SEATTLE — After weeks of talking about avoiding traffic during the Highway 99 closure, the focus is turning to getting around when the new SR 99 Tunnel opens, which WSDOT confirmed will be in time for the morning commute Monday.
WSDOT said Thursday that in the early hours of Monday, Feb. 4, crews will being opening the tunnel to traffic, ramp-by-ramp, over the course of several hours. While they did not give a specific time, they said it would be fully open by the time drivers hit the road for the Monday morning commute.
There's just one last concern.
"I'm a little worried about it snowing Sunday night," said David Sowers, deputy program administrator with WSDOT.
Snow Sunday or Monday is showing up in some early forecasts, and while it's too soon to know if it will happen, Sowers said all the crucial weather-dependent work to switch SR99 to the new tunnel from the old Alaskan Way Viaduct is already complete.
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And he's keeping a sense of humor.
"It would be kind of funny to have it snow the day we open it, but I guess the good news is it didn't snow while we were preparing to open it," Sowers said.
Sowers said his biggest concern with snow would be crews having trouble getting to the tunnel Sunday, when the switchover work begins.
"It won't snow in the tunnel so that's all good," Sowers said. "I will say we won't have a lot of users if the city's all filled with snow and people can't get to work."
The tunnel will be free to use until tolling starts sometime this summer.
Now, drivers will have to learn how to navigate their new routes.
"I don't know how I'm going to get in and out of it," said driver Heather Steiner. "The farthest I've done so far is figure out how to navigate the Viadoom. I haven't seen the videos or even bothered to look at what to do after it's open."
Four videos produced by the Washington State Department of Transportation are worth studying, especially where they explain how to get to the tunnel from downtown.
"We're hardwired to use the viaduct and this is a new route into and out of downtown," Sowers said.
On Tuesday, transportation officials reminded drivers of the places where routes will change.
Near the south end of the tunnel, drivers can directly connect to a temporary Alaskan Way South from East Marginal Way.
Near the north end, the intersection of Aurora Avenue and Harrison Street will get a traffic signal, and a center barrier will disappear, allowing east-west travel for the first time in 60 years.
The city and state plan to keep a close eye on the intersection of Dexter and Republican, which is where northbound drivers who just came through the tunnel will exit to reach South Lake Union or downtown.
"When things don't turn out the way we expect them to, we will adjust in real time," said Heather Marx of the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Another source of confusion next week could be for commuters who live in West Seattle or points south.
The off-ramp to South Dearborn Street, the most direct way into downtown, won't open for another one to two weeks.
Those drivers will want to take First or Fourth avenues a little longer, or double back downtown from the north end of the tunnel.
Those who use public transportation should know that buses that used to travel on the viaduct will continue their reroute until the ramp opens.
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