What’s ahead on the roads and underground? South Portal Working Group briefed

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

WIth the south mile of the Alaskan Way Viaduct gone and the tunneling to the north about to begin, WSDOT is planning to consolidate the quarterly meetings of its citizen/business advisory groups.

The groups, it should be noticed, are far from perfunctory. The map above – showing the traffic reconfiguration in the works for the about-to-start “timber bridge” project on Highway 99 – is an example of the groups’ value, the result of a recent request by one West Seattle member.

More on that, ahead. First: After gaining some reassurances that their issues won’t be lost in the ensuing shuffle, members of the South Portal Working Group – which has focused on what’s happening and coming up in the West Seattle/SODO areas — agreed that would be OK with them.

That was the final point on the agenda of that group’s most recent meeting, held in the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project headquarters’ 23rd-floor conference room downtown. The group had been meeting in Sound Transit‘s board room, but that location was described as “unavailable … for a while.”

Toplines from the wide-ranging agenda – tolling, tunneling, even RapidRide ridership – ahead, along with the details on the map’s origins and the project launch:

You can follow along via the slide deck, or watch for the images we’ve sampled below – see the entire presentation here.

First item: Status of the planning for Highway 99 tunnel tolling, as multiple scenarios are studied, with tolls from 45 cents to $4. (Here’s the latest from the committee working on that.)

The key observations, if you haven’t been closely following this chapter of the tunnel saga: “Overall, none of the scenarios achieve the goal of covering” everything they want to cover. Scenario #1 – $1 to $2.25 – came the closest, Chandler said, but it and the other two still had substantial “diversion” (vehicles avoiding the tunnel to avoid the toll), 25 to 40 percent. If there’s no toll, he noted, 85,000 vehicles would use the tunnel daily – but with various toll options, it drops dramatically from there – and, as revealed in follow-up questioning, even 85,000 is nowhere near the tunnel’s total capacity.

“We’d like to have as many vehicles in the tunnel as possible since that’s why we’re building it,” but no “sweet spot” has been found so far. The studying of more options will start again in March, looking (next meeting March 13) at 0 to $3 options. Follow-up questions also revealed that they would be looking at whether starting with a given toll and increasing it over time might work better.

What about looking at more stable funding besides tolling? asked South Park’s Marty Oppenheimer.

99/Viaduct deputy program administrator Matt Preedy replied that “it’s too early for us to say” since they haven’t finished fully studying tolling.

“It’s an interesting question,” allowed Chandler. But King County’s Ron Posthuma threw “a bucket of cold water” on the idea of an untolled tunnel, saying that other jurisdictions are already upset at the likelihood tolling will not raise what it originally was supposed to.

On to Metro (Transit) matters:

Planner David Hull recapped the September service change, saying its results are expected to have increased ridership by 600,000 trips annually. He recapped issues with which you may be well acaquainted – “crowding and reliability” issues on RapidRide C and D Lines, “increased downtown travel time on some routes” (a minute more on surface streets).

“Corrective actions taken” were listed as service added to RapidRide, Route 55, and Route 120, revised routings through downtown, and stops removed from the I-90 stop pattern (addressing issues for a different part of the area). “Some of the crowding was caused by bunching of buses,” he noted. He says now 27 of the 29 Transit Signal Priority spots are up and running – will the green time be extended or red time shortened when a bus is approaching.

He mentioned Arbor Heights briefly, acknowledging “substantial span reductions” even though “a little work has been done” to restore the span a bit (including a tweak that took effect in the service change this past Saturday).

How many seats available, as compared to before the change? asked Pete Spalding, one of two West Seattle reps on hand at this meeting. 58 in a hybrid coach, 49 in a RapidRide bus, said Hull, but yes, fewer seats, because the RR coaches “are designed to have fewer seats and more standing room.”

Spalding pressed on with West Seattle RapidRide concerns and other complaints related to the end-of-September “service change.” Hull said he hasn’t heard about issues with the 125 and 128, but he noted that RapidRide is doing better on-time than Route 54 (which it replaced) did – 80 percent to 70 percent.

He showed a graph (above) showing a 29 percent higher passenger load in the morning from West Seattle and 35 percent more headed back in the evening – 1,500 more riders per day, they believe, according to “preliminary data.”

He also had a graph showing that “crush loaded” – leaving people behind at the curb – trips have gone down in the RapidRide C Line pm peak trips headed back this way:

Another Metro graphic looked at service on 1st Avenue South, which was changed in the stadium zone more than a year ago because of “increased construction” and might be restored, Hull said, depending on what happens when Viaduct construction ends though. From Metro’s standpoint, he said, it’s “working well” – but committee member Susan Ranf from the Mariners said she had heard that some have dropped out of nearby Starbucks HQ’s commute-trip-reduction program because of the reduced 1st Avenue S. service. South Park rep Oppenheimer also brought up a lengthened travel time for an employee of his who commutes from Magnolia; Hull said that might be because her routes require a transfer she didn’t make before.

The topic of 99-related transit funding came up next, and King County’s Ron Posthuma picked that up. As Metro management told the city earlier this week, the money meant to “mitigate” 99 construction would run out in the middle of next year. And the other problem he said is that “our sales tax revenues continue to tank.”

No solutions – just an advisory note.

99 SOUTH END CONSTRUCTION: Matt Preedy picked it up from there, showing the launch pit construction, which is scheduled to continue into spring. You’ll see lots more equipment arriving in the months ahead, he said, like these two big cylinders in the area:

That’s the “jet grout plant” you can see from The Viaduct, for an operation similar to what will be involved in the forthcoming seawall.

Soil spoils will come up from the launch pit via a conveyor like the one shown above and will go onto barges via a 5-acre site which also is where the tunnel-boring machine pieces will be brought in March/April. The conveyor is a long white chute, as shown via a slide deck. The largest rock they expect to bring through it is 3 feet. A rock that big would weigh hundreds of pounds.

Underground walls have been built to protect the launch area for the tunnel-boring machine. It gets tested three times, Preedy explained – 1st round is happening now in Japan at the factory.

Oppenheimer asked about the testing problem found in Japan – involving some damage to the machine. Preedy said, “They have it all taken apart now and are correcting the issue” and will test it before taking it apart again to put on a ship for the cross-Pacific trip:

He also updated the South Atlantic overpass work, which will continue through the end of this year, and will be “cast in place” – false work is what they’re putting up now. When it’s opened, it will still be missing one piece, a Marginal/Alaskan Way connection that won’t be added till the tunnel opens, he explained.

The tunneling machine should show up by sea around the end of March, and tunneling is scheduled to begin at midsummer.

TIMBER BRIDGE: This is the project to replace the wooden structure that comprises part of 99 south of the West Seattle Bridge. Next Monday, February 25, is the start of work, as previously reported here, through July of next year. But this coming weekend, there will be a weekend-long 99 closure to switch the traffic, and after that, it’ll be two lanes northbound and one southbound for the construction duration. Since more than half the southbound traffic gets off 99 at the West Seattle Bridge, they don’t believe the single lane will be a problem.

Where will the lane reduction leading up to it kick in? asked West Seattle’s Spalding, citing concern about backups. The WSDOT rep said there’ll be a “drop lane” to the West Seattle Bridge, but the narrowing to a single lane won’t start till south of there. Spalding continued to press for details, so Preedy promised WSDOT would come up with a schematic to share – and that is the map you see at the very top of this story. We are still confirming details of the closure this weekend, as there’s conflicting information as of this writing, on various WSDOT/SDOT webpages.

I-5 SPOKANE STREET INTERCHANGE SPECIAL BRIDGE REPAIR: So far, WSDOT said, its weekend closures had gone well; no traffic woes yet but the weekends of March 29 and April 5 will include I-5 mainline lane closures for expansion-joint replacements, and that will likely have some impact. (This is the project that closed the I-5 and Beacon Hill ramps at the east end of the eastbound West Seattle Bridge this past weekend; its next close is the weekend of March 2-3.)

MERCER CORRIDOR PROJECT: Find out about all the changes by going to seattle.gov/ransportation/ppmp_mercer.htm

ONE GROUP? Preedy now says that they are presenting pretty much the same info to the South and North groups – each of which is getting a certain amount of regulars attending these quarterly meetings – and maybe they could meet jointly. Spalding expresses skepticism – if North End info is included, how much longer would the meeting be? Preedy says they could structure the meeting in a way that makes it work. Looks like they WILL combine, as of next quarterly meeting – location, day, time TBA. And at that meeting, which probably will be in May, they will have more info on the future of transit, bicycle, and other non-car/truck uses.

And so – what ABOUT the Sodo arena, asks the ILWU rep? Preedy says WSDOT has no official position but is “very interested” in the impacts to the state highway system … “There will be a point in time where we will have to engage on those points, but it is a little early,” he said. The Seattle Tunnel Partners rep had left by that point, which somewhat limited the ensuing discussion.

For more information on what the working groups have been discussing, and to watch for future agendas, go here.

9 Replies to "What's ahead on the roads and underground? South Portal Working Group briefed"

  • dcn February 19, 2013 (10:13 am)

    Thanks for the thorough update, WSB. I’m most surprised by the various options for tolling the new tunnel. I just assumed they’d over-price it, like they did SR 520, making most people divert and overcrowd the alternative routes.

  • wetone February 19, 2013 (11:05 am)

    Timber Bridge info statement they say: Since more than half the southbound traffic gets off 99 at the West Seattle Bridge,(???) they don’t believe the single lane will be a problem.
    Wow can’t wait to see this one and what happens during rush hours. I think it just might back up a we bit. I think they should of done a little test, like laying some cones out to the one lane configuration and testing there school of thought first hand. Just don’t have any faith in our City engineering group any more do to their track record lately.

  • chas redmond February 19, 2013 (11:18 am)

    According to the city’s own traffic flow data maps, 82,000 vehicles are using the viaduct north of the Spokane interchange and 50,000 are using the viaduct south of that interchange. So, where is the data to back up Preedy’s statement “Since more than half the southbound traffic gets off 99 at the West Seattle Bridge, they don’t believe the single lane will be a problem.”? I’m thinking this will not be the smooth vanilla shake SDOT is promising – just as everything else SDOT has promised has fallen short of the mark. And the schedule, when was the last time SDOT actually completed a multi-year project affecting West Seattle on time?

  • sam-c February 19, 2013 (11:34 am)

    wow, that one lane southbound lasts through July of next year. wonder if people will figure out good alternatives if it turns out to be a big traffic creator? I-5 ? the low bridge? 1st ave on-ramp?…

  • Smitty February 19, 2013 (12:36 pm)

    Wow. The single lane south of the WSB is going to impact us greatly, imo.

    Currently, people heading to West Seattle can get in the right lane whenever they want – up to the last second if they are in a hurry.

    Now, SB cars will presumably start merging into their one lane before the WSB exit thus indirectly forcing those of us exiting to WSB into the far right lane much, much earlier than we need to currently. This will force all cars, slow, fast, bus and otherwise to cue up much earlier.

    Not to mention people heading SB driving in one of the WS lanes until the last second and then trying to merge left. Yikes.

    Can you say WSB exit backed up to the new “s-curves”?

    Just a guess…..

  • sw February 19, 2013 (1:04 pm)

    The middle lane needs to be reversible – Northbound in the morning, Southbound in the evening. WSDOT can use one of the “zipper” barriers and move it as applicable. Add the APPROPRIATE signage and drivers will get the hang of it in short order.

  • G February 19, 2013 (1:05 pm)

    Somehow, this sounds like it will be as fowled up as the confusing around the west side of Southcenter.

  • KenT February 19, 2013 (6:59 pm)

    Never mind the 99 mess – look at the Metro statistics. I would love a definition of “some” standing and “many” standing. I am gonna cry bull that on 42% of all PM peak trips to West Seattle there are seats on the C for all. I ride PM peak and have never seen everyone seated unless you want to count weekends (or if two buses pull in almost at the same time – not unheard of). And still there are “crush loaded” – leaving people behind at the curb – trips (23% by their stats)? Is that reason to pat yourself on the back? Is anyone really convinced that Metro is doing a good job?

  • wetone February 19, 2013 (8:08 pm)

    What do you expect from a city that has a mayor making a statement today how crime is down 30% don’t know what he is smoking but it must be good. Pretty easy to have crimes go down when they don’t file charges on the law breakers. Metro works the same way they just tell you what they want and 60% of the people believe them, that’s all it matters to them. It is only going to get worse around here if people keep their heads in the sand.

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