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:
*”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 99stepforward.com)
*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
*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 – seattle.gov/traffic (“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 99tunnel.com.