Wondering how you’ll get to downtown Seattle after the Highway 99 tunnel opens? Here’s how

(WSDOT graphic)

It’s a question still asked fairly often – when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is gone and the tunnel is open, how will you get to downtown from northbound Highway 99? WSDOT has just announced it’s chosen the builder for the ramp that answers the question:

Construction will soon begin on a new flyover off-ramp designed to connect the northbound lanes of State Route 99 to Seattle’s stadiums, Pioneer Square, and downtown Seattle.

The Washington State Department of Transportation awarded the $3.5 million contract to Interwest Construction, Inc. of Sequim to build the ramp to South Dearborn Street that will allow northbound traffic to exit in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood when the new SR 99 tunnel opens.

“The flyover ramp is an important piece of the larger Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program,” said David Sowers, deputy program administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “And drivers should not worry about construction delays, as the ramp will be built in the existing SR 99 work zone near the stadiums.”

WSDOT and Interwest expect to sign a contract giving notice to proceed later this month. Construction activities are expected to start in July and last approximately six months. The new off-ramp will open to motorists at the same time as the new SR 99 tunnel, currently scheduled for 2018.

The latest tunneling-progress report, by the way, is here; as of last Thursday, 2,886 feet tunneled, about 200 feet shy of a third of the 9,270-foot distance.

34 Replies to "Wondering how you'll get to downtown Seattle after the Highway 99 tunnel opens? Here's how"

  • cjboffoli June 20, 2016 (3:19 pm)

    It is always entertaining to see how sparse traffic is in illustrator renderings.  Seems to represent an ideal that at once demonstrates optimism and a complete departure from the reality of day-to-day traffic in Seattle.

    • John June 20, 2016 (3:45 pm)

      Ha yeah those are great. It’s like the architectural renderings for these new huge apartment buildings where they purposely don’t make them look as large or menacing. 

    • Br June 20, 2016 (4:05 pm)

      I think it’s just more an artifact of, it takes work to draw cars, why bother when the point is to draw roads. 

  • AMD June 20, 2016 (4:07 pm)

    And the Metro bus is on the road whose future is “under city of Seattle review.”

    I’m sure where to put the bus was a purely artistic choice, but it still hits close to home.  :’ (

  • Rick June 20, 2016 (4:21 pm)

    Did anybody read Orwell? 

  • wetone June 20, 2016 (4:43 pm)

      Can’t wait for some freezing snowy winter days if the tunnel opens up. With the grade at the enter/exit  points it will be a hoot to watch the traffic. I guess it was designed with global warming in mind  ; )

    • Jon Wright June 20, 2016 (10:37 pm)

      As opposed to all the flat roads around town?

  • John June 20, 2016 (4:44 pm)

    Hey guys, I fixed the rendering

    • newnative June 21, 2016 (12:28 pm)

      Of course at least one Metro bus blocking the intersection! 

  • Born on Alki 59 June 20, 2016 (4:58 pm)

    I wonder if this off ramp will be subject to tolling?

  • Scarlett ReesJones June 20, 2016 (5:09 pm)

    Yes that is all well and good but how do we get on 99 southbound from downtown since the Columbia on ramp will be gone?  Commuting is a two way effort for those who have to drive for work. 

    • John June 20, 2016 (6:10 pm)

      Assuming that will be via the new surface street. If the rendering is correct, Columbia entry and Seneca exit aren’t that far from the point of entry of the surface street. Nonetheless, I’m sure those intersections will be controlled by traffic signals, causing possible big pain points in and out of downtown

  • j June 20, 2016 (5:45 pm)

    We don’t envision popping downtown for a movie or much else for that matter after Seneca off ramp is removed. 

    • WSB June 20, 2016 (6:14 pm)

      Depends on where you’re going – we’ve noticed that 4th into downtown beats Viaduct to Seneca just about any time of day now. And while we’re not major moviegoers, the Admiral going first-run has taken away our need to make a couple annual pilgrimages to Pacific Place or the other major megaplex down there. And by year’s end, the renovations/quad split will be done. Or, the path to Southcenter won’t be changing – bunch of theaters there, too, and very accessible from the south end (Roxbury to 509 and etc.) – that’s the last place we went when the movie in which we were interested wasn’t showing here.

      Anyway, to the question about south access to 99, I know there are specific graphics but I can’t re-find them so am asking. Might not get a reply until tomorrow, though the program just updated tunnel-machine progress again and I’m updating what’s above as a result. – TR

      • East Coast Cynic June 20, 2016 (6:40 pm)

        But no 70mm projection at Admiral:/  You’d have to settle for the Hateful Eight in 35mm.

  • La June 20, 2016 (7:08 pm)

    Ark Lodge in Columbia City is a great indie option, too.

  • CR June 20, 2016 (7:23 pm)

    Will there be any SB 99 access from the stadium area?

    • Paul June 20, 2016 (9:35 pm)

      I think you’ll be able to get on southbound 99 from Dearborn Street.

  • can u believe it June 20, 2016 (7:53 pm)

    It will be nice to have that death trap SR 99 gone in the near future. Okay, 2018? Long since outlived its life. The waterfront is being opened and noise pollution will drop off too. I love what the city is doing. More buses are needed and we will do this. 

  • Jeanie June 20, 2016 (9:06 pm)

    Hey, John, I like the way you fixed the rendering. Except you forgot to include the rolled-over semi with the salmon spilled out. 

  • WD fundie June 20, 2016 (9:25 pm)

    My commute was good while it lasted….

  • I. Ponder June 20, 2016 (10:25 pm)

    $3.5 million doesn’t sound right.

  • metrognome June 20, 2016 (11:00 pm)

    here’s a link that shows a more complete drawing of the south portal as well as a drawing of the north portal; there are separate efforts underway by the city of Seattle to deal with surface streets (primarily Alaskan Way and the Mercer Mess) that are being coordinated with the redesign of the north end of the tunnel.  When all is said and done, the viaduct, which was primarily 2 travel lanes in each direction, will be replaced by a tunnel with 2 travel lanes in each direction as well as a vastly improved street grid.  The biggest improvements in traffic management will make up for any loss in lane capacity and central on/off ramps; those changes include:

    –  the elimination of the dangerous downtown ‘blind merge’ on-ramps that resulted in numerous accidents,

    – the elimination of mass numbers of vehicles being dumped into the middle of downtown with nowhere to go, and

    – more direct access to 99 by incoming and outgoing stadium traffic, eliminating the evening rush hour gridlock that shuts down the CBD whenever a game or other massive event is planned.


  • K. Davis June 20, 2016 (11:19 pm)

    @Metrognome makes good points … I think most folks don’t understand that the surface level Alaskan Way re-build, with dedicated bus lane, separated bike lanes and revised car lanes will give good access from N-bound SR99 for folks going into downtown.  Not a perfect replacement for losing Seneca and Western on the existing viaduct, but likely far better than many right now expect.  

  • WS lifer June 20, 2016 (11:38 pm)

    Tolling WILL undermine broader community mobility and livability goals. Once again low income citizens are unfairly penalized…in order to support the never ending corporate welfare money train (one great example are developers who stand to make millions off of the new waterfront)

  • MJ June 21, 2016 (7:38 am)

    Tolling? What do we pay all these real estate taxes for?

    • WSB June 21, 2016 (7:49 am)

      As noted here (and reported at the time), the 2013 Legislature decreed that tolling should raise $200 million of the project’s $3.1 billion. For anyone who didn’t follow through to the link in my earlier comment, the final decision hasn’t been made but to try to minimize diversion (aka toll avoidance), the recommendation was for $1, except for peak hours, which would be $1.25.

      • WSB June 21, 2016 (8:02 am)

        Also, an answer from WSDOT regarding “how will we get onto SB 99 post-tunnel?” Laura Newborn, spokesperson for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, points out the same thing in the graphic that was brought up earlier in this thread, and adds: “Alaskan Way. There will be several different city streets that will be able to feed Alaskan Way (i.e. S. Dearborn), but the exact Alaskan Way configuration is still in design.”

  • William Lavaris June 21, 2016 (9:01 am)

    Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but what happens to all the people trying to get on 99 N from the West Seattle bridge?  It’s already terrible (for them) in the mornings, but if that on ramp goes away, it’s going to get way worse on the bridge approaching I-5 and on 1st and 4th Aves.  Please tell me there will be a solution?!?

    • WSB June 21, 2016 (9:05 am)

      The ramp from the bridge to 99 isn’t going away.

  • dcn June 21, 2016 (10:46 am)

    John, I love your “fixed rendering.” It made me laugh. Thanks for taking the time to do that.

  • wetone June 21, 2016 (5:01 pm)

    What I would like to know is how people will get back to WS if there stuck using surface streets from downtown and stadium areas as there is only one on ramp (1 lane) leading from 1st onto Spokane street viaduct leading back into WS ?  that involves lot’s of train, bus and big rig traffic in the mix. The newly planned overpass will be nice, but will also push more traffic onto 1st creating more issues.  There is 2 exits now from Spokane viaduct (1st and 4th) with multiple lanes giving us access to downtown , stadium or south to Georgetown area. If answer is lower bridge how about when T5 gets developed……… This tunnel looks to be poorly planed out for those that need to get around the Seattle area and really only benefiting  those that work Mercer area, people living downtown and tourist……… 

  • Laura Drake June 21, 2016 (7:30 pm)

    The viaduct through downtown is three lanes, not two. Moving a six lane thoroughfare to a four lane one  in a growing city is ridiculous. Going from West Seattle to Ballard and points north is going to be a joke. A beautifully rebuilt viaduct with artistic ironwork would have been great.

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