WSDOT spending $4.4 million to tell you about new 99 Tunnel

You’ve likely seen the ads for the new “Tunnel Direct” marketing campaign for the new Highway 99 Tunnel under downtown Seattle. KIRO 7 looked into how much the Washington State Department of Transportation is spending on it and why they chose that messaging.

“When we ask people where they remember seeing information about express toll lanes, paid advertising are one of the top mediums people remember seeing,” WSDOT spokesperson Emily Glad told KIRO 7.

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The total marketing budget for the 99 Tunnel is $4.4 million. That includes $156,000 spent on nine billboards. The current billboards have the message "Tunnel Direct" and what looks like the shape of a smiley face. WSDOT says the smiley face is the shape of the new tunnel. After the tunnel opens new billboards will go up. The money comes from the 99 Tunnel project budget.  It's funded through state, local and federal taxes and tolling funds.

The previous 99 Viaduct already takes you directly through downtown, so KIRO 7 asked WSDOT about the Tunnel Direct messaging.

“The majority of people didn't know that the tunnel would have different entrances and exits than the Viaduct,” Glad said.

Tunnel Direct is essentially telling people you can't exit off 99 downtown anymore.

“One of our main target audiences is reaching people who use those exits,” Glad said. “We don't want to risk confusion and frustration from drivers who are unaware of the major route change.”

Your only access points to 99 will be down near the stadiums or 2 miles north by the Space Needle.  WSDOT hopes the ads will drive people to its website, 99Tunnel.com. There you can find out the new ways to access the tunnel from downtown.

Once the new 99 Tunnel opens in early February WSDOT will start another four-week marketing campaign emphasizing how people can try the tunnel for free. It will be free until the summer but it isn't known exactly when tolling will start.