VIADUCT-TO-TUNNEL: Countdown updates, including new videos showing how you’ll get to and from downtown

(WSB photos)

With nine days left until the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes forever for the tunnel transition, the countdown is revving up. We’re just back from a media briefing in SODO at one of the two 99 ramps that will close this Friday – a week before the Viaduct itself – for transition work to begin. What’s new: WSDOT has released videos that try to more clearly answer the persistent questions about how getting into and out of downtown will work after the transition. Two of the clips are particularly relevant to West Seattle – first, how you’ll get into downtown from NB 99:

Second, here’s how you’ll get to SB 99 to get out of downtown:

(The other two new videos are linked here.) For months, WSDOT has been warning that the new Dearborn ramp into downtown from NB 99 won’t be ready for another two weeks or so after the tunnel opens. But when we previewed the video about getting into downtown, we noticed it says the ramp should open after “a week or so.” We asked project deputy administrator Dave Sowers about that at today’s briefing.

He acknowledged that finishing the new ramp could take as little as five extra days of work post-tunnel opening. We recorded the entire 15-minute briefing on video and will add it here when it’s uploaded. (Added 1:55 pm – here it is:)

Other highlights: Sowers said WSDOT is ready to go for the tunnel transition work. If all goes well, the tunnel could open right after the weekend of “goodbye/hello” celebrations February 2-3, Sowers said, possibly that Sunday evening. … The Atlantic and Royal Brougham ramp closures that take effect this Friday night (10 pm January 4th) will mostly affect those who live and work in SODO – 23,000 vehicles a day use the ramps. “There’s a fair amount of work we need to get ahead,” Sowers said, starting with removal of the geofoam that’s under the soon-to-be-closed ramps, revealing more of the permanent northbound tunnel onramp.

SIDE NOTE: Today’s briefing was WSDOT only, and focused on the tunnel transition work itself, not getting around during it. We will be covering a city-led briefing about the latter tomorrow, so if you still have questions about that, let us know and we’ll do our best to get them answered!

50 Replies to "VIADUCT-TO-TUNNEL: Countdown updates, including new videos showing how you'll get to and from downtown"

  • HS January 2, 2019 (12:06 pm)

    Very helpful! 

  • Jim P. January 2, 2019 (12:12 pm)

    They left off the part where magic flying ponies will arrive to transport you around the massive blockages near the stadiums when a game is on or has ended.Or was it flying monkeys?  I’m sure something magical is planned to help the probably half hour wait to make left turns there that will ensue.  One stalled car or an accident in a turn lane in the proper place and it will feel just like driving in L.A. or New York!Oh what fun this is going to be.

    • SeaSpade January 2, 2019 (1:00 pm)

      Dipoto, King County and the City colluding to make this a success by starting the 3 year rebuild for the Mariners.  Therefore there will only be 10 Seahawks games and a handful of concerts to worry about traffic overcrowding (Blue Jays visits notwithstanding).  They’ve got this.I’m still more worried about how the heck I’m gonna get to the hockey games…

    • Jim g January 3, 2019 (10:48 am)

      Because that didn’t happen already at the Alaskan way exit…….

  • Mr E January 2, 2019 (12:14 pm)

    After watching both videos, I have to ask what were the WSDOT engineers thinking.Los Angeles: We have the worst traffic.Seattle: hold my artisanal craft IPA.

  • WS_Grievous January 2, 2019 (1:02 pm)

  • dsa January 2, 2019 (1:21 pm)

    Slick, southbound looks even worse.  I wonder *if* the choice was put to a vote way back when t based on these videos if the tunnel would pass.

  • Oakley34 January 2, 2019 (2:00 pm)

    WS to Ballard/Magnolia/Interbay seems like it’ll be a nightmare…hope I’m wrong, as many of my friends live out that way.

    • sam-c January 2, 2019 (4:07 pm)

      Yes, it seems like,  with the north exit location change, it will be harder to get west, then head up that way to Interbay and Magnolia.  But, for Ballard, you can still take 99 up to the Zoo exit and continue to Ballard that way.  To me, staying on 99 to Ballard, instead of taking 15th Ave always seemed faster anyway.I’m glad they had a solution that allowed the viaduct to stay open while they built the tunnel.  Way back before they identified the exact scope of the project, I told some Ballard friends, ‘see you in 10 years,’ when I thought they would have to tear down the viaduct and then re-build 99.

  • onion January 2, 2019 (2:20 pm)

    I am impressed with the elegance of the off ramp and on ramp designs as portrayed in the video. But traffic flow or backups will ultimately determine how the roads we paid for make us feel and whether the designs are a success. I’m sure the planners did simulations to determine how many cars they estimate will use each ramp, and how many cars each ramp can handle before becoming overloaded and backed up . I’d love to see those numbers.

    • sam-c January 2, 2019 (4:13 pm)

      Yes, looking at the distance from the 99 exit to the next light/ turn, it seems like the north tunnel exit will have bigger back-ups than the south exit.  Just guessing though, it’s already such a mess at the area where the north exit dumps out.

  • Robin Lynn Sinner January 2, 2019 (2:53 pm)

    Can you please ask if we can go North bound from the lower bridge along the waterfront using east marginal/Alaska all the way to Broad St? This straight shot has been off limits for so long. Hoping it’s available now. Thanks.

    • ScottAmick January 2, 2019 (3:36 pm)

      The new-ish overpass at Alaskan Way and Royal Brougham should be fully opened at some point that will allow traffic to make the connection you’ve been missing.  Alaskan Way traffic will turn left at the little bit of Dearborn by the new vent stacks then be back on Alaskan Way to continue along the waterfront.  Still plenty of waterfront and viaduct demolition further north but that’s the general idea.

    • Marty2 January 2, 2019 (5:10 pm)

      Robin, Scottamick is correct, East Marginal will continue north to Dearborn.  You will continue north, up the bridge structure/overpass at Atlantic street, the portion north of Royal Brougham should be open after the three week viaduct closure.  The City of Seattle will rebuild Alaskan Way from about King Street to Pier 63 as soon as the viaduct structure has been removed.  The current roadway along the waterfront will act as the “temporary Alaskan Way” while the new Alaskan Way is built where the viaduct structure is now.  Once traffic is switched to the new roadway, the “temporary Alaskan Way” will be replaced with a new Pedestrian Walkway and Bike Lane.  This work is scheduled to be complete sometime in 2023.

  • dcn January 2, 2019 (3:02 pm)

    My question for the Viadoom part of this is what they are planning to do with the 4th Ave S exit from the West Seattle Bridge. I read somewhere (I think here on this blog) that they are planning on extending the bus-only lane eastbound from the bridge all the way to the 4th ave exit, and then make one of those 2 exit lanes a bus-only lane. I hope this idea has been dropped. Currently, that 4th Ave exit frequently backs up most of the way up to the bridge on many mornings with 2 lanes open. Once 99 closes, thousands more cars will seek the 1st Ave and 4th Ave exits to downtown. If they reduce the 4th Ave exit for cars to one lane only (the same lane that also connects to Beacon Hill and I-5 south), it will bring that bridge to a total standstill. 

    • Tsurly January 2, 2019 (7:25 pm)

      The priority is to move as many people as efficiently as possible, not make it less inconvenient for single occupancy car to drive into downtown. Congestion is made by cars, not buses packed full of people.

      • dcn January 2, 2019 (9:18 pm)

        Thousands of people do not commute to downtown, but to other locations, such as the east side. I am hoping to use Beacon Hill to get to I-90 during the closure. Of course I would ride a bus to avoid the upcoming traffic nightmare, if that was an option for me.

  • JVP January 2, 2019 (3:26 pm)

    I know it’s good sport to complain about the tunnel, but looks well thought out to me. My prediction is that access to most of south downtown, and north downtown/SLU will be a lot faster than before. Belltown will be worse.  We need to make it through a couple years or so of Alaskan Way construction where they reconnect a few street to the grid to really see the benefits, so it’ll be a while. At least for us here on the peninsula, we’ll get rid of that crazy bottleneck zigzag by Seahawks stadium that totally gums up the WS Bridge when it’s backed up. 

  • ACG January 2, 2019 (3:26 pm)

    On the northbound video- what do they mean by “temporary” Alaskan Way?  Is access to Alaskan Way (by the stadiums) only temporary?

    • JVP January 2, 2019 (4:07 pm)

      The way I read earlier articles/maps is that they have a temporary lane alignment starting this month, and will move it over to the right/east after the demo of the viaduct is complete.   So it’ll be permanent, but bigger and different road when done. 

    • sam-c January 2, 2019 (4:11 pm)

      I wondered about that too.    

  • Karen January 2, 2019 (3:46 pm)

    Yay, driving in circles is going to be so much fun!  

  • RickB January 2, 2019 (4:21 pm)

    Spotted a Safeco Field sign inside T-Mobile Park toward the end of the second (southbound) video!

  • Joe January 2, 2019 (4:37 pm)

    This might all be worth it just for that bus-only exit. Next step is to ban cars from using the 99N ramp in the morning, then it will be smooth sailing! 

  • Rick January 2, 2019 (4:51 pm)

    Guess I won’t renew my Costco membership.

    • WSB January 2, 2019 (5:02 pm)

      Costco and other areas south of the West Seattle Bridge are easy to get to from the south approach .. Highland Park Way to the 1st Avenue South Bridge, off at Michigan, left at 4th.

  • Todd January 2, 2019 (5:17 pm)

    Ridiculous, 3 week closure of Hwy 99.  Open the N and S ends ASAP (1 week or less) so the cars continuing on 99 can move, then work on opening the on/off ramps to downtown.  This would ease I-5 traffic immensely and not cause a 3 week closure/congestion nearly as bad as predicted.  WSDOT/SDOT can still let bikers and pedestrians walk the tunnel for a couple hours on the hard date they made for Feb 2 & 3rd.  When I emailed WSDOT months ago, this was the response:Thank you for your interest in the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. We’re considering a number of factors during the closure period, including construction staging needs. Construction planners are still evaluating potential ways to minimize the effects/duration of the closure. We’ll certainly open the tunnel as soon as we’re able to.

    • FYI January 2, 2019 (8:17 pm)

      Unless i am misunderstanding your comment… This IS essentially what they are doing.  They have to close 99 so that they can connect the tunnel to the existing trunk of 99.  You can’t switch from viaduct to tunnel without significant concrete work, and that takes more than a week. As for on/off ramps… they do come second.  Check out some of their materials, they are pretty helpful for understanding the sequence and the reason behind it.

  • Beto January 2, 2019 (6:09 pm)

    In the video, traffic runs so smoothly and flawlessly.  I wonder how it is going to be in real life considering the new tunnel will handle only 70%  of the current traffic that runs on the viaduct.

  • Erin98126 January 2, 2019 (6:47 pm)

    A city representative came to my work for sessions they organized to help employees understand the impact and our options during the closure. The ironic thing is, the city rep reiterated 3 or 4 times that “the tunnel was not built to improve traffic. It was built to replace the existing damaged roadway.” I guess we were all bamboozled because I just assumed a new billion dollar roadway would be designed to do both…

    • KBear January 2, 2019 (8:05 pm)

      Erin, there isn’t enough real estate in Seattle, nor a tunneling machine large enough, to build a road system that would “improve traffic” in a way that would allow people to drive their single-occupant vehicles wherever/whenever they want. How would you like Highway 99 completely closed for 5-6 years? That was the alternative to the tunnel. 

    • wscommuter January 3, 2019 (9:55 am)

      I still shake my head at the lack of understanding about this project.  I get the bitching – people don’t like change, especially if they feel they will be inconvenienced somehow.  I use the viaduct now and in particular, the Seneca St. exit, so I will be inconvenienced by this change.  But I understand the purpose of the project – the purpose of the project was to replace a failing structure before a lot of people died in an earthquake.  Why is that so hard to understand?  Kbear is exactly – exactly – correct.  The technology which allowed this tunnel to be built was quite literally, a cutting edge/never-done-before tunneling machine.  The alternatives to this tunnel were all vastly inferior options for anyone grasping reality.  Just tearing down the viaduct with no replacement would have permanently crippled the city.  Replacing the viaduct with a new viaduct would have been 5+ years of no viaduct, again crippling the city.  

  • 935 January 2, 2019 (7:12 pm)

    1/2 19:11Stocking up on popcorn….I like how cavalierly they suggest using the side streets to get into the queue for the tunnel.I guess we’ll see when we see it…But from gauging the streetlight-less queue for the current onramps to 99 both north and south…. YIKES.

  • Chill ice January 2, 2019 (8:40 pm)

    I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this will probably be nowhere as bad as people are predicting. 

    • KM January 2, 2019 (9:58 pm)

      Hottest take I’ve ever read!

  • Lisa January 2, 2019 (9:30 pm)

    Well done video and it’s helpful to see the plan. But it’s missing some things. Like grey skies and traffic They’ve made it look so sunny, green and easy…Wish I had your optimism, Chill Ice. I think it’s going to be dreadful. I’m with Erin in assuming it was a plan to also address traffic issues.

  • WS Guy January 2, 2019 (11:51 pm)

    The viaduct was designed in 1949.  We are about to find out whether a group of engineers can be given $4B to implement a better system for Seattle today than a group of engineers did 70 years ago.  I would think that not having to guess what Seattle would be like 70 years later would give the new guys a big advantage, but I suspect they’ve botched it.  Back then Seattle was competently managed.

    • Mr J January 3, 2019 (8:08 am)

      I’ll never understand the contempt some commenters have regarding the City. Or the misplaced nostalgia that “old Seattle” was managed better. Regardless, to be CLEAR SR99 is a STATE PROJECT, so hold your contempt for the City and direct it at WADOT and Olympia. The City of Seattle/Residents were in large part not for the tunnel. Not sure how you can tell they’ve botched something that hasn’t opened yet, but I guess in the world of armchair punditry it doesn’t matter. 

  • Tracey January 3, 2019 (6:28 am)

    I so appreciate the videos but they still confused me.  I am opting for trial and error for awhile until I figure out my preferred routes.  I will be using that currently underutilized portion of my brain required for navigation.  Kind of looking forward to learning a new route like I did when I first moved to Seattle pre-internet.  That said, I will leave my fun to Sunday on  a non-hockey, football, baseball game day.  

  • AlkiGirl January 3, 2019 (6:44 am)

    I read a lot of frustration about SOVehicles and how people need to stop using them. I didn’t own a car for years before I moved to Seattle.  The trains came every 3-5 min during rush hour and 7-10minutes later in the day. Haven’t been able to live without a car since I moved to Seattle, but I would love not to have to use one. Truth is, if you want people not to drive SOV, you have to create the infrastructure before or near in time to when you’re pushing SOV out. Buses do not work for a variety of reasons — they are meant to connect other more rapid options, like subways. And public transportation where buses are at 20-30 minute intervals during the day, or a water taxi that only runs during traditional rush hour, etc etc. Don’t work. I love watching the Bus Only lanes sit empty, because guess what, they aren’t in the lanes frequently enough. And yet the city has considered putting cameras to catch violators — instead of funding things like schools.  Not to mention that none of this is truly reasonable for families.  The public transportation in Seattle works best for people who have lots of flexibility. So, yes, SOV will continue until infrastructure catches up.   As for the tunnel, I’m just baffled that there aren’t exits to downtown.  How do you bypass your downtown? I moved from Chicago and there was an exit every few yards for downtown.  I’m guessing business/traffic  for downtown will slow. I guess time will prove whether this really was beneficial. 

    • Mickymse January 3, 2019 (9:16 am)

      To be perfectly clear, most Bus Lanes in the city move MORE people per hour than the SOV lanes do. Just because you don’t see a bus there when you drive by, doesn’t mean it’s not being utilized as planned. In some other cases, they’re specifically designed to prevent blockage by SOV traffic. Folks who think transit planning doesn’t make sense from the view behind their steering wheel are kinda missing the point.

  • Mike B January 3, 2019 (8:57 am)

    Seems odd they call it the Mercer exit but you turn on Republican St. Left wing conspiracy maybe? I have booked a ticket out of town on the 10th! Please have this all worked out when I get back.

  • Greystreet January 3, 2019 (10:05 am)

    Alkigirl, amen. You said it best there. SOV are NOT going to go away, this city loves to hate on dog owners and people who drive cars.  Not everyone has a flexible schedule and can sit and wait for the poor timing of public transportation or in my case the lack of it in my neighborhood, and all powerful beings forbid I go park in the junction area and try to catch a bus, that’s a no go. Again, I’m glad I work in Fed Way, but I am bummed that now when I try to get to anywhere NW of T-Mobile Park it is going to add an hour or more because of the sheer mathematics of it all.  I am interested to watch this all unfold and hope, like some said above, that maybe it won’t be as bad, but we have seen what happens when the V-duct has been closed in the past and lest we forget they are still closing I5 for projects (like this weekend), so that’ll be super fun.  The Seattle Freeze is turning into the “Seattle Squeeze people out of the city”.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this city, I love living here, but it’s assanine most days. “Seattle, abandon all hope ye who drive and bark here”.

    • Tsurly January 3, 2019 (11:31 am)

      No rationale person (including myself) expects  SOVs to go away. However, a reasonable expectation would be that SOV drivers (particularly those that work downtown) really take a hard look at their commuting habits to see if there room for change. My wife and I are able to manage demanding careers, kids, a dog (who I play frisbee with OFF LEASH at Lincoln Park), hobbies, errands, etc. during the week with me riding a bike and her using the bus/light rail . I also drive my brand new car on weekends to do things like everyone else.The problem that people like me have is that many SOV drivers will not even consider other options. My neighbor, for example, works in the same building as me downtown and drives everyday, when the C Line is spitting distance from our homes and office. Her reason? The bus is “dirty.” Traffic is an accessory to living in a major city. The option is always available to move, change jobs, or change your habits. 

      • Marianne January 4, 2019 (8:27 pm)

        Lost all respect for your ideas with the OFF LEASH bit.

        • Tsurly January 5, 2019 (7:25 am)

          Thats a lame reason considering they are completely independent subjects and have no effect on each other.

      • natinstl January 6, 2019 (10:02 am)

        I went from being a daily C bus rider for years to a daily driver because I was waiting up to an hour to actually get on a bus going home. They are so full I just couldn’t get on. I’d love to go back to being a bus rider, but they need more. I wish they’d have a bus that rode down California and went to the water taxi all day. It’s such an easy way to commute if you can get down there.

  • Tracey January 3, 2019 (11:02 am)

    Alkigirl and greystreet, we should meet for coffee!   My dog days are over and  travelling north days are soon to be.  I moved to this city because I loved all the little neighborhoods I could access with their own unique feel.  Now, I stick to West Seattle but pay property taxes to support the whole city. It feels like I am paying more to enjoy less.  I could do this from a suburb.  And Greystreet, go park on Harbor Avenue…that will be allowed forever for free. ( Said with sarcasm) . Woof Woof!

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