By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
X marks the spot.
WSDOT and other agencies gathered local news media near that spot at midmorning today for the latest briefing looking ahead to the weeks of 99-less-ness while work is done for the viaduct-to-tunnel transition. We recorded it all on video:
No huge headlines at the briefing, but its context was shaped by today’s tougher-than-usual morning commute out of West Seattle, one that hadn’t yet subsided when we headed out for the 10:30 am briefing. The main event factoring into the hours-long backup was a stuck truck blocking one lane of NB 99; that was enough fodder to imagine what things might be like once all of 99 is out of commission for 3 weeks starting Friday night.
SDOT‘s director of downtown mobility Heather Marx (a West Seattleite) urged commuters to be kind and patient with each other. Seattle Police Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak said police will be taking special measures to help tow trucks get though when needed, and that a new auxiliary tow yard has opened “closer to downtown” so that crews involved in clearing incidents won’t be out of service for as long as usual.
Those tow trucks might be busy with other things during #Realign99 – Marx said, “We will tow with alacrity” if people violate the temporary no-parking zones that are planned in various spots. Hirjak reiterated that police will be deployed to keep certain intersections moving, but their goal is more to move people along than to cite them, though ticketing is not “off the table.”
Seattle Fire Deputy Chief Ron Mondragon said SFD will keep close watch on response times, and if they have to take extra measures downtown such as using transit lanes, they will.
Among the many other things that will be watched and adjusted if necessary once the effects of the Highway 99 closure are fully up to (or more like down to) speed next week: Metro bus operations. Post-briefing, we asked Metro’s Bill Bryant the question we continue to hear – will the buses that formerly used The Viaduct be stopping anywhere south of downtown? He says the inbound buses will all stop at either Yesler or James for starters, but that will change if it turns out to be a logjam. (Here again are the Metro routes [PDF], both temporary for #Realign99, then interim, then permanent.)
As for the #Realign99 work itself, WSDOT’s Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program deputy administrator Dave Sowers said what began when the 99 ramps in the stadium zones were closed is “progressing” well. WSDOT published this time-lapse video of the built-then-buried tunnel approach ramp being unearthed:
That part of the ramp was built in 2013 – the same year tunnel-digging began, after the tunneling machine arrived from Japan.
If all goes well, the tunnel could open as soon as the night of Sunday, February 3rd, WSDOT has said. Remember that if you’re not using the tunnel, 99 won’t be of use for another week or more after it opens, because work will continue to finish the new Dearborn ramp. If you missed it last week, here’s the WSDOT video explaining how getting into downtown via that ramp will work:
WHAT’S NEXT: At least one more briefing before the Friday night closure.