SEATTLE — The predictions of "Via-doom" may have been "Via-duds. Traffic nightmares largely did not happen as commuters changed their habits.
The new State Route 99 tunnel is set to open next week but the light traffic has surprised and delighted those who feared the worst.
A lot of people have started calling it simply "viadud."
"You know it's funny that you say that," said AnneMarie Killen-Gall, laughing. "We have started kind of calling it that. But we're trying to stay really low key and under the radar about it because we don't want it to suddenly rise up as doom. But it's been quiet."
And for an insurance executive who commutes every day to Seattle from Snohomish, that's saying something.
KIRO first talked to Killen-Gall before the Alaskan Way viaduct closed for three long weeks. But even then, this vice president of Human Resources at Grange Insurance Group said her company had a longstanding work-from-home policy when necessary.
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Still she commutes more than 30 miles each way, each day she comes here, which can sound downright frightening given Seattle traffic.
"I wasn't frightened because I knew I had flexibility," said Killen-Gall. "I knew that if I hit the roads and it was god-awful, I could turn around and go home and work until it cleared up and then come in. And if it was awful in the afternoon, I knew I could sneak out before it got bad and work from home. So I knew I had options."
"People only do what they understand are options," says Mark Hallenbeck, who studies travel and human behavior as director of the Washington State Transportation Center. He says having choices is the key to getting people to change ingrained behavior, with one caveat.
"You actually have to have good options," he said. "If you don't have a good option, you won't take it."
A lot of people seem to have found options they like. Seattle's mayor just released figures touting that more people are riding bicycles, getting a lift on the West Seattle Water Taxi, or taking King County Metro during the Seattle Squeeze.
"We're surprised at how effective people were able to do," said Hallenbeck. "I'm surprised. I'm surprised because I didn't think enough options existed for 99. But we have."
The state Legislature has considered offering tax credits for employees who work from home. But so far those efforts have failed.
Now comes perhaps the biggest test of all: whether traffic will flow just as smoothly once the tunnel opens and forever replaces the Alaskan Way viaduct.
"Here we've had an event, closure of the viaduct that's caused people to try new options," Hallenbeck said. "If those options turn out to work then hooray. That's a really good outcome. And so those are the kinds of things we're hoping happen."
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