

      Sorry CJP, one thing we’ve mentioned to all these agencies (somebody asked for feedback recently) is that there is no big organized simple-to-find “what’s happening now.” There are certainly some good efforts … this one is a big convoluted list called something like “construction update.” I believe it’s linked from our Traffic page … will have to check. They have previously preannounced some of these lane closures, but I don’t recall an advisory on this one; the “construction update” came in e-mail yesterday … TR

  • Martha May 6, 2011 (1:28 pm)

    My child commutes to Center School daily from West Seattle. What is this going to mean for her and the many other West Seattle kids who go to Center? It’s hard enough as it is to make that commute! And I work in the North End. No bussing or biking for me. I guess I better start looking for a new place to live…. sad for West Seattle…

  • dbsea May 6, 2011 (4:18 pm)

    It’s just possible that a substantial number of WS commuters will start bussing it and keep bussing it after this is all over. And it’s possible that between changes in the roads and in transit options we’ll end up with a better commute than we have now. Again, after this is all over. I’ll hope so at least, nothing else to do.

  • East Coast Cynic May 6, 2011 (8:33 pm)

    A departure of a large number of residents from WS in response to the transit issues may allow the buses to run faster since there will probably be less car traffic to wade through.

  • anon May 7, 2011 (5:47 pm)

    Worried, have you ever seen the traffic coming south on I-5 from the north in the AM? Or the traffic heading in either direction Seattle to Bellevue? Traffic is bad during rush hour *everywhere* in Seattle – the fact that 99 is dropping lanes is not going to strand W Seattle or kill property values.

Sorry, comment time is over.