VIDEO: Highway 99 closure for viaduct-to-tunnel transition set to start January 11

(Added 6:20 pm: Full unedited video of briefing)

12:55 PM: We’re at a WSDOT media briefing at Colman Dock, where WSDOT has just announced the Highway 99 closure for the tunnel transition won’t start until January 11. More to come.

1:02 PM: Here’s the full news release:

Mark your calendars. In early 2019, the new State Route 99 tunnel will open, offering travelers a direct route from Seattle’s stadiums to the Space Needle.

To open the tunnel, the Washington State Department of Transportation must first realign the state highway, and then move SR 99 from the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct into the tunnel. This intensive work will last about three weeks and prompt the longest major highway closure to ever hit the Puget Sound region.

“The opening of the SR 99 tunnel will be an historic event in the state’s transportation history,” said Brian Nielsen, administrator of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “Before we can celebrate, we have to get through an unprecedented closure that will require all of us to change our behavior.”

WSDOT’s current plan is to close SR 99 through Seattle beginning Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Closing SR 99 through Seattle is the only way crews can finish building the highway and the eight new ramps that will allow travelers to enter and exit the new tunnel

Travelers should expect region-wide congestion for up to six weeks as crews complete final connections to and from the new tunnel. In addition to the three-week closure:

*The off-ramp from southbound SR 99 to South Atlantic Street will permanently close one week earlier than the viaduct.

*The new off-ramp from northbound SR 99 to South Dearborn Street will require up to two weeks of additional work after the tunnel opens.

Get ready, make a plan

When the viaduct closes, 90,000 drivers who normally use the Alaskan Way Viaduct will need to find another way to get to, or through, downtown Seattle. During past Alaskan Way Viaduct closures, congestion increased on all major highways throughout Puget Sound as well as on local streets.

While WSDOT is working closely with the Seattle Department of Transportation, King County Metro and other key transportation agencies to keep traffic moving during this challenging time, help from drivers is critical.

“We need drivers to change their habits for three weeks to prevent gridlock,” said Nielsen. “We recognize everyone’s strategies will be different based on their needs, but consider other ways to get to and from your destination, if you can.”

Closure timing

When Seattle Tunnel Partners finished disassembling the tunneling machine Bertha in 2017, WSDOT estimated the tunnel would be open in early 2019. While there was optimism this date could be moved up, a number of factors influenced the decision to stay with the early 2019 date:

Construction progress: WSDOT has several contractors that must complete work to be ready for the three-week SR 99 closure. Scarsella Brothers, Inc. will then build the final tunnel and ramp connections. Some of this work, like road striping, is weather dependent.

Public notice: Starting in January ensures that contractor work will be complete and we can provide a specific date much further in advance. The public’s help will be critical and this will give everyone time to plan.

Holiday travel and commerce: WSDOT and its partner agencies are committed to keeping people and goods moving during the busy holiday season. Avoiding a major highway closure between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day helps achieve this goal. There are also fewer major events in early 2019 than there are during the last quarter of 2018.

Per the Legislature’s decision, the SR 99 tunnel will be tolled as a part of the project’s financing plan. The tunnel will be free to use when it first opens.

Additional details about the closure, tunnel opening and the future tolling of the tunnel can be found at

(WSB photo: Briefing in ferry holding zone downtown)

1:50 PM: The briefing is over and we’re headed back to HQ. We recorded it all on video and will be uploading that. Also, some West Seattle-specific details: Paul Brodeur from the King County Water Taxi said it will run a two-boat schedule on weekdays during the closure, with shuttles also doubled, and there will be extra parking including a lot at Pier 2, at Don Armeni, and along Harbor Avenue.

3:26 PM: Bus reroutes during the closure are already mentioned in route-specific pamphlets as part of Metro’s service-change announcement – but the language suggests they were expecting the closure to be much sooner, so we’re asking Metro if the January timing will change anything. Metro’s new deputy general manager Terry White said at the briefing that the stops for the 12 routes that will have to be rerouted are still being finalized.

6:20 PM: Just added our full unedited video of the briefing and Q&A from this afternoon.

43 Replies to "VIDEO: Highway 99 closure for viaduct-to-tunnel transition set to start January 11"

  • Bronson September 17, 2018 (1:18 pm)

    “There are fewer major events in early 2019…” i.e. the Seahawks won’t be playing any playoff football in January…haha. 

  • West Seattle Hipster September 17, 2018 (1:20 pm)

    Thanks WSB for the continuing updates on this project.  I am am hoping but not expecting SDOT to do whatever is in their power to help ease congestion during this 3 week period.  It took me an hour to drive from Ballard to WS on Saturday night.  Seems that some traffic signals could have been temporarily retimed to ease the flow of SB traffic through the city.  It doesn’t help that capacity on 2nd and 3rd aves have been drastically reduced.  I helped myself out by driving about 12 blocks through alleys, that got me past most of the congestion.

    • TSurly September 17, 2018 (3:20 pm)

       “Thanks WSB for the continuing updates on this project.  I am am hoping but not expecting SDOT and single occupancy car drivers to do whatever is in their power to help ease congestion during this 3 week period.  It took me an hour to drive from Ballard to WS on Saturday night.  Seems that some traffic signals could have been temporarily retimed to ease the flow of SB traffic through the city.  It doesn’t help that capacity on 2nd and 3rd aves have been drastically reduced.  I helped myself out by driving about 12 blocks through alleys, that got me past most of the congestion.”

       I fixed that for you. 

  • chas redmond September 17, 2018 (2:09 pm)

    This would be good news if only SDOT had a clue – any clue.

  • Joe Z September 17, 2018 (2:11 pm)

    The most crucial element of this is the bus reroute and so far there has been zero information. I have low expectations that they will get the buses around traffic but hopefully the C will be sent to the SODO busway? 

    • WSB September 17, 2018 (2:22 pm)

      There was some discussion of that today – they will go on SODO streets – we have more updates to add. But the Metro exec who spoke said they hadn’t finalized the stops yet. They will have ‘standby’ buses available to add as needed.

    • sw September 17, 2018 (3:04 pm)

      I’d wager the C will be routed up 4th Ave S., as it will have direct connection from the Spokane Street Viaduct, and access to 3rd Ave., where it would meet up with the current route.  This would also give good connection points to Link light rail stops.  

      • WSB September 17, 2018 (3:25 pm)

        As pointed out in an earlier comment thread, some information about the 99-closure rerouting came out with the info about the next Metro service change.

        I was working on a West Seattle-specific story when this morning’s viaduct briefing was announced. Now I’m checking with Metro if the timing of this – closure on January 11, tunnel opening in early Feb. – has changed any of that, because as you’ll see if you look at the timetables, they were expecting it to be sooner. Anyway, one example, per the PDF of the C Line timetable: “the C Line will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St.”

    • Peter September 17, 2018 (4:20 pm)

      Sign up for alerts from Metro. I’ve gotten text alerts and emails about the re-routes, and there is information included in the Fall service change on their webiste.

  • Deb Barker September 17, 2018 (2:33 pm)

    Thank you WSB for continuing to update the public on this important action, and for attending today’s briefing. Recently,  I shared some ideas that WSDOT and SDOT could use to get word of the 99 closure.  In case those ideas didn’t make it to the right ears, I’ll share them here:*Add messages to the electronic traffic – time message boards throughout the City: “Three week closure of SR 99 starts January 11, 2019, so get prepared NOW”. ( If theses boards can be used to alert the public to stadium events, they can definitely be used for this closure).**Buy advertisement space inside Metro buses. Even better, commission poems about the pending three week closure and install them inside the buses. (Bonus points for public art?) *** Buy advertisement space OUTSIDE Metro buses, and wrap the buses – including Rapid Ride – with announcements about the closure. (Probably NOT public art?)Lastly, since not everyone reads the WSB or pays attention to signs,  I urge everyone to tell their friends and family about the pending SR 99 closure. 

    • driver September 17, 2018 (6:31 pm)

      Thank you for sharing this information. I wasn’t sure if the 3 week closure and the permanent closure was the same thing. 

  • Nachobeaver September 17, 2018 (3:17 pm)

    I can see the snow delays now!!

  • Driver2 September 17, 2018 (3:30 pm)

    WSB couple of questions. Did SDOT say if weather-rain or snow(if we get any)would affect the schedule? Also, any word on the 6 lane Alaskan way that’s planned?

    • WSB September 17, 2018 (3:43 pm)

      Alaskan Way will move out from under the viaduct next month. As for the eventual width, I don’t think anything has changed from plans announced long ago, but overall the focus at this briefing was more on (a) date (b) logistics for getting around during the closure. Regarding weather, somebody asked that and they said their contractor(s) will be doing their best knowing what Seattle fall/winter can be like – the earlier possible timeline would have also been at the very least in the traditional rainy season, keep in mind.

  • sw September 17, 2018 (3:38 pm)

    I still think the best time to have a closure would be during the holidays when schools are out for vacation and people are off work.  Holiday shopping and “trips to grandma’s house” (their words, not mine) are minimal impact compared to normal commute traffic.  The rationale that “we don’t do this type of work over the holidays out of concern for retailers” seems a bit misguided given the circumstances.

  • Kalo September 17, 2018 (4:26 pm)

    The extra water taxi runs during commute time is great. Any word on if they will have any runs during the late morning/early afternoon/evening? That could go a long way to cutting down on single occupancy vehicles. Time to start practicing packing your patience!

    • WSB September 17, 2018 (4:33 pm)

      Paul Brodeur mentioned “every 20 minute” service but not specific times. We’ll follow up on that. I asked whether they would re-add Saturdays/Sundays for the closure duration and he said no, it would stay Mondays-Fridays as is standard that time of year.

  • Jissy September 17, 2018 (4:54 pm)

    So as with all construction… reality, triple the budget triple the given timeframe, right?  We’re in for a world of hurt.  Thank God I don’t have to travel North, I’m so sorry for those of you that do.  

    • Paul September 18, 2018 (8:15 am)

      No. If I remember correctly the last long 99 shutdown was scheduled for 2 weeks and they completed work early.

  • Pamela September 17, 2018 (5:15 pm)

    It took nearly two hours to get home to Admiral area from Safeco Field after Foo Fighters concert – don’t want to think of the mess this will be.  Luckily I personally don’t have to leave WS for work, everything I need is already in West Seattle and what isn’t well, thank goodness for Amazon!  

  • dcn September 17, 2018 (5:17 pm)

    My advice to SDOT to help ease congestion would be prioritized signal timing for SB First ave S during the evening commute. It can take 15 minutes to get from the Stadium to the West Seattle Bridge. Since 1st Ave S has an entrance ramp for the bridge, it would be nice if the lights allowed better flow.  I imagine this street will get much more traffic during the 99 closure. 

  • Jort September 17, 2018 (6:07 pm)

    My suggestion to ease congestion is to reduce the number of people that are choosing to drive into downtown. Congestion’s primary cause is too many people driving.       Nothing in human history (besides, one might argue, a congestion toll!) has ever “solved” congestion, and SDOT sure isn’t going to come up with a miracle solution, either.      If you don’t like being stuck in traffic in downtown, I’m going to strongly recommend that you pick up an e-lime bike. During rush hour you will almost ALWAYS be faster than driving alone.

    • dcn September 17, 2018 (7:59 pm)

      I don’t drive downtown. If I worked downtown, I’d take the bus. But I have to drive to my actual workplace on the east side. Taking the bus would require 3 buses and about 2 hours each way. I take 1st Ave S or 4th Ave S when I-5 is backed up, which is often. Like most people who think that mass transit works for everyone, you make the assumption that everyone works downtown or are able to bike wherever they need to. There is a reason why people suffer in traffic. It’s lack of viable options for anything that is not downtown.

      • jm18 September 18, 2018 (6:50 pm)

        Well said  DCN! It’s always a head shaker to me when I read comments to just have everyone stop driving.  JORT – surely you’re not thinking everyone works downtown and can get on a lime bike?! 

    • Mickymse September 18, 2018 (10:01 am)

      Our region has made considerable efforts in this regard. Less than half of the people heading into Downtown during the workday do so by driving themselves in… I am not sure we can realistically expect much more improvement on that front at this time.

  • Patrick September 17, 2018 (6:25 pm)

    For anyone interested – just added our video of today’s entire briefing and Q&A, 32 minutes in all. Opening speaker is Brian Nielsen.

  • JeffK September 17, 2018 (6:57 pm)

    For perspective the WW2 lasted 2,194 days and the US was involved for 1,361 days. As of today it has been 2,523 days since demolition started on the south end of the viaduct and 1,875 days since Bertha started.

    • WSB September 17, 2018 (8:24 pm)

      And if my math is correct, it’ll be ~3,533 days between the signing of the tunnel legislation in May 2009
      and the scheduled Viaduct closing to prepare for the opening of the tunnel in 2019. The day the bill was signed in a ceremony at the Seattle Aquarium, they projected the tunnel would be ready in 2015. – TR

    • hj September 18, 2018 (10:31 am)

      How is this useful perspective? Maybe if the entire industrial and military capacity of the US were turned to focus on our little project it could have been finished a bit earlier.

    • nonni September 20, 2018 (10:14 am)

      But the Tunnel toll will not be a death toll.

  • Busrider September 17, 2018 (7:12 pm)

    WSB did they mention any coordination between KC Metro and Burlington Northern?With past closures, #55, #21x, C line etc buses were rerouted down 3rd and then got stuck in Sodo waiting for trains to pass at the tracks. Sometimes the delay was adding another 30-45 minutes plus to the “express” buses.

    • WSB September 17, 2018 (7:24 pm)

      Another good question! Nothing was mentioned or asked regarding that or for that matter the issue of asking – since they can’t be ordered – maritime operators to minimize transits that would require the low bridge to be closed to surface traffic in commute hours. Adding to the followup list. The agencies present and speaking were WSDOT, SDOT, Metro, Port of Seattle, KC Marine Division (Water Taxi). Sound Transit didn’t have a round at the microphone during the remarks but when someone asked about ST during Q&A, spokesperson Kimberly Reason stepped up. – TR

    • Peter September 18, 2018 (2:25 pm)

      Into downtown they’ll take the Spokane Street Viaduct to 4th Avenue, then 4th into downtown. Leaving downtown they’ll take 4th Ave to Edgar Matinez Drive to 1st Ave. So there will be no rail crossings to cause delays, but I can attest from the 21 local using 1st/EMD/4th due to the Lander Street overpass construction that the buses will be slow and there will be significant delays, more leaving downtown than entering. There are significant delays here now even without the extra car traffic the roads will have to absorb, so be prepared to be patient. Metro has the detail in their Fall service change information on their website.

      • sam-c September 19, 2018 (11:18 am)

        Yes, it’s going to be painfully slow with everything re-routed to the one available detour option.  

  • Mj September 17, 2018 (7:20 pm)

    At least the schedule is determined.  Maybe the DOL and Police Agencies can get aggressive to remove unlicensed and uninsured drivers from the road.  This would remove 10 to 20% of the motorists from the roadway.

    • KBear September 17, 2018 (8:25 pm)

      Great suggestion, MJ. If they would also have mandatory retesting—both written and behind the wheel—I think that would reduce traffic about 90%. 

  • Trickycoolj September 17, 2018 (7:29 pm)

    From a project management scheduling stand point January does make sense. You have a lot more runway for schedule slides for weather than you do in late October/November because at this point it wouldn’t have been until close to Halloween I bet and then a weather delay would have been smack in Thanksgiving season. We also seem to have nice dry cold spells in January a lot where November I think is our wettest month with more likelihood for Pineapple Express. 

  • Aaron September 17, 2018 (7:53 pm)

    Put in my request for vacation (out of the city) that first week! Hopefully it will close on schedule and everyone will figure out how to get around before I get home!

  • dsa September 17, 2018 (10:27 pm)

    If they are planning 21 road construction workable days in January, I expect it to take longer.

  • smittytheclown September 18, 2018 (7:58 am)

    I would hope that a lot of people will:1) Work from home (it’s SO easy now for a lot – but not all –  office workers with Skype, etc)2) Change hours!  Suck it up and work 5-2 over that time.3) Take your vacation!

  • CPAman September 18, 2018 (3:40 pm)

    The viaduct closing will create many new commuting problems for West Seattle residents.  I moved from WS to the Hill last year entirely because the buses (C Line) were literally full up every night after work.  I could never get on the bus to go home between 530-630 unless I got a running start and shoved myself up against 100 other people.  The population exploded in WS and the buses are jam packed.  West Seattle is a forgotten neighborhood in Seattle.  I so do not miss living on that god forsaken peninsula.  

  • wetone September 18, 2018 (8:21 pm)

      Everyone talks about the commute to downtown and SODO. Well that’s going to be the easy part of the daily commute.  Getting back to West Seattle is going to be the real issue as there are fewer options. Leaving W/S one has lower bridge and multiple exits from W/S fwy.  Coming back to W/S you have 1st ave  on-ramp onto W/S fwy. and lower bridge. Today getting to 1st ave on-ramp is rough at rush hours and has terrible access from anywhere east of 1st ave. Add a train or 2  and I see commute back to W/S talking 2 or 3x longer than today ; ) and there’s really nothing that can help due to the terrible city planning/foresight  from Seattle government.

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