By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A week and a half after the big news that the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close forever on January 11th, with three weeks of Highway 99-less-ness to follow before the new tunnel opens (and other traffic effects beyond that), the West Seattle Transportation Coalition got a high-level briefing.
Leading that briefing last night: WSDOT’s Viaduct/99 project boss Brian Nielsen, SDOT’s downtown-mobility director Heather Marx, and King County’s Chris Arkills.
There were a few new bits of information – but even the not-so-new info bears hearing over and over as the 99-less period approaches.
Marx began with the overview that getting around the city is about to change – “it’s not going to be super-fun, for a few years” – with the promise that after those “few years,” things will be much better.
She showed the five pillars of how “downtown mobility” will be managed.
She made way for Nielsen, who promised specifics on “what’s going on in the Viaduct program now and the next couple years.” The number 5 figured into his early going, too – 5 things that have to be completed before the tunnel can open.
The Alaskan Way switch out from under the Viaduct will happen next month, for starters. Then on January 4th, the southbound ramp to Atlantic will be closed in advance of the main Highway 99 closure between the West Seattle Bridge and the Battery Street Tunnel. And, as first discussed at a briefing we covered in June, the new offramp to Dearborn/1st/Alaskan Way will not be ready until “a week or two” after the tunnel opens, so “the closure’s going to be more like five weeks.”
Why can’t that construction also be completed during the three-week 99 closure? asked WSTC’s Chas Redmond. Nielsen didn’t really answer that before the briefing moved on. He was asked about the styrofoam blocks visible in an incomplete bridge by the current southbound 99 – he said they’re using that building material because it’s light and runs less risk of sinking.
One of his slides was the already much-heard dire warning that this will be a traffic nightmare – since the 90,000 vehicles that use 99 won’t be able to – so the exhortation is to “get ready.” Nielsen said the government agencies are getting ready too, promising “incident-response teams, increased staffing in transportation-management centers, signal-timing plans, uniformed police officers at key intersections, added Water Taxi runs, standby Metro coaches, and more.”
What about the low bridge and maritime openings? added Redmond, given that people on bicycles and on foot are reliant on that route. Marx said SDOT is working on text-message signups for “key arterials” and the low bridge would be one of them – you’ll be able to register for just the arterial(s) in which you’re interested. (Right now, the only way to know in advance if the low bridge is closed to non-maritime traffic is to follow the @SDOTbridges twitter account or check SDOT’s Travelers Map, neither particularly targeted if the low bridge is all you want to know about.)
Next up was Arkills from the county. He talked about the interim and permanent transit pathways for the “south end” including West Seattle.
Once the tunnel and new offramp to downtown are both open, 1st Avenue S. will be an “interim pathway,” and about a year later, “when the viaduct demolition, waterfront, and Columbia Street 2-Way Configuration projects are complete,” transit lanes will be used on 99, surface Alaskan Way, and Columbia. Arkills also showed a map showing that the SODO Busway will be used northbound during the 99 closure and acknowledged in response to some surprise that it’s a “new refinement.”
However, the buses will not stop on the busway for light-rail transfers (or anything else). Arkills noted that the trains are already at “peak loads” and could “overflow” at that point. WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd countered by saying that wouldn’t necessarily be the case “outside peak hours” so Metro should reconsider. Arkills acknowledged there had been “passionate argument” already in favor of that, but for now, this is the decision.
Why can’t Sound Transit just add a car? They’re already adding what they can, Arkills said, while deferring a more-detailed answer to a guest later in the meeting. And he recapped what was announced at last week’s briefing – an extra Water Taxi vessel, extra shuttle, shuttle from a Pier 2 parking lot holding about 200 vehicles, vanpool parking at Don Armeni Boat Ramp, and bike racks/storage at Seacrest.
Why no Water Taxi shuttle for Delridge? asked Amanda Kay (a WSTC co-founder). It’s a timing issue, among other things, said Arkills, and even if one was added, it probably wouldn’t make it past Genesee. So why not add a second extra shuttle? he was asked. He took that under advisement.
Also announced – with the (unelaborated-on) logo/title “Step Forward” – what was described as a comparable event to the SR 520 floating bridge grand opening event.
This will happen during the 3-week closure, with both a run-walk event and a bike event, “a couple days of great activities to say goodbye to the Viaduct” and hello to the tunnel.
Viaduct demolition will take about six months, decommissioning the Battery Street Tunnel will take about two years. And Nielsen reiterated that the tunnel will be toll-free “for a few months” in the beginning, as well as warning that the early going after the tunnel opens will be congested because people are getting used to something new – as well as noting that the new Alaskan Way, which will take a few more years to build, is part of the Viaduct replacement too, not just the tunnel.
The final slide showed a variety of ways that info will be disseminated during the closure – including a hotline that, when asked by WSTC’s Deb Barker about its hours, was revealed as only being answered 8 am-5 pm. An extended period during the closure might be a good idea, Barker suggested.
Marx was then up again, mentioning the Seattle Transit Tunnel transition to light rail only, with buses out of the tunnel next March.
She summed up, “The government cannot fix this” (looming trafficmare) – they need everyone’s help. Try transit or alternatives (work hours, etc.) now, don’t wait until January.
Again – what about Delridge? asked Amanda Kay. Marx invited her to contact SDOT for more discussion.
P.S. Here’s the full slide deck (10 MB PDF) the three agencies used last night.
SOUND TRANSIT: West Seattle light-rail project point person Stephen Mak recapped for the group where things stand. See our coverage of Wednesday’s Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting. Next step: The Elected Leadership Group decides whether to forward SAG recommendations as-is or amend them, and then there’s an official list of what will be considered in the third and final level of review before a “preferred alternative” is chosen next spring and is sent on for environmental studies.
Questions asked including equity considerations and “if third-party funding is needed, who would that third party be?” Many possibilities, attendees suggested – maybe even a West Seattle-wide levy such as a Local Improvement District, somebody offered. Also discussed: What “low guideway” means when mentioned for some possible alignments (we covered that in this report earlier this month – no higher than 60′, says ST).
SPEAKING OF LIGHT RAIL – WALK AND TALK AHEAD: For more light-rail discussion, everyone is invited to Feet First‘s October 16th West Seattle walk-and-talk event.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays most months, 6:30 pm, at Neighborhood House High Point Center – next meeting will be October 25th.