Countdown to new Spokane St. Viaduct ramp: How to get onto it

By this time Friday morning, as SDOT announced last week, the westbound Spokane Street Viaduct‘s new 1st Avenue South on-/offramp will be open. Since it is a two-way ramp, you’ll drive southbound to get onto it, rather than westbound. And that led commenter “TK” to ask:

What is the recommended route for westbound traffic coming from the Georgetown/4th Ave S (Costco)/Spokane St. area going back to West Seattle via the 1st Ave onramp?

Once Spokane St is reopened, how do we access the onramp? Turn north on 1st Ave & pull a U-turn? (will SDOT put up signs allowing this like some places in Bellevue?) Or continue on 4th north to the old potholed non-arterial Holgate just to get south again?

There doesn’t seem to be any reasonable solution that comes to mind, and there is a lot of traffic which will have to deal with this daily.

As promised in the comment exchange, we took the question to SDOT. Ahead, the answer from project spokesperson Paul Elliott:

For the motorist heading to West Seattle from Georgetown or Costco, the easiest routing would be to head north on Fourth, turn left onto Lander (which has the greatest capacity), and then left again onto southbound First and up onto the ramp. (Some motorists may wish to take the left turn at Horton, which is closer.)

The routing is a bit more problematic for motorists heading north on First, but who wish to turn around to access the on-ramp. U-turns are legal on First except at intersections where they are expressly prohibited. At S Horton all left turns – which includes U-turns – from both the ramp that touches down there, or from the adjacent northbound thru lanes of First, will be prohibited due to safety and traffic concerns. However, U-turns are currently permitted at S Hanford St, although heavy southbound traffic volumes (particularly during the afternoon peak) could make this a challenging maneuver. Naturally, SDOT will be monitoring the situation and assessing what options might exist.

62 Replies to "Countdown to new Spokane St. Viaduct ramp: How to get onto it"

  • Gregg August 29, 2012 (7:57 am)

    I’m wondering when the lower Spokane Street surface roadway under the viaduct will re-open.

  • Yikes August 29, 2012 (8:02 am)

    Well that makes me feel better, the same people in charge of oversight of a project that is a year late will be monitoring to come up with any solutions. Gotta love it. How about sdot post signs at intersections where u turns are legal?

  • Grant August 29, 2012 (8:04 am)

    Are the buses going to go on the new ramp? Or still take the long, long, long way?

  • LongTimer WS August 29, 2012 (8:09 am)

    I agree. Post signs where U turns are permitted.

  • Karen August 29, 2012 (8:09 am)

    It will be nice to have the ramp back but it is too bad that the buses will still have to cross the tracks at Lander. I don’t know why they don’t route them over Edgar Martinez Drive so that the trains could be avoided entirely.

  • coffee August 29, 2012 (8:18 am)

    Hummm, another Mercer Mess opening? How about the city do a simple task and time some of the lights on the major traveled streets. Some are simply horrific and are the direct cause of most conjestion.

  • kayo August 29, 2012 (8:29 am)

    Looking forward to attempting the U Turn maneuver. I know there are intersections in other parts of the region at traffic lights where a U Turn is built into the left turn lane as an option (the roads I am thinking of have cement barricades between the opposing traffic so you can only u turn at the traffic light). I am wondering if they can do that somehow with one of the traffic lights at Lander or Horton.

  • 56bricks August 29, 2012 (8:30 am)

    I remember the phrase “you can’t get there from here” from way back. Still applies , to some degree.

  • Rae August 29, 2012 (8:30 am)

    Thanks, Gregg. I would also like to know when the lower Spokane Street will open.

  • Neighbor August 29, 2012 (8:31 am)

    Did Costco pay for this project? Because it’s sure easy for us to get TO Costco now, but there’s no coming home.

    I keep telling people, “Never leave West Seattle, you can’t get back in.”

  • headingSouth August 29, 2012 (8:35 am)

    I can’t believe the new third lane is forced to exit at 4th, rather than Southbound on I-5. It ends just 200 feet short of where it could have been useful. People heading South on I-5 or to Columbia City will still need to wait while the Northbound jam clears. Ridiculous!! Did Costco pay for that lane and ramp, too?

  • Brandon Node August 29, 2012 (8:44 am)

    I wonder why the improvements made to the Spokane Viaduct did not address the north bound I5 on ramp. This is a poor configured onramp and causes extended AM backup onto the WS Bridge.

  • WS Dad August 29, 2012 (8:45 am)

    For north bound folks on 1st ave trying to head west – a U-turn at Hanford in rush hour will take forever and shouldn’t even be suggested or encouraged. Better to turn right (east) at Hanford and loop south on Occidental back to Horton. Then left off Horton onto the new ramp.

  • MAS August 29, 2012 (8:47 am)

    U turns are legal unless explicitly forbidden, as long as you have 500′ of visibility. Seattle municipal code matches the state law in this. Most of 1st would have 500′ of visibility.

    I’m not saying explicit signs like Bellevue has are a bad idea, just getting the rules out there.

    SMC 11.55.120 for the details.

  • headingSouth August 29, 2012 (9:03 am)

    And the other crazy thing, they made a huge ramp over the trains on the South side of the bridge where nobody goes. The REAL problem with the trains is between 4th and 1st and between 1st and whatever that street to the West is. It’s like the train overpass to nowhere. It should have been built in Alaska.

    • WSB August 29, 2012 (9:21 am)

      FWIW, HeadingSouth, the ramp on the south side of the bridge was a Port of Seattle project, not an SDOT project. I believe it was primarily meant for trucks, though of course it’s open to anyone. (Its official name is the East Marginal Way Grade Separation.)

  • dhg August 29, 2012 (9:05 am)

    So, was this ramp designed by some idiot who works in a downtown office and couldn’t IMAGINE someone south of the ramp might want to use it?
    SDOT has never impressed me with their competence but this one will remain a shining example of how not to plan.

  • Hannah August 29, 2012 (9:06 am)

    Here is my trick coming back from Costco… Driving up to the Beacon Hill from 4th Ave. S on Columbia Way and turning around the first light at S. Spoken St and coming back to WS. I might keep doing it. You can avoid trains, too!

  • hopey August 29, 2012 (9:08 am)

    If U-turns are allowed by default, it makes no sense to put up signs saying they are permitted. It makes much more sense to put up signs to show where they are NOT permitted, with the assumption that they are permitted everywhere else. Kinda like parking — if there isn’t a “no parking” sign in sight, it’s safe to assume that parking is allowed by default.

  • headingSouth August 29, 2012 (9:27 am)

    OH, well, at least we have a nice, wide 6 lane parking lot – very useful unless you are stuck behind a train, trying to do a U turn, or otherwise unable to get onto the roadway!

  • G August 29, 2012 (9:50 am)

    For some reason the image of monkeys pecking away at typwriters comes to mind when I think of the effectiveness of transportation planners in this area.

    • WSB August 29, 2012 (9:57 am)

      Separate from the other issues, for those who are not happy with the configuration – what do you think SDOT could have done differently regarding configuring a two-way ramp in this area, keeping in mind factors such as, they couldn’t replace the 4th Avenue offramp because there is no room to merge, so having an offramp required something like this?

  • TryWineNotWhine August 29, 2012 (10:24 am)

    Heavy dose of whining this a.m. Getting from northbound 1st onto the westbound bridge will be annoying, especially for those who have to do so every day, no doubt about it. As for the all-important Costco return, I think the current solution, heading south on Fourth and getting on I5 northbound at Michigan, or crossing the 99 bridge and coming back on SW Marginal, will remain my preferred ways to get back to the Admiral District. I’ll try the Hanford alternate, especially if I need something at Home Despot, Office Max, or the Cyclo Cafe — but the alternates that I described seem simpler and almost as fast.

    • WSB August 29, 2012 (11:22 am)

      TryWineNotWhine, we second the “try the back way” if you are heading to West Seattle from the Costco vicinity. For those of us on the south side of WS, it is absolutely faster – but those who haven’t tried it would be surprised at the accessibility even for the north side. Once you get up Highland Park Way and then Holden to 16th, if you turn right (north) on 16th, another block or so takes you to Austin, where a left (west) turn takes you down to Delridge/Orchard, and you can continue up Orchard/Sylvan/Morgan through High Point to 35th, where a right (north) turn takes you toward The Junction, Genesee, Admiral, etc.

  • 2 Much Whine August 29, 2012 (10:35 am)

    It’s so much more fun to complain after the fact than it is to attend planning meetings or to come up with viable alternatives.

  • Smitty August 29, 2012 (10:37 am)



  • Mel August 29, 2012 (10:56 am)

    Unfortunately, making this ramp convenient for “Costcoers” is probably the last thing on any intelligent planner’s mind.
    It’s a 1st Avenue ramp.
    If you’re in such a hurry to get your Costco swag home that you can’t circle a few blocks, I’m not sure you should have been going to Costco in the first place.

  • CMP August 29, 2012 (11:04 am)

    If I had to design the Spokane Street Viaduct, I would have kept the 1st Ave westbound on-ramp as it was 2+ years ago with the entrance at Spokane, since it’s more convenient for north/south traffic on 1st AND westbound traffic from Spokane (if that road ever opens again). And I would not have any off-ramps in the westbound direction to 1st or 4th…I would have made one onto 99 North, if anything.

    Also, the comments that we’ll have a wider SSV in which to be parked are true. The main problem that should have been fixed is the northbound I-5 on-ramp because that is where the back up starts. Close the on-ramp at 6th Ave or provide the SSV a separate on-ramp to I-5 North somehow. Anything is possible with eminent domain!

  • metrognome August 29, 2012 (11:09 am)

    nothing but complaints … does anything make y’all happy? Now you carp that the new 4th Ave ramp makes it easier to get to Costco but this ramp makes it harder to get home — how ridiculous! I’m guessing the tens of thousands of commuters from downtown and points north as well as stadii traffic have a different opinion. This had to be built on an existing structure in an active business/industrial area; that kinda limits options. Why don’t you wait until the entire project is done before you open the bottle of whine.

  • DJ Allyn August 29, 2012 (11:14 am)

    From the looks of it, I think it will still be faster for me to head North on 4th, take a right on Spokane and head up the hill on South Columbian way. Take a right on 14th Avenue South, a left on South Spokane and turn back down the hill and shoot right onto the viaduct. I only have to deal with one, maybe two lights, and it is only one mile versus the 1.7 miles to catch the new ramp.

    This is how I have been dealing with the trip from Costco home for the past year or so.

  • dsa August 29, 2012 (11:37 am)

    What an amazing discussion, first we waited in anticipation for the new ramp to open, and now we are offering ways of avoiding using it.

  • Mark August 29, 2012 (11:51 am)

    I am happy to have the onramp… two left turns from Costco is better than what’s there today. Also, while the NB onramp to 1-5 wasn’t improved, the exit from SB 1-5 is already massively better. A project can’t fix every problem (my guess is the state would have to fix the I-5 onramp, not the city.

    Oh and also, this now won’t fall down in an earthquake (which is a pretty big deal in itself).

  • Bubbasaurus August 29, 2012 (12:03 pm)

    At the start of the project, they should have repaved S Horton St from 4th Ave to 1st Ave to make it easier to get to East Marginal when the ramp was closed and to get to the ramp when it’s reopened heading north bound. Instead it’s really only designed for those with really solid SUVs (or maybe armored vehicles).

  • headingSouth August 29, 2012 (12:04 pm)

    I actually don’t remember them asking for engagement, but I think we (in Seattle, anyway) either (1) haven’t had any transportation improvements in so long we have forgotten how to get engaged, or (2) we trusted them to analyze traffic flow and figure something out. There used to also be an onramp at 4th that let you avoid the trains and I guess they are not going to replace that, either, are they?

    At least it hopefully won’t fall down in an earthquake, but otherwise doesn’t seem like much of an overall improvement. At that, I will be happy to have the construction done and return to the status pre-quo! :-]

  • WS commuter August 29, 2012 (12:50 pm)

    My guess is that things will be at least incrementally better, if not a dramatic improvement. Recall that the WB offramp to NB 1st is the long-awaited replacement for the old 90 degree turn-4th Ave NB off ramp. The real beneficiaries of this change aren’t us W. Seattle-ites; it will be people coming from the eastside and south end headed to Safeco or Century Link (and perhaps the new arena) for sporting events. 1st Ave is better access to those stadiums/parking than 4th is.

    I’m in a wait-and-see mode; I know the new onramp from 1st to WB SSC will help us downtown folks who might want to SR 99 sometimes – my guess is the evening commute will get a little better as a result.

  • dsa August 29, 2012 (12:57 pm)

    Earthquake safety? where did that idea come from? The original part of the structure is older than the Alaska Way viaduct.

  • sw August 29, 2012 (1:14 pm)

    The onramp at 4th S. had been decommissioned for years before this project started. It was never slated to come back. I’m focusing on the fact that it will be nice to have the new ramp open, and the project completed.

    Let’s try and keep the glass half full. Pretend the ramp is a Trader Joe’s.

    • WSB August 29, 2012 (1:29 pm)

      Good point, SW, I still have a photo in the archive for this topic with a photo about the 4th Avenue onramp closing in 1993. That sign stood for what, 15 years afterward?

  • metrognome August 29, 2012 (1:33 pm)

    don’t forget that once the tunnel is done (or maybe before), there will be a new connection to 99 SB and the WS Bridge in SoDo and it won’t be subject to the toll. Also, Alaskan Way will be rebuilt and will likely divert traffic around downtown. Lastly, the north tunnel portal to Aurora will be coordinated with the rebuild of the north end of Alaskan Way as well as the Mercer St corridor to smooth out that whole area. Once all the projects are done, there will be a lot more options to get into or through downtown.

  • me on 28th Ave SW August 29, 2012 (1:37 pm)

    Whoooooooaaaaahhhhh there. This is Seattle, we like to take it slow LOL.

  • sam-c August 29, 2012 (1:45 pm)

    when coming back to west seattle from the Cosctco vicinity (there’s other places we go, so no just whining about going to costco)- we take the “back way”- 99S bridge to west marginal to Highland Park way, etc; it doesn’t seem to take that long..and works just fine. that way is better than going east marginal to turn left onto the low bridge and getting stopped by a train for 20 minutes. that is what we used to do 3+ years ago. BUT, the ‘back way’ doesn’t beat (the old way): heading north on 4th, making a U-turn under the Spokane viaduct, and taking that on ramp to the west seattle bridge- I WILL MISS that and as noted in earlier comment, the 1st ave off ramp isn’t really a benefit for West Seattleites, but hopefully someone will find it useful enough to make the other mis-planned issue worthwhile.

    We will be glad when the new on ramp opens.thank goodness it is almost done!

  • BMD August 29, 2012 (2:01 pm)

    My biggest problem with this project has been the total lack of urgency. It’s taken 4 years (they broke ground in 2008) and the 1st Ave ramp has been mostly complete for months. At times it’s taken me well over an hour to get back to WS from downtown by car due to the trains, I could have literally walked faster. They just don’t seem to care about the impact on citizens and the local economy. To put in this time-frame in perspective, the Empire State Building was built in just over a year!!

  • Don't Be Scared August 29, 2012 (2:04 pm)

    Wow I’ve never heard such concern about a simple trivial driving task. Whether it’s the 1st ave on-ramp to the bridge, entrance to a garage or office building, or anything else…HOW do you get to it? By driving to it. Just go north a block or two PAST the entrance/ramp, then turn back to it and onto the ramp. It ain’t rock science, it’s just literally going around the block. Is everyone looking for some “magic” solution where you teleport from Costco directly to your house? LOL It’s a ramp, like every other ramp in the world, there’s nothing tricky, evil, complicated or sinister. They all work exactly the same. Yes if you’re going north on 1st you’d have to “u-turn” as some point, that’s true of ANY ramp in the world if you’re going the opposite way (past it) and need to go back onto it. I appreciate the good “gee look how Seattle is a mess” whining, but it’s not…there’s no magic to this ramp, it’s just a ramp, don’t be scared of it!

  • jsw August 29, 2012 (2:21 pm)

    I agree with “headingsouth”..why was the third lane not continued on all the way to the I5 Southbound ramp…in a multimillion dollar project it would have cost them cents on the dollar for the extra pavement. SDOT just seems to like to do things twice rather than right the first time…

  • Velo_nut August 29, 2012 (2:28 pm)

    Complain Complain Complain.

  • Gregg Hersholt August 29, 2012 (2:30 pm)

    Great discussion. Thanks for the info Tracy!

  • Common August 29, 2012 (3:02 pm)

    Boo hoo! Driving is so hard! It is so terrible for you all that the government won’t hold your hand the whole time!

  • Rob August 29, 2012 (3:24 pm)

    Is this really so hard? From Costco? Uh, go the OTHER way and up Marginal Way. sheesh.

  • datamuse August 29, 2012 (3:27 pm)

    I guess there won’t be much question of whether Highland Park “counts” as part of West Seattle now, lol…

  • twobottles August 29, 2012 (4:27 pm)

    I rather doubt that SDOT’s major concern was getting people from Costo to North Admiral…

  • Harry Reems August 29, 2012 (5:44 pm)

    Anyone who complains about this project has a valid point.

    – Commuters coming home from downtown still run the risk of being stopped by a train.

    – The bottleneck at the I-5 entrances will still be there, so there will still be lengthy backups.

    – The buses inexplicably will still be routed over Lander instead of Edgar Martinez Drive, which will cause train delays.

    – The lack of urgency in completing the project was inexcusabe.

    – The craftsmanship on the project had weaknesses, particularly the concrete pour. It is uneven and inconsistent.

    – The Port of Seattle’s East Marginal Way Grade Separation looks to be a very inefficient structure, it would have been interesting to see if that could have been linked with the WS Bridge, giving us a southbound option. There are huge areas of concrete on that structure that are not utilized.

    Complaining about our region’s traffic planners are usually with merit. Instead of adding capacity, they have been steadily reducing capacity (this project not included). When was the last time this area was the beneficiary of a new road project that eased traffic and improved travel times, rather than just replaced or reduced existing structures?

    Our area will only continue to grow in the coming decades, and our city “leadership” is oblivious to our transportation requirements.

  • alittlebirdtoldme August 29, 2012 (8:01 pm)

    If we had jetpacks we wouldn’t have any of these problems…

  • SaraJ August 29, 2012 (9:04 pm)

    I also agree with headinSouth. It’s really too bad the I-5 drivers have to compete for 2 lanes when the majority of them are going NB. If you add another lane, the SB people can get off the bridge quickly, leaving less shifting lanes and mess for the NB people.

  • charlie August 29, 2012 (10:27 pm)

    If we only had a monorail. Oh, wait. . .

  • headingSouth August 30, 2012 (8:00 am)

    Good news, I saw them out there with their jackhammers recently, apparently re-installing the potholes in the new pavement, so it must be about ready to reopen! :-]

  • sun*e August 30, 2012 (8:32 am)

    “Did Costco pay for this project? Because it’s sure easy for us to get TO Costco now, but there’s no coming home.

    I keep telling people, “Never leave West Seattle, you can’t get back in.””
    I’m beginning to agree with this comment by Neighbor. With all the new and soon-to-come infrastructure going on in West Seattle we’ll never want to leave. Maybe someday we’ll get a Costco in WS…we’ve got a Home Depot after all.

  • headingSouth August 30, 2012 (8:35 am)

    And I think the Costco thing is taken a little out of context. There used to be an on ramp at 4th that allowed anyone finding themselves in such a position to get on the West Seattle Freeway without waiting 20 minutes for the trains to go past. The people who designed this in the 50’s thought things through a lot more trafic- flow wise (not safety). I guess that ramp is not coming back, so we’ll all have to work around it.

  • Rachael August 30, 2012 (11:13 am)

    From Metro:

    On Friday, August 31, Routes 21 Local, 22, 35, 56 Local, 85 Night Owl, 116, 118 & 119 will begin operation on the new 1st Av S ramp to the West Seattle Bridge.

    With this routing restored, Metro will no longer send Transit Alerts regarding routing openings of the lower level bridge for marine traffic.

    • WSB August 30, 2012 (11:31 am)

      Thanks, we’re out in the field and I don’t know if I’ve received that one yet … the “end of bridge-opening alerts” is interesting. Will ask SDOT if they’ll keep sending. – TR

  • metrognome August 30, 2012 (5:02 pm)

    headingSouth — and several people were killed trying to get on the bridge using the 4th Ave on-ramp because there was no room to accelerate to a high enough speed to safely merge into the zooming traffic (in part because there were so many semis in that lane getting ready to take the Harbos Isl off-ramp.)
    HarryReems — since you’re such a good engineer, you should apply at SDOT …

  • MotorbikeMike August 31, 2012 (3:20 am)

    Another useful quote by Metrognome:
    “HarryReems — since you’re such a good engineer, you should apply at SDOT ”

    Since Metrognome is likely a prominent civil employee feebly trying to defend this region’s transportation idiocracy, perhaps instead of consistently refuting sound logic when presented, s/he might consider acknowledging the extreme impact a project like this has on the region before approving it.

    When you are going to spend public money of this scale for a project that will create unquestionable traffic disruptions for years, it should be IMPOSSIBLE for a project of this magnitude to fail on so many objectives.

    From the Fauntleroy re-stripe to the rerouting of 99 under all downtown businesses (so we can have a “prettier” waterfront), leadership in this region could have the worlds best transportation engineers at hand and they still wouldn’t listen to them.

    It’s an insult to even imply that engineers could solve this. Politicians are the transportation designers in this city. No licensed engineer would ever so consistently conceive of such ridiculous outcomes.

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