West Seattle, Washington
WSDOT says today that there’s no date yet for closing the Alaskan Way Viaduct to begin the transition to the Highway 99 tunnel. But preparation work continues – including shifting the surface Alaskan Way out from under the Viaduct. Here’s the latest WSDOT update:
Last week marked the beginning of an important project that must be completed before the Alaskan Way Viaduct can be removed. Crews working for Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. have begun the traffic signal, striping and roadway signage work required to switch traffic on Alaskan Way from beneath the viaduct to just west of the viaduct. Alaskan Way’s travel lanes were detoured beneath the viaduct years ago to accommodate construction of the seawall project and the SR 99 tunnel, which could open as soon as this fall.
Crews will be working through late summer or early fall to restore street traffic to the west side of the viaduct. This switch will provide space under and around the viaduct for the removal work, while keeping Alaskan Way open during that construction. Implementing the traffic switch requires wiring intersections for traffic signals, installing roadway signage, and updating roadway and parking striping.
Crews are currently working on the west side of the viaduct, at the cross-street intersections from Yesler Way to Union Street. They are installing wooden traffic signal poles, trenching and adding underground conduits, and installing cables and traffic signals overhead.
This work will temporarily close some parking spaces and parts of the intersections to ensure the safety of crews and the travelling public. People walking, biking and driving along the waterfront will still be able to move through the area, and business loading zones will be preserved. Kiewit’s crews are minimizing their work areas where possible in order to limit these temporary parking disruptions.
This work will not disrupt the new, free Waterfront Shuttle. The pilot service is providing free hop-on, hop-off rides between Pioneer Square and the Space Needle, with stops along the waterfront. Part of WSDOT’s funding commitment to Seattle’s waterfront and Pioneer Square, the shuttle runs approximately every 25 minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, through October 1.
The switch of traffic from under the viaduct to west of the viaduct will happen before the three-week #realign99 closure of SR 99.
As explained in June, even after the tunnel opens, northbound traffic between the West Seattle Bridge and downtown will have about two additional weeks of detours while the new main pre-tunnel offramp is completed.
5:48 PM: Just a reminder if you missed our earlier alerts – northbound Highway 99, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is closed right now for the Seafair Torchlight Run. And if you’re looking for an alternate route to/through downtown, remember there are other road closures (primarily 4th Avenue) for the Torchlight Parade, which follows the run. The run course has a must-clear time of 7:30 pm so 99 should start reopening no later than then – we’ll update here when it does.
7:49 PM: The Viaduct is now open again, including the West Seattle Bridge exit to NB 99.
One last time before its demolition (which could start before the year ends), you can run on the Alaskan Way Viaduct if you sign up for this Saturday night’s Seafair Torchlight Run. You can register here. And if you’re not running, remember the NB AWV will be closed for a few hours for the run, which precedes the Torchlight Parade. (Added) WSDOT’s advisory says 4:30-7:30 pm, thiugh alert signage cites a 6 pm start.
That’s video from WSDOT, recorded inside the Highway 99 tunnel during a first-of-its-kind test today. From WSDOT’s project spokesperson Laura Newborn:
This morning, Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor for the SR 99 tunnel, successfully completed the first test of the tunnel’s deluge sprinkler system. In this two-minute test, 6,400 gallons of water poured out of the overhead sprinklers along a 216 foot section of the upper road of the double-deck tunnel. The tunnel is divided into 208 fire safety zones and the fire suppression system is designed to activate sprinklers within the safety zones – or more simply, at the point of a fire. Today’s test spanned two safety zones.
Seattle Tunnel Partners has many more systems tests and safety tests ahead before the tunnel is finished. After all tests are complete and all tunnel systems are a ‘go,’ WSDOT must close the viaduct through Seattle to finish building ramps and realign SR 99 into the new tunnel. Given the amount of testing still ahead, it remains too early to give an exact date for tunnel opening, but the tunnel could open to traffic as soon as this fall.
As we reported after covering a media briefing near the tunnel’s south entrance last week, Highway 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and tunnel will be off-limits to downtown-bound traffic for up to two extra weeks beyond the viaduct-to-tunnel transition closure, to finish the main route into downtown.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time in a while, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program invited the media into the project zone outside the tunnel – not for a tunnel update, but to talk about two closures.
First one is the one we’ve been reminding you about daily since last weekend – 9 pm tonight until 6 am Sunday, southbound 99 is closing between the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel and the West Seattle Bridge. When it reopens, the stretch just north of the stadium zone will be realigned – a little less curvy, basically; not the final configuration, but closer to it. Here are WSDOT-provided images with the before and after – the U-shaped structure at the top of both views is the Atlantic Street overpass:
This won’t be a major change but it’s important for the project – WSDOT’s viaduct-to-tunnel program boss Dave Sowers explained at the briefing that this is part of getting 99 ready for connections to the tunnel and ramps in the area that will carry non-tunnel-bound 99 users into downtown post-viaduct.
Speaking of which, an update on the big tunnel-to-viaduct closure (likely this fall) was the other part of the briefing, and there’s something new for West Seattle drivers/riders – non-tunnel northbound traffic will be affected beyond the main closure itself. We’ll get into that next but first, here’s our video of the entire briefing and media Q&A in case you’d like to watch/listen for yourself:
The first thing to stress: No, there’s still no date for the three-weeks-or-so viaduct-to-tunnel closure. WSDOT hopes to be able to announce it about a month in advance, and currently expects the contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners will officially hand off the tunnel in late August. Sowers said their biggest goal is to have the tunnel open by Thanksgiving, but it could of course be sooner.
While the three-week closure itself isn’t news – we’ve reported it multiple times before – this is: West Seattleites need to know that even when the three-week closure is over and the tunnel is open, the main pre-tunnel ramp from northbound 99 into downtown – Dearborn Street – will not be ready for up to two MORE weeks. So your main paths into downtown until then will be via the low bridge/Spokane Street, or 1st or 4th or I-5 off the eastbound West Seattle Bridge – if you’re not tunnel-bound, you won’t be able to use NB 99 between here and downtown until Dearborn is ready to go.
WSDOT says it’s of course working with other agencies/services including Metro, the Water Taxi, and SDOT to coordinate planning, but they want you to start preparing too, so they’re starting to sound the alerts now.
Something else new: Viaduct demolition, post-closure, is expected to take about six months. That’s a shorter timeframe than previously mentioned. The contractor Kiewit will start at Columbia Street and at the “Pike hillclimb area.” Some work might even begin before year’s end, if the tunnel really does open by November, according to Sowers.
Though the briefing wasn’t about the tunnel itself, we asked what’s going on underground right now. Sowers said the roadway’s built and much of what’s happening now is testing, testing, testing. The tunnel includes “more than 5,000 different instruments” and they not only have to be tested individually, but project managers have to be sure those systems are “talking to each other.” They’re also striping and installing signs.
WSDOT is continuing to put more information about the project and the viaduct-to-tunnel transition online, with an easy-to-remember website: 99tunnel.com. And watch for word of another short-term closure later this summer like the one that’s set for 9 pm tonight through 6 am Sunday – Sowers said they’re trying to figure out the least-impactful dates.
Looking ahead to next weekend, one major closure you might want to plan for if you’re heading off-peninsula: Southbound Highway 99 is scheduled for a full closure from 9 pm next Friday night (June 22nd) until 6 am next Sunday (June 24th), between Battery Street and Lander Street (functionally, that means all the way to the West Seattle Bridge), as part of tunnel-related work. No overlapping major I-5 closures that weekend, according to the WSDOT list.
Just received from WSDOT, word of Highway 99 lane closures Saturday and a full northbound closure part of Sunday:
Contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation will reduce both directions of SR 99 to one lane on Saturday, June 9, so they can dig large sign foundations for the future SR 99 tunnel.
On Sunday, June 10, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon will close all lanes of northbound SR 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and Green Lake, along with off-ramps on Interstate 5 and SR 520.
Saturday, June 9
3 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Northbound SR 99 traffic will be reduced to one lane between South Lander Street and Holgate Street.
3 a.m. to 10 p.m. – Southbound SR 99 traffic will be reduced to one lane between Holgate Street and South Lander Street.
Sunday, June 10
4:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
All lanes and ramps of northbound SR 99 between South Spokane Street/West Seattle Bridge and West Green Lake Way will be closed.
6 to 11:15 a.m.
The northbound I-5 off-ramp to Lakeview Boulevard will be closed.
Two left turn lanes on the I-5 off-ramp to Mercer Street will be closed.
The westbound SR 520 off-ramp to Roanoke Street/Harvard Avenue will be closed.
Seattle city streets are also closing for the race.
The Highway 99 Tunnel could be open – and The Viaduct permanently closed – in a matter of months. Then it’ll be teardown time, and WSDOT has announced its chosen contractor:
The demolition of Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct is finally in view.
Today, May 16, the Washington State Department of Transportation selected Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. to demolish the viaduct, decommission the Battery Street Tunnel, and reconnect city surface streets just north of the nearly complete State Route 99 tunnel.
The design-build contract, which requires the contractor provide both design and construction services of the job, is valued at $93.7 million. Kiewit submitted the ‘apparent best value’ bid – a combination of points received for their technical proposal and their price.
“We are excited to be so close to removing the seismically vulnerable viaduct and ushering in a new era on Seattle’s waterfront,” said Brian Nielsen, WSDOT’s Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program Administrator. “It will be challenging to tear down a major highway in the heart of a booming city but we’re looking forward to getting it done safely and as quickly as possible.”
Timelines for the work will emerge after the contract is finalized and the contractor receives approval to begin design work. After that point, WSDOT will be able to share more specifics about how demolition and decommissioning will proceed.
What’s ahead this year:
· Based on the tunnel contractor’s current schedule, WSDOT anticipates the new SR 99 tunnel could open as soon as this fall.
· By then, the temporary Alaskan Way surface street will move west of the viaduct with two lanes open in each direction along Seattle’s waterfront.
· Before the tunnel opens, WSDOT must permanently close the Alaskan Way Viaduct to realign SR 99 and the ramps at the tunnel portals.
· After the viaduct permanently closes, contractors could begin limited demolition work in late 2018.
· The majority of viaduct demolition work will occur in 2019.
· It will take up to two years to remove equipment and fill in the Battery Street Tunnel. During this time, there will also be utility improvements made along Battery Street.
· Thomas and John streets will be reconnected over three blocks of a rebuilt Aurora Avenue North. This picture shows the final street grid.
Rode the Emerald City Ride with Cascade Bike Club this morning. Even the rain didn’t dampen the excitement of being on the viaduct. Great fun!
You can see some other scenes from the ride on the Cascade Twitter feed.
One more reminder – Sunday morning, if you’re not participating in the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Emerald City Ride, you won’t be using northbound Highway 99. From about 6 am to 11:30 am, it’ll be closed from here to Western Avenue; 6 to 9:30 am, it’ll also be closed north of that stretch, all the way north to Bridge Way. Here’s the full WSDOT alert. (The full list of road-access changes for the ride is here.)
WSDOT has just gone public with two new videos of/about the Highway 99 tunnel, as its completion and opening approach. The video above is described as work as the double-deck highway inside it was finished. Below, a narrated clip explains the next phase of work:
Now crews are installing and testing the tunnel’s operational and safety systems. It’s a big job. Inside the tunnel there are:
*More than 300 cameras to monitor traffic and security at all times as part of an incident-detection system.
*Automatic ventilation systems designed to keep air quality and visibility high.
*Automated sprinkler systems designed to put out a fire quickly at its source.
Together, these systems will make the SR 99 tunnel one of the “smartest” tunnels ever built. This video explains how the critical air quality and fire safety systems work together:
Read more here.
As we’ve been reporting, and as WSDOT reiterates today, the tunnel *might* open as soon as this fall. When it’s pronounced ready to go, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be shut down and two to three weeks of work to finish connections to the tunnel will commence. (We reported more about that – and the status of tunnel-toll-decisionmaking – recently here.)
4:29 PM: Just in from WSDOT via Twitter: The Alaskan Way Viaduct has reopened early, and its inspection is fully finished, so NO closure will be needed on Sunday.
6:37 PM: And in case you’ve missed our recent reports of government officials saying the Viaduct’s permanent shutdown might be as close as September, something similar is reiterated in the WSDOT news release about the conclusion of today’s inspection: “These twice-yearly inspection closures help make sure the road remains safe for drivers until the new SR 99 tunnel opens. The new tunnel may open as early as this fall.”
As we first mentioned a week and a half ago, next weekend brings what just might be the last of the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s twice-yearly inspection closures. It’s officially scheduled for two days as usual – 6 am-6 pm Saturday, March 24th, and 6 am-6 pm Sunday, March 25th – but these closures have tended in recent years to just need the first day.
For history fans, summaries of the inspections going back more than 15 years can be read here. As for why we note that this might be the last semiannual inspection, yet another briefing last Thursday (like this one three weeks ago) suggested the AWV might be out of service before October arrives.
Leading the briefing about the tunnel-project status, tunnel program leader David Sowers from WSDOT. “We have a big year ahead of us, and that’s an understatement. … The light at the end of the tunnel is upon us.”
“What do we need to do to open the tunnel?” Three bullet points: 1. Complete tunnel walls and roadway decks – the “final topping slabs” of the driving surface will be finished later this month, Sowers said. Second step, “commissioning” – installing and testing tunnel systems. Mid-August is when the contractor thinks those will all be done, Sowers said.
Then when the tunnel is verified as safe and ready to go, STP hands it off to WSDOT, and the Viaduct closure begins – “branded” as 17 days, but more like “about three weeks of time” to “reorient the existing corridor that now goes onto the Viaduct, into the tunnel,” says Sowers. He says there’ll be one big difference from past major closures – once the tunnel opens, post-closure, everyone will have to get used to the new connections from both ends.
Here’s his slide showing what happens on the south end during that closure time:
1:37 PM: Dearborn, in that slide, “is a street that doesn’t exist yet,” Sowers elaborates. He’s now on to explaining that the Viaduct demolition, Battery Street Tunnel decommissioning, and North surface street connections are being combined into one contract, and they’re expecting proposals from four contractors “in the middle of next month.” That contract will be worth about $100 million.
Next – Carl See, senior financial analyst for WSTC, leading the tolling-status section of the briefing. He’s focused on presenting results of a study that was requested about two months ago. He says some key factors have changed since the analysis began. Here’s the slide showing them:
Note “all requested toll rate scenarios maintain initial toll rates” in $1-$2.50 range, the former overnight and weekends, the latter during PM weekday commute, and other steps inbetween. Beyond the possible rates, there are a variety of scenarios the commission wanted to analyze, including how much tolls might rise over the years ahead. Most of the options performed similarly over the years ahead, See said. The analysis also included a look at whether traffic would be “ramping up” post-tunnel opening and a mention of the possibility that there might be a no-tolling period at the start for drivers to get used to the tunnel.
1:53 PM: Three tolling options came out “generally at or above preliminary coverage target” for debt service, See says – options 1a, 3a, 5a. Here are the two slides that explain (note that they are both variants of the $1-to-$2.50 assumption, which remains a proposal – no final decision for a few months):
A lot of what they’re analyzing involves not just how much money is generating but what kind of a “cushion”/reserves will be generated. That would be needed, one commissioner notes, in case toll revenue drops off at some point, so some other part of the state budget wouldn’t have to be dipped into, to cover for a shortfall. In response to a question, See says they still have time to analyze other options … but not much. The commission should “settle on key financing assumptions, and determine if other scenarios are needed” by next month. They need to get some updated information before making that decision – including “updated debt service requirements for $200 million capital funding from Office of State Treasurer.”
It’s pointed out from the commission side of the room that “everybody wants to keep it nimble … we’re going to have to keep it flexible” depending on what actually happens with traffic and resulting toll-paying once the tunnel opens.
Timeline for decisionmaking includes public meetings in late spring, according to what was just shown:
March-April, stakeholder discussions continue
April 17-18, commission meets, decides on finance assumptions and whether more analysis is needed
April-June, more stakeholder outreach and public input meetings – plus more toll-scenario requests IF needed
June 19-20, tolling subcommittee of WSTC will have recommended toll-scenario options for the full commission to review
June-July, more “stakeholder outreach and public input meetings”
July 17-18 meeting, proposed final toll plan approved by commission
July-September, more “stakeholder outreach and public input meetings”
Commission meeting September 11th – public hearing and final decision
And one commissioner stresses that even with a no-toll grace period at start of tunnel operations, the tunnel rates do need to be finalized before opening.
2:25 PM: The tunnel update is over. The financial analyst is now on to a somewhat-related item, status of a proposal to standardize exemptions across the state’s tolled facilities – tolls are the purview of the Transportation Commission, which is why the tunnel decision is in its hands. They’re also looking at systemwide fees and rates, which are charged in different ways (think about the difference between ferries and bridges, for example) – look for public-input meetings on all this later this year, too. So we’re wrapping up our coverage here.
The Highway 99 tunnel’s expected to open in a matter of months, but the toll rates have yet to be finalized. The decision is in the hands of the Washington State Transportation Commission, which usually meets in Olympia, but will be meeting in downtown Seattle next Wednesday (March 14th). It’s a day-long meeting with multiple topics; tunnel tolling is scheduled for 1:30 pm – it’s a briefing/discussion, not a vote, as there’s no final proposal yet. The meeting is at Puget Sound Regional Council HQ (1011 Western, fifth floor), open to all, with a public-comment period in its final half-hour, starting at 4:10 pm. Meantime, you can see WSDOT’s latest tunnel-construction update by going here.
P.S. Semi-related reminder – as we reported on Thursday, one of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s last pre-demolition inspections will close it Saturday, March 24th, 6 am-6 pm (and the next day if needed, though most recent inspections have just used the first scheduled day)
WSDOT won’t send out a notice until it’s closer, but for your advance planning, we’ve confirmed that – as listed on the city’s weekly Construction Lookahead – the next Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closure is set for Saturday, March 24th, 6 am-6 pm. The state also reserves the right to close it again the same hours on Sunday, March 25th, but recent closures haven’t needed that second day. In confirming this with AWV spokesperson Laura Newborn, we noted that many people are likely to be on the road on March 24th getting to and from the March For Our Lives; she says they set the date before the march was planned, but hope it won’t be too much of an impact since the march route is from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center.
P.S. The most recent estimate for the permanent closure of the AWV is September – that’s what County Councilmember Joe McDermott told the West Seattle Transportation Coalition last month.
If you are headed out of West Seattle tomorrow morning, remember that – as we’ve been mentioning in our weekday morning traffic coverage – the Battery Street Tunnel and part of Highway 99 north of it will be closed for several hours because of the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K. The BSTunnel will be closed both ways between 6 am and 11:15 am; north of it, NB lanes will be closed to North 45th Street until 11:15 am, and SB lanes will be closed from N. 38th southward until 10:25 am. See other downtown closures here.
Thanks to Bruce for the tip via Twitter: Road work has a lane closed on the SB Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99, and that’s backing up traffic, even at this hour. We found the advisory on the right sidebar of this WSDOT page – it says the left lane will be closed between Columbia and Royal Brougham every night through Thursday night/Friday morning, 7 pm-5 am.
Since the Alaskan Way Viaduct might close forever before this year is out, this might be one of your last chances for an up-close-and-personal look: Cascade Bicycle Club is including The Viaduct on its Emerald City Ride route this spring, and even if you’re not up for the full route, you can sign up for the 3-Mile SR 99 Viaduct Experience, “designed for families with children and beginning riders.” It’s not a race, so, the club explains, “You’ll be able to stop, look around, take a photo, and enjoy the view.” This is happening the morning of April 8th on the northbound Viaduct (so even if you’re not interested in the ride, note that it’ll be closed to motorized vehicles for a few hours). Registration just opened today, and you can find out more here.
1:49 PM: That photo tweeted by SFD shows a truck crash that has closed the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct from the Battery Street Tunnel southward. No injuries, and the driver got out OK, but the SB lanes of The Viaduct will be closed until this is cleared.
Buses are being rerouted too, according to an alert just in from Metro. Updates to come.
2:32 PM: A tow truck is on scene.
3:23 PM: No time estimate yet on SB Viaduct reopening. But there’s some bad news if more people head to the West Seattle Water Taxi to get around the 99 problem – King County just sent an alert that the smaller Spirit of Kingston is on the WS route tonight. Meantime, most SB surface routes are backed up, according to info including the SDOT Travelers’ Map (look for the red).
3:32 PM: The southbound Viaduct has just reopened. The left lane is closed for repairs, though.
6:35 PM: The repair closure isn’t over yet, according to SDOT.
6:57 PM: All lanes are open again. (See comments below for some examples of this afternoon/evening’s nightmarish traffic.)
6:18 AM: Reminder that the Battery Street Tunnel closure is under way right now – closed for an inspection related to plans for its decommissioning after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is taken out of service. The closure is scheduled to continue until 10 am; if you are headed northbound on 99, you will have to exit at Western, and if you are headed southbound, you will have to exit at Denny.
10:19 AM The SDOT webcam above verifies the tunnel has reopened.
WSDOT‘s newest Highway 99 tunnel update is out, and the state says that Seattle Tunnel Partners‘ newest schedule indicates “the tunnel could open to drivers as soon as this fall.” They’re not ready to estimate a date yet, and WSDOT notes that a “significant amount of work remains between now and tunnel opening,” but it’s getting closer. And WSDOT’s update includes the reminder that when “the tunnel is ready to open, SR 99 through downtown Seattle will be closed to traffic for approximately three weeks” so that connections can be finalized. You can read the entire update here.
P.S. As we’ve been reminding you in the morning traffic/transportation updates, the Battery Street Tunnel will be closed for four hours this Saturday morning, 6-10 am, for an inspection related to its future decommissioning