West Seattle, Washington
On weekdays, tolls will be $1.50 during the morning peak commute (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.), $2.25 during the evening peak commute (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), and $1.25 during non-peak hours between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Overnight (11 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and weekend tolls will be $1.00. Toll rates will increase by 3 percent every three years beginning in July 2022, subject to annual review by the Transportation Commission.
The Transportation Commission has previously determined that there will be consistent exemptions on all toll facilities for public transit, emergency responders, highway maintenance vehicles, school buses and qualified private buses, which serve the public or commuters.
State law requires that SR 99 tunnel tolls be used to repay $200 million borrowed to build the tunnel as well as related debt service costs, and ongoing operations, maintenance, and safety costs.
Drivers will not be charged immediately when the tunnel opens in early February. The start date has not been set, but it will apparently be months after the tunnel opens rather than weeks – this WSDOT Blog report about traffic-pattern changes expected when the tunnel opens says tolling is “expected to begin as soon as summer 2019.” In the meantime, until tolling begins, the report says, WSDOT is projecting more drivers will use the tunnel than currently use the Viaduct. … While we’re discussing Highway 99, yet another reminder that it will be closed BOTH WAYS this weekend, starting Friday night (October 19th) for inspection plus some viaduct-to-tunnel-transition work. As always, if the closure ends early, we’ll update you here.
4:21 PM: And we have an update already. The NB part of this weekend’s closure will be shorter. From the WSDOT website: “Northbound SR 99 will close Saturday, Oct. 20 at 6 a.m. and reopen Saturday afternoon by 5 p.m. The southbound closure remains unchanged.”
So far, this weekend’s Highway 99 closure (SB between the Battery Street Tunnel and West Seattle Bridge) has NOT ended early. But we want to take a moment to remind you about NEXT weekend’s both-ways closure – including the last-ever scheduled inspection of the Alaskan Way Viaduct – planned to start late Friday, October 19th, continuing to early Monday, October 22nd.
The Highway 99 tunnel is set to open in early February, after three weeks of road-realignment work following the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s permanent closure on January 11th. It’ll be toll-free for a trial period at the start. Once that’s over – what will you be charged? That decision is expected to be made by the State Transportation Commission next week, after one last public hearing (11 am Tuesday, October 16th, in Olympia). Here’s the plan, with rates ranging from $1 to $2.25 (provided you sign up for Good To Go):
If you can’t be at that hearing but have something to say, the commission is taking written comment through tomorrow – scroll down this page to find out how.
P.S. Reminder that more prep work brings a closure oF SB 99 this weekend – details here.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A week and a half after the big news that the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close forever on January 11th, with three weeks of Highway 99-less-ness to follow before the new tunnel opens (and other traffic effects beyond that), the West Seattle Transportation Coalition got a high-level briefing.
Leading that briefing last night: WSDOT’s Viaduct/99 project boss Brian Nielsen, SDOT’s downtown-mobility director Heather Marx, and King County’s Chris Arkills.
There were a few new bits of information – but even the not-so-new info bears hearing over and over as the 99-less period approaches.
Marx began with the overview that getting around the city is about to change – “it’s not going to be super-fun, for a few years” – with the promise that after those “few years,” things will be much better.
She showed the five pillars of how “downtown mobility” will be managed.
She made way for Nielsen, who promised specifics on “what’s going on in the Viaduct program now and the next couple years.” The number 5 figured into his early going, too – 5 things that have to be completed before the tunnel can open.
Again this weekend, the Highway 99 closure has ended earlier than scheduled. As you can see in the “live” traffic camera above, NB 99 is now fully reopened after completion of another round of work relate to the Viaduct-to-tunnel transition.
Two Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99-related notes on this day after The Big Announcement (WSB coverage here) that the AWV’s permanent shutdown for the tunnel transition (and then demolition) won’t happen until January 11th:
ANOTHER CLOSURE THIS WEEKEND: WSDOT confirms that another Highway 99 closure north of the West Seattle Bridge is planned this weekend, this time northbound, according to spokesperson Laura Newborn. When we checked with her this morning, she was awaiting confirmation on the Friday night (September 21) start time (update: 9 pm), but added that “WSDOT plans to open up the NB ramp at Royal Brougham so NB SR 99 will be accessible after the Seahawks game on Sunday.” That’s assuming the closure doesn’t end early, as last week’s southbound closure did.
BUS ROUTING AFTER THE PERMANENT CLOSURE: Looking ahead to its next “service change” this Saturday, Metro created timetables with information about what happens to the 12 routes that use the Alaskan Way Viaduct, once it closes. Below are the links to PDFs of each timetable and the language each respectively contains regarding rerouting during the Highway 99 closure:
(During the Highway 99 closure) … the C Line will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. The C Line will continue to operate via 3rd Ave midtown.
(During the Highway 99 closure) … Route 21 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. All Express service will operate exclusively via 3rd Ave midtown; Local service will remain unchanged midtown
(During the Highway 99 closure) … Route 37 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. All Route 37 service will operate via 3rd Ave north of Columbia St during this time.
(During the Highway 99 closure) … Route 55 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. Route 55 will operate via 3rd Ave, but otherwise remain unchanged midtown.
(During the Highway 99 closure) … routes 56 and 57 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. Both routes will operate via 3rd Ave, but otherwise remain unchanged midtown.
(During the Highway 99 closure) … Route 113 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. Midtown, Route 113 will shift operation from 1st Ave and 2nd Ave to 3rd Ave.
(During the Highway 99 closure) … Route 120 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. Route 120 will operate via 3rd Ave, but otherwise remain unchanged midtown.
(During the Highway 99 closure) … routes 121, 122 and 123 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. Midtown, the three routes will shift operation from 1st Ave and 2nd Ave to 3rd Ave
(added) Route 125
(During the Highway 99 closure) … Route 125 will be rerouted through SODO via 4th Ave S, and via 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave south of Columbia St. Midtown, Route 125 will operate exclusively via 3rd Ave.
Since the timetables have language suggesting that the permanent AWV closure was expected to start around the end of this month, some might be confused, so we contacted Jeff Switzer of Metro, who reiterates, “The printed timetables for the 12 routes that use the viaduct will be accurate at the time the tunnel opens. The interim pathways defined during the closure are set, however, additional bus stops are under consideration. Buses will continue to use the viaduct and their current paths, and riders can expect the same trip duration, until the viaduct closes.” The mention of “additional” stops dovetails with what Metro deputy general manager Terry White said at yesterday’s media briefing, that stops are still being finalized.
(Added 6:20 pm: Full unedited video of briefing)
1:02 PM: Here’s the full news release:
Mark your calendars. In early 2019, the new State Route 99 tunnel will open, offering travelers a direct route from Seattle’s stadiums to the Space Needle.
To open the tunnel, the Washington State Department of Transportation must first realign the state highway, and then move SR 99 from the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct into the tunnel. This intensive work will last about three weeks and prompt the longest major highway closure to ever hit the Puget Sound region.
“The opening of the SR 99 tunnel will be an historic event in the state’s transportation history,” said Brian Nielsen, administrator of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “Before we can celebrate, we have to get through an unprecedented closure that will require all of us to change our behavior.”
WSDOT’s current plan is to close SR 99 through Seattle beginning Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Closing SR 99 through Seattle is the only way crews can finish building the highway and the eight new ramps that will allow travelers to enter and exit the new tunnel
Travelers should expect region-wide congestion for up to six weeks as crews complete final connections to and from the new tunnel. In addition to the three-week closure:
*The off-ramp from southbound SR 99 to South Atlantic Street will permanently close one week earlier than the viaduct.
*The new off-ramp from northbound SR 99 to South Dearborn Street will require up to two weeks of additional work after the tunnel opens.
Get ready, make a plan
When the viaduct closes, 90,000 drivers who normally use the Alaskan Way Viaduct will need to find another way to get to, or through, downtown Seattle. During past Alaskan Way Viaduct closures, congestion increased on all major highways throughout Puget Sound as well as on local streets.
While WSDOT is working closely with the Seattle Department of Transportation, King County Metro and other key transportation agencies to keep traffic moving during this challenging time, help from drivers is critical.
“We need drivers to change their habits for three weeks to prevent gridlock,” said Nielsen. “We recognize everyone’s strategies will be different based on their needs, but consider other ways to get to and from your destination, if you can.”
When Seattle Tunnel Partners finished disassembling the tunneling machine Bertha in 2017, WSDOT estimated the tunnel would be open in early 2019. While there was optimism this date could be moved up, a number of factors influenced the decision to stay with the early 2019 date:
Construction progress: WSDOT has several contractors that must complete work to be ready for the three-week SR 99 closure. Scarsella Brothers, Inc. will then build the final tunnel and ramp connections. Some of this work, like road striping, is weather dependent.
Public notice: Starting in January ensures that contractor work will be complete and we can provide a specific date much further in advance. The public’s help will be critical and this will give everyone time to plan.
Holiday travel and commerce: WSDOT and its partner agencies are committed to keeping people and goods moving during the busy holiday season. Avoiding a major highway closure between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day helps achieve this goal. There are also fewer major events in early 2019 than there are during the last quarter of 2018.
Per the Legislature’s decision, the SR 99 tunnel will be tolled as a part of the project’s financing plan. The tunnel will be free to use when it first opens.
Additional details about the closure, tunnel opening and the future tolling of the tunnel can be found at www.99tunnel.com.
1:50 PM: The briefing is over and we’re headed back to HQ. We recorded it all on video and will be uploading that. Also, some West Seattle-specific details: Paul Brodeur from the King County Water Taxi said it will run a two-boat schedule on weekdays during the closure, with shuttles also doubled, and there will be extra parking including a lot at Pier 2, at Don Armeni, and along Harbor Avenue.
3:26 PM: Bus reroutes during the closure are already mentioned in route-specific pamphlets as part of Metro’s service-change announcement – but the language suggests they were expecting the closure to be much sooner, so we’re asking Metro if the January timing will change anything. Metro’s new deputy general manager Terry White said at the briefing that the stops for the 12 routes that will have to be rerouted are still being finalized.
6:20 PM: Just added our full unedited video of the briefing and Q&A from this afternoon.
The decision’s in. No Highway 99 closure this weekend, but WSDOT says one IS on the horizon. The announcement:
This weekend’s scheduled closure of southbound SR 99 through Seattle has been canceled. The viaduct will be open all weekend.
There is another full southbound closure scheduled for the following weekend. The road will be closed from 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 through 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 17 between the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel and South Spokane Street.
Contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation will be completing pavement work needed for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. Drivers are encouraged to plan their trip before they go, and expect delays.
If you read SDOT’s “What’s Moving Seattle” roundup of events and road work, you might have noticed a SB Highway 99 closure mentioned for this weekend. That’s not listed on the WSDOT websites anywhere, so we checked with 99 spokesperson Laura Newborn. She says the final call on whether the closure is on or off will be made tomorrow.
No date set yet for the three-week Highway 99 closure that will precede the tunnel’s opening, but WSDOT is providing another peek inside the almost-ready tunnel today, along with this explanation:
… Crews are using stencils to paint “running man” symbols on walls in both directions of the tunnel.
The green icons are spaced about 50 feet apart on the west walls of the southbound (upper) and northbound (lower) roadways. As shown in the photo, arrows point the way to the nearest exits, along with the distances to them.
If the seven-foot-tall green stick figures don’t get your attention, flashing lights at each of the tunnel’s emergency exits and electronic signs will provide additional guidance.
Crews are also striping the roadway inside the tunnel, according to today’s update from WSDOT, which continues to promise that it will provide at least one month’s notice before the three-week closure, which will be followed by two more weeks of work on the ramp that West Seattleites will use to get into downtown south of the tunnel entrance.
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.
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.
By Randall Hauk
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The Washington State Transportation Commission held an open house and public input meeting at High Point Community Center last night, seeking public comment on tolling proposals for the Highway 99 tunnel.
It was the second of three Seattle meetings between the commission and residents. Commissioner Roy Jennings opened the meeting by reminding those in attendance that the decision to toll the tunnel had already been made and was no longer up for debate. The commission instead was seeking input on a trio of toll-rate options.
Though all three plans are projected to meet the project’s fiscal obligations by 2045, they differ in price fluctuations throughout the day, as well as how increases are scheduled.
We’ve told you about all three of these already – but since they’re happening pretty much simultaneously this Tuesday night (June 5), consider this a sort of two-night warning:
HALA UPZONING, DISTRICT 1 PUBLIC HEARING: The Mandatory Housing Affordability proposal to upzone all commercial/multifamily-zoned property in the city, as well as parcels in “urban villages” (some of which would expand their boundaries) is moving toward a City Council vote later this year. The process includes public hearings outside City Hall, and Tuesday night is the one for District 1 (West Seattle/South Park), scheduled for 6 pm at Chief Sealth International High School (2600 SW Thistle). If you’ve got something to say about the upzoning proposal – for, against, or otherwise – this is the time and place to say it. You can get caught up in advance tomorrow (Monday) when the council, meeting as the Select Committee pondering the upzoning plan, discusses the District 1 proposal at 10:30 am at City Hall (live on Seattle Channel, of course). But for the public hearing, show up at the CSIHS Auditorium on Tuesday – here’s the agenda; the slide deck is above.
HIGHWAY 99 TUNNEL TOLLS, WEST SEATTLE PUBLIC HEARING: The last big decision before the Alaskan Way Viaduct makes way for the Highway 99 tunnel is: How much will the tolls be? The Washington State Transportation Commission gets to make the decision, but would first like to hear what you think. We previewed the proposed options when the West Seattle public hearing was announced. This too is Tuesday night, 5:30-6:30 pm informational “open house”; 6:30-8 pm, meeting for your feedback. It’s at High Point Community Center (6920 34th SW).
SW AVALON WAY RECHANNELIZATION/REPAVING: Two weeks ago, we brought you first word of the updated plan for rechannelizing and repaving SW Avalon Way – and a few blocks of 35th SW and SW Alaska just to the south – next year.
As with the early version of the plan a year earlier, it still takes away some parking on SW Avalon, and Luna Park businesses are girding for a fight. Whatever you think of the newest plan, Tuesday night is also when SDOT is coming to West Seattle to take comments and answer questions about it, 5:30-7:30 pm at the American Legion Post 160 hall (3618 SW Alaska).
The Highway 99 tunnel, you’ve no doubt heard here and elsewhere, could open as soon as this fall. One last thing remains to be decided: The toll(s). Now, it’s time for public comment. Received this afternoon from the Washington State Transportation Commission:
The public process of setting toll rates for the State Route 99 tunnel is starting and the Washington State Transportation Commission is seeking public comment on toll rate options under consideration. Interested persons can provide comments to the commission at upcoming public meetings in Seattle or they can provide comments electronically starting today, Tuesday, May 22.
The commission has spent more than a year studying and assessing all aspects of tolling the SR 99 tunnel, including various toll rate levels, possible toll exemptions, estimated traffic diversion to city streets, and effects of tolling on freight movement. Based upon this analysis, the commission has developed three possible toll rate options, on which it now wants the public to weigh in.
The Legislature made the decision to toll the tunnel in 2012 (RCW 47.56.862). The commission is charged with making sure tolls generate enough revenue to cover specific costs as required under the law, including toll operations, maintenance, and debt payments associated with the construction of the tunnel. In 2018, the Legislature directed that initial toll rates will not cover future repair and replacement costs, such as for the roadway and ventilation systems for the SR 99 tunnel. Proposed future toll rate increases would need to be re-evaluated if the Legislature determines these costs should be covered by toll revenue.
Toll Rate Options
The three toll rate options currently under consideration would be in effect from when tolling begins in 2019 through at least June 2020:
Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
The midday toll rate is $1.25.
There are four different toll rates over six time periods on weekdays.
Beginning in July 2022, toll rates increase 3 percent, every three years for all days of the week.
Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
The midday toll rate is $1.
There are four different toll rates over eight time periods on weekdays.
Beginning in July 2020, there will be annual toll rate increases of 3.5 percent for five years that will apply to the weekday rates only.
Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
The midday toll rate is $1.25.
There are five different toll rates over seven time periods on weekdays.
There are no toll rate increases during first five years of tolling. Then there are three toll rate increases of five percent each, taking place in July of 2024, 2029, and 2034, for all days of the week.
Public Comment Opportunities
The commission will hold public input meetings in early June in Seattle to gather comments on the three toll-rate options under consideration. The meetings are as follows:
· Monday, June 4
4 – 5 p.m.: Open house on tunnel project and tolling
5 – 6:30 p.m.: Public input meeting on tolling options
Seattle Public Library, Washington Mutual Foundation Room
1000 4th Ave., Seattle
· Tuesday, June 5
5:30 – 6:30 p.m.: Open house on tunnel project and tolling
6:30 – 8 p.m.: Public input meeting on tolling options
High Point Community Center, Multipurpose Room
6920 34th Ave. SW
· Wednesday, June 6
5:30 – 6:30 p.m.: Open house on tunnel project and tolling
6:30 – 8 p.m.: Public input meeting on tolling options
Phinney Center, Blue Building, Room #7
6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle
More information on the tolling options under consideration, and additional ways the public can comment, can be found on the commission’s web site under “pending actions” at: wstc.wa.gov. The Transportation Commission is taking public comment on these tolling options until July 17. An official proposal will be announced in mid-July 2018, followed by an additional public comment period before toll rates are finalized in fall 2018.
Here’s the direct link to the page with feedback options – scroll down. The “commission feedback form” link doesn’t appear to be working properly at the moment, so we’re sending a note to report that.
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.)
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)
As reported on Wednesday, the Highway 99 tunnel might be ready to open this fall, instead of early next year. But the matter of tunnel tolls hasn’t been settled yet. The Washington State Transportation Commission, which has to set the rates, will talk about it again next Wednesday afternoon. This time, the focus will be on listening to feedback from the city, county, and port. They’re on the WSTC agenda for 1 pm Wednesday (January 17th) in Olympia. The commission won’t be making a decision before September, but there is public comment at day’s end on Wednesday (4:45 pm), and there will be opportunities when there’s a formal tolling proposal this summer. If you want to comment to the commission sooner, here’s how. (Backstory: Here’s our previous update on the tolling issue.)
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
One huge question that’ll finally be answered in the new year: When the Highway 99 tunnel opens, what will the tolls be?
As previewed here – and as subsequently covered by Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom – the state Transportation Commission has just had another talk about tunnel tolls. The major issue involves balancing between the money that tolls have to raise, and the level of tolls that would lead to too much “diversion” – drivers avoiding the tunnel.
The decision is not due until next September, but Kathy e-mailed WSB to ask for more information on how to have a say now – and to ask who locally is involved in advocacy related to the toll-setting. First, if you’re looking for background info:
That’s the main slide deck presented when the Transportation Commission took up the tolling topic last week (you also can see here in PDF; a second deck with analysis is here). As noted on its timeline slide, two major “public outreach” opportunities are planned next year – April through June, after “toll scenario results” are presented, and then a public hearing after the rates are proposed in July.
If you have something you want to say now, here’s how to comment to the commission.
If you or a group you’re involved with is working on advocacy, Kathy and others would like to know – please comment (or e-mail email@example.com and we’ll add to the story).
P.S. If you’re wondering who’s on the commission that will make the decision – here’s that list.
(WSDOT photo: Southbound tunnel portal near the stadium zone, photographed 2 weeks ago, shared to WSB Flickr group)
Though the Highway 99 tunnel is a little over a year from replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the tolls aren’t set yet – though the $1 vicinity was recommended almost four years ago. So what will they be? The next step toward decisions is set for next week, when the state Transportation Commission meets in Olympia, with the agenda for its two-day meeting including:
On December 12, the Washington State Department of Transportation Toll Division will present initial traffic and toll revenue projections for the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct portion of SR 99. The Washington State Legislature has directed that tolls raise $200 million toward project construction costs over time. Although the commission will not adopt toll rates until fall 2018, the data will be used to determine how toll rates will vary by time of day to manage congestion on the facility and impacts on surface streets.
You can see the full agenda here. The full meeting announcement notes that the tunnel toll rates are not expected to be finalized until fall of next year. (If you follow the link, you’ll see the two-day meeting includes some other hot topics, including the pilot project for a road-usage charge, and getting ready for “self-driving” vehicles.)