January's SR 99 closure could be just the start of new traffic pain

VIDEO: Seattle's traffic could get worse

SEATTLE — The total traffic closure to disconnect State Route 99 from the Alaskan Way Viaduct and re-connect it to the new tunnel has people making predictions and plans.

"I'll just be avoiding it altogether. It's already awful. It's going to be a mess," said West Seattle resident Therese Sloss.

The worst of the pain starts January 11, 2019 and lasts three weeks.

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Commuters who come from the south will have to wait an additional couple of weeks before the opening of the main northbound off-ramp to downtown.

Jammed roads and packed buses could extend into the suburbs.

"I can't even imagine more people on the buses," said bus passenger Jenny Marshall.

At Monday's announcement of the SR99 closure date, Seattle's Director of Downtown Mobility, Heather Marx, offered an alert about the future.

"This is the first stage in a five-year period that we're calling the period of maximum constraint," Marx said. "This is going to be a series of events that take place between now and 2023 that are going to completely shift the way we get around."

In the "period of maximum constraint," drivers will be adjusting to the new State Route 99 tunnel, and many are expected to avoid its tolls by opting to take surface streets that are already clogged.

Construction projects will also lead to new congestion.

On the waterfront, the viaduct will come down starting in February, making way for construction of a new waterfront boulevard and park.

Washington State Ferries' Colman Dock is already being rebuilt.

Rebuilding KeyArena will disrupt traffic at Seattle Center.

Downtown, several big buildings are under construction.

And a huge expansion of the Washington State Convention Center will slow traffic.

"We have historic levels of construction throughout this city," Marx said.

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A big change will come in March, when buses will leave the downtown transit tunnel to make way for more light rail trains.

Each day, 800 buses that now take the tunnel will compete for space on the streets.

To help them move, cars are now banned from Third Avenue between 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Also in March, there will be more ORCA card readers at bus stops to let riders on all buses board faster through every door.

All-door boarding is currently available only on RapidRide lines.

Jonathan Hopkins, of Commute Seattle, urges companies to help workers shift schedules or telecommute during the State Route 99 closure and beyond.

"It's a moment for people and their employers to consider; Is there something we can do to make this better?" Hopkins said.

For their part, government planners scaled back early ideas for major traffic revisions on downtown streets.

Because of cost overruns, Mayor Jenny Durkan stopped construction of a downtown streetcar line and is now deciding whether to kill it.

And the hottest trend in shared transportation, rentable electric scooters, are not currently permitted in Seattle.