Downtown workers and employers will survive viaduct closure by staying flexible

VIDEO: Downtown workers and employers will survive viaduct closure by staying flexible

SEATTLE — AnneMarie Killen-Gall's workday ends early because it begins early.

She works in Belltown and lives in Snohomish.

"I try to leave Snohomish by about 5:40 in the morning so I can pull in here at about 6:30," she explained.

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When State Route 99 closes for three weeks, many more commuters could opt for an early start.

"My Starbucks line might be a little bit longer," Killen-Gall said.

The highway realignment from the Alaskan Way Viaduct to the new tunnel is expected to snarl commutes within Seattle, across Lake Washington and on I-5 from the south and north.

"We have done all the things we need to do. Now we just need the public to really engage, to understand what's at stake and make good choices as we move into this period," said Heather Marx, Director of Downtown Mobility for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

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Mostly, making good choices means not driving alone at peak times.

Madeline Feig, of Commute Seattle, has spent months meeting with employers helping them figure out ways to be flexible.

She says Seattle employers are "fairly responsive because they have to be at this point."

Feig said Holland America Line expanded its telework policy because of the viaduct closure.

Airbnb has a work-from-home policy on Wednesdays.

The Gates Foundation raised parking rates for the month and increased the incentive for workers who don't drive alone from $3 to $4 a day.

"Treat yourself to coffee every day that you don't drive to work. It can add up," Feig said.

Feig said some companies are subsidizing trips by carpool or bikeshare or letting workers flex their hours.

She also said some companies are "stuck in the past"  when she encourages work-from-home policies.

"I get a lot of questions about, 'How do I know if my employees are being productive?'" Feig said. "And my response is, 'How do you know if they're in the office that they're being productive?'"

That's not a worry for Killen-Gall.

In addition to being a commuter herself, she's also Vice President of Human Resources at Grange Insurance Association and tells us employees at her company are trusted.

"We adopted a work-from-home strategy a while ago as a way to retain these employees," Killen-Gall said.

To get through the viaduct closure, more Grange employees will work from home or shift their hours.

"We'll sandwich a little bit, work from home, come into the office when the traffic eases and get the heck out before traffic gets bad again," Killen-Gall said.

City officials say they know some people must be at work at certain times and even get there by car.

They ask people who have more flexible schedules to take advantage of that flexibility and leave room on the roads for the people who need it.