FOLLOWUP: Highway 99 tunnel’s first true traffic day, downtown-ramp update, and more

Today was the first real test of the Highway 99 tunnel in traffic. If you weren’t among those using it – above is the next best thing, Jamie Kinney‘s dashcam video from the northbound morning commute. Below, a “live” look inside the south end of the northbound deck:

One big question remains for West Seattleites: When will that exit ramp to the south end of downtown open, so people headed northbound from here can use 99 without having to go through the tunnel? Dating back to last summer, WSDOT warned it would take up to two weeks beyond the tunnel opening to finish that ramp. Optimistic projections more recently were that it could be as little as one week – but then came the snow. We checked in today with WSDOT’s Highway 99 project spokesperson Laura Newborn, who says, “Weather definitely put the work behind on the NB off ramp Monday and Tuesday. The contractor is working today, but the bad weather could cause challenges for the crew.” And, of course, as the weather experts are warning, it’s likely not over yet. One other thing about NB 99 came up in a comment discussion today: The NB bus lane south of the tunnel. It was cut short a while back so that crews could repair a “dip” and has not been fully restored yet, but Newborn says it will extend to, and onto, the new Dearborn/Alaskan Way exit ramp, and then after the Metro routing “interim” time of up to 1 year, will also extend onto the new Alaskan Way. (The 4th Avenue temporary bus lane on the eastbound West Seattle Bridge, meantime, will be removed once buses stop using that ramp, SDOT has reiterated – again, waiting on that NB 99 exit ramp.)

25 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Highway 99 tunnel's first true traffic day, downtown-ramp update, and more"

  • Graciano February 6, 2019 (5:51 pm)

    It took almost 10 minutes for what used to take 5 minutes on the viaduct.I’m probably not going to be the first one or the last one to say this…, it should have been 3+ lanes wide.

    • Marianne February 6, 2019 (6:30 pm)

      Took me exactly 10 minutes to get through the tunnel northbound this morning and five minutes southbound this evening.  The right hand lane was backed up almost to the south end of the tunnel with those who were taking the Mercer exit.  I hope when the exit at the south end (for northbound traffic) opens traffic in the tunnel will be lighter.

    • KBear February 6, 2019 (7:05 pm)

      Graciano, it is evident from your comment that you have not followed ANY media coverage of this project. They used the world’s largest tunnel boring machine and built as many lanes as would fit. Rebuilding the viaduct would have been much more expensive and would have required much longer road closures. 

      • Mike February 6, 2019 (9:18 pm)

        Not to mention the Viaduct was 3 lanes…until you had to exit that third lane, or was backed up on the third lane because everyone was trying to exit …the third lane.  10 minutes is 10 minutes faster than it used to take me on a good day. :)

      • Ian February 6, 2019 (9:35 pm)

        We really should have just dug two smaller tunnels. For so many reasons.

      • Alan February 7, 2019 (12:37 pm)

        In othe rwords the tunnel was a bad idea

      • WS Rez February 7, 2019 (3:40 pm)

        Actually, if you go to Norway, you will see the largest tunnels in the world.  3+ lanes and even has a roundabout in the middle with other streets in different directions.  It’s fascinating and if we had consulted with them, we may have done things differently.

  • AP February 6, 2019 (5:59 pm)

    Help me here, math fans. That two mile stretch of tunnel, with a 45 mile per hour posted speed, should take a little over three minutes to drive (if I’m calculating this right). It took almost ten minutes at whatever time the dash cam recorded this scenic journey, with lots of brake lights along the way. I shudder to think of the backup should there be a breakdown or accident. 

    • WSB February 6, 2019 (6:06 pm)

      The final test won’t be until the Dearborn ramp opens. Some of the traffic will use that instead. How much? We’ll see within a week or two, depending on how the impending alleged Snowpocalypse goes …

    • CAM February 7, 2019 (6:33 am)

      Clocking by the time the car entered and exited the tunnel it was just a bit over 9 minutes. Most of those brake lights seemed to come at the end and it looked to my view like there was an obstruction in the right lane in the form of a van or truck that was stopped and blocking traffic. I’d bet those travel times would improve as well once people get used to the tunnel and its turns. People tend to drive more slowly over unfamiliar roadways. 

    • Q February 7, 2019 (12:42 pm)

      45 mph isn’t the “posted speed”, it’s the speed limit. Also known as the maximum speed you’re allowed to travel under ideal conditions. Not the speed that you’re guaranteed to get to go, math fan.

  • Rick February 6, 2019 (6:06 pm)

    That’s a long time to be in a tunnel. Do not go in with less than a 1/4 tank of gas.

  • GS February 6, 2019 (6:38 pm)

    This evening around 5:15 pm or so we were going 25 mph southbound through the tunnel. Picked up to 50 mph after exiting!

    • Mike February 6, 2019 (9:20 pm)

      shhhh, speed limit is 40 ;)

  • Joe Z February 6, 2019 (6:57 pm)

    Thanks for the update on the NB bus lane. 

  • Nino February 6, 2019 (7:10 pm)

    Will the bus lane remain on the 99 S headed towards the tunnel?Right now it’s left lane (downtown-ish exit), middle lane to tunnel, right lane bus only

  • rpo February 6, 2019 (9:03 pm)

    Went from Admiral to Fremont in 15 minutes this afternoon. Left at 5 pm. Same as with the viaduct.

  • WSobserver February 6, 2019 (10:37 pm)

    Oh look, a Waste Management truck.  Doubt I’ll see another one of those for weeks.

  • ImNotSparticus February 7, 2019 (8:43 am)

    Funny; if you’ve ever driven extensively in Europe you might be overwhelmed and terrified because THEY have some real tunnels! Old and long and dark and curvy.  :D

  • Joe February 7, 2019 (11:25 am)

    What is meant by “ so people headed northbound from here can use 99 without having to go through the tunnel? ” isnt 99 the tunnel?

    • WSB February 7, 2019 (11:32 am)

      Right now, if you take the exit from EB WS Bridge to NB 99 you have to go through the tunnel. There is no exit between here and the tunnel.

      When the exit opens, you will have the option of exiting BEFORE the tunnel entrance.

      • Joe February 7, 2019 (3:53 pm)

        Thank you!

  • Christine February 7, 2019 (4:35 pm)

    First trip this morning going north in tunnel, and experienced a couple of things. First about one mile in the tunnel there were signs signalling the righthand exit to Mercer, then traffic slowed down to a stop and we then saw overhead signs that said left lane was go ( green check) and the right lane was blocked (red x). Was a bit worrying.  There was an unfortunate guy in pick up stalled in right lane a bit before Mercer exit and all cars in rt lane had to merge left until we all passed him and then it flowed. A bit claustrophobic, but good that somehow signage updated to reflect blockage. Also Google maps went beserk and thought we were topside on 1st Avenue, until it lost signal altogether. 

  • Mj February 7, 2019 (5:45 pm)

    The access to and from Mercer Street is poorly designed.

    • Heidi Skrzypek February 23, 2019 (12:51 pm)

      Not a fan of the Mercer exit; too many cars in the hood clogging Dexter to turn right (onto Mercer) when my goal was to go straight into uptown. I will try the Belltown exit instead next time. Cool tunnel though!

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