SEATTLE SQUEEZE: 6 weeks until viaduct-to-tunnel transition. Here’s what the latest briefing covered

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When state, city, and county transportation officials gathered near the Alaskan Way Viaduct in September to announce it would close forever in January, that sounded so distant.

Now, more than two months have passed, and the January 11th shutdown for the tunnel transition is just 6 weeks and 2 days away. The transportation agencies are hitting the message hard: Be ready, be ready, be ready. The newest round of outreach is a series of info sessions around the city, starting with one last night at Delridge Community Center. We went to catch the toplines and the Q&A, in case you haven’t been paying attention and/or need a refresher course.

As with other recent presentations, this one pointed out that a variety of other factors will contribute to what’s now nicknamed the “Seattle Squeeze.” SDOT’s Meghan Shepard and Metro’s Paul Roybal led the session. Shepard said in cheery opening remarks, “I like to think that we are headed somewhere good.” Waterfront renovation and light-rail extension are part of that “somewhere.”

Now the toplines – you can review the slide deck above or here (PDF) – nothing brand new but at this point the sentiment seems to be, repeat repeat repeat to leave no chance of surprise:

Tunnel transition
*”The tunnel is basically done” already, but testing is being done now and the connection work will start at 8 pm January 11th
*One week before that, the S. Atlantic offramp will close January 4th
*The “goodbye viaduct, hello tunnel” celebrations are scheduled February 2-3 (full details at
*The tunnel opening is expected the week of February 4th but the exact date isn’t set yet

*You’ll have to learn new ways to get around
*Getting into downtown from NB 99, you’ll exit before the tunnel onto the new S. Dearborn St. (which will be built during the transition but won’t be completed for an extra week or two)
*Tunnel will be a “fantastic way” to get to Seattle Center, northbound
*6th Avenue N., a “brand-new street” (explained here), is how you’ll get into the tunnel from the north side, heading southbound
*Alaskan Way will have some lane impacts during Viaduct demolition, which will start shortly after the tunnel opens and last about six months
*Still deciding whether viaduct demolition will start at the south end or north end
*North surface streets will be connected between Uptown and South Lake Union – that’ll take about 15 months
*Tunnel tolls won’t start until summer; they’ll range $1-$2.25

Bus effects (see the “pathways” map here)
*Three phases – before tunnel/99 fully open (up to 5 weeks), “interim” via 1st Ave. S. (up to a year), permanent new route (here’s the map)
*Metro/Water Taxi info is here

West Seattle Water Taxi changes during closure
*Second vessel
*Extra shuttle service
*250 parking spots at Pier 2 with shuttle to Seacrest
*Parking at Harbor/Bronson
*Van-share parking at Don Armeni

SDOT’s stepped-up traffic-info service
*Monitoring traffic 24/7
*New website launched – (“corridor-specific” e-mail lists started sending Monday – there’s one for the “West Seattle Junction corridor)

Transit tunnel effects
*A new northbound transit pathway on 5th and 6th Avenues will start on March 23rd – that affects seven routes that don’t directly serve West Seattle but will improve efficiency on 3rd and 4th Avenues
*All-door boarding will be in effect on the entire 3rd Avenue Transit Corridor starting in March 2019

On to the Q&A:

A common question: How do I get past downtown during the Highway 99 closure – for example, to Wallingford? Shepard advised avoiding non-essential trips, and noted that I-5 remains an option (several in the audience laughed).

Another question: Will any other surface streets be transit only? Roybal said the E3 busway will be “used as much as possible.”

Another person said they are concerned about bus-stop safety. Roybal said more shelter facilities are being installed in the International District, for example.

Will bus fares be going up in the year ahead? No, Roybal said.

The person who wanted to know about getting to Wallingford said her small business relies on visiting clients so she’s been working on “moving her business south.”

Shepard said the city is being “sensitive” to people who need to make deliveries downtown and has studied “who’s using the curb lane” downtown and trying to expand load zones.

What about bike routes through downtown? The Seattle Bike Map was recently updated, said Shepard. (See it on the West Seattle Bike Connections site.)

Will there be low-income or senior discounts in the tunnel? Shepard said, not that she’s aware of.

What’s it going to be like coming in from the north? asked an employer. She also wanted to know if the city’s been meeting with downtown employers. Lots of outreach, said Shepard.

What’s the first stop Metro will make heading into downtown from here? At Columbia and possibly as far south as James, said Roybal, during the interim period.

Is there any chance the 3-week full closure will slip to something longer? asked one person, noting the various problems that erupted during the tunnel’s construction. What’s happening during the closure isn’t that complicated – concrete work, etc. – said Shepard, so not likely.

As promised, the info session ended at the one-hour mark. This is the only one set for West Seattle – but if you can make it to another one, here again is the full list – next one is Wednesday night in Belltown.

P.S. WSDOT’s all-things-tunnel-transition website is at

25 Replies to "SEATTLE SQUEEZE: 6 weeks until viaduct-to-tunnel transition. Here's what the latest briefing covered"

  • JCW November 27, 2018 (11:46 pm)

    Thank you for this detailed recap!Was there any mention of extending the water taxi hours as well? I see the second vessel and extra shuttles, but the latest it currently leaves is 9:10am. Would love one or two more crossings for those of us who head downtown later and start around 10. 

    • WSB November 28, 2018 (12:20 am)

      We’ve asked repeated questions and so far, the answer is no. We’ve also asked to see the planned schedule and most recent reply was that it’ll be “available soon” … we’ll keep checking!

      • JCW November 28, 2018 (7:50 am)

        Great! Thank you!

  • Abcgirl November 28, 2018 (12:27 am)

    I still don’t understand why the design of the new tunnel is no wider than the current configuration.  If there is an accident there is no shoulder to move over to.  God help us if we get snow or any accidents during this period, it has the potential of hell, might be good for good old Jenny to talk with the business community to cut some slack to all the late for work employees

  • Mitch November 28, 2018 (1:30 am)

    It’s interesting to think back to when the tunneling machine broke down less than 10% into the project and had to be pulled out of the ground and repaired, which took close to two years, with no guarantee it might not happen again, maybe even under Belltown, when it would be at it’s deepest. Many, if not most commenters thought the project was doomed, myself included, particularly because the waterfront turned out to be a jumble of steel and concrete fill, even including a steam engine, very little of which the contractor had been told about, with the worst yet to come. But they figured out. Engineers always do. I’m sorry I ever doubted them. 

  • Delridge Resident November 28, 2018 (5:34 am)

    In the Q&A it mentions the first stop could be as far south as James. For those who work in Pioneer Square, is there a way to request bus routes include at least one or two stops further south than Columbia?

  • smittytheclown November 28, 2018 (7:43 am)

    It looks like it will close at 8:00pm on the 11th, so technically still open for commuting the 11th?  Just trying to confirm.

    • WSB November 28, 2018 (7:59 am)

      This was the first time in many meetings/briefings that I heard a specific time cited. But given that 1/11 is a Friday, it seems to be in keeping with many previous start times.

      • smittytheclown November 28, 2018 (4:42 pm)

        Not that this needs repeating – but you guys @ WSB are the absolute BEST.  Thanks for everything you do!

    • Duh November 28, 2018 (10:12 am)

      @smitty-if you want to act in these things so precisely, you really do set yourself up for frustration

      • smittytheclown November 28, 2018 (11:46 am)

        Just trying to determine when to start scheduling our work from home program at work.  That Friday or the following Monday is all.

        • Diane November 28, 2018 (1:25 pm)

          thanks for asking Smitty; that’s important info for me also, as I often commute to Magnolia on a Friday after 5pm

  • Swede. November 28, 2018 (8:40 am)

    Have to say that the tolling delay is pretty clever. Must learned from the 520 bridge that people won’t pay and now tricking them into it. Just like a gym mebership, that 80% never use, but just pay anyways. Downtown will still be a giant traffic jam though, especially since Metro will take even more lanes out. 

  • John Edwards November 28, 2018 (10:30 am)

    The map for bus routes downtown has several Avenues incorrectly labeled as “South”; they are “South” when south of Yesler.  North of Yesler they have no directional name.  North of Denny they become “4th Avenue North”, for example.

  • Stephanie November 28, 2018 (11:25 am)

    Where exactly is Pier 2? Having trouble finding it on a map.

  • Stuck on the tracks November 28, 2018 (1:36 pm)

    Interesting that all of the maps only show the road ways not the train tracks. The impact of passing or waiting trains may impact the commute for those that used downtown exits on 99 northbound at Seneca or Western (and 99 southbound at Columbia or Elliott).There are two sets of BNSF controlled train tracks between Alaska Way and 4th Avenue.  When BNSF trains are moving at either crossing the crossing arms can be down for up to 20 minutes each.  It is often inconsistent as trains sometimes switch tracks at this junction.  The Sounder and Amtrak trains take less time.To reduce some impact there will be a new ramp on Lander over the track closest to 4th.  Please keep repeating the need to mitigate the impact of the tracks closest to Alaska Way as well!

  • Jamie November 29, 2018 (12:33 pm)

    I understand the shuttle buses to the water taxi will be “expanded” during this closure.  any more info on what that entails?  will the morgan junction have service (as it usually does not during the winter schedule), will the delridge corridor have any type of shuttle options to the water taxi?  it seeming like WS folks will have a decent option of the water taxi to avoid the roadways during the bulk of this, but that really only works well if we have a way to get to the water taxi as i’m guessing parking over there will be at quite a premium.  thanks!

Sorry, comment time is over.