As we approach the permanent closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the opening of the new SR 99 tunnel, downtown Seattle is poised for almost a month’s worth of increased traffic and volume. The inevitable traffic is expected to be so menacing, many are calling this time the “Viadoom.”
So, when does that all kick off? Here is the full timeline.
January 4, 2019
The first ramps close as Realign99 begins. Starting at 10 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 4, the northbound on-ramp for SR 99 at South Royal Brougham Way near the stadiums will close. The southbound off-ramp for SR 99 at South Atlantic Street will also close. Traffic will be impacted, but is just a hint at what is to come when the Viadoom hits.
The Realign99 checklist is extensive, with a good deal of work involving the tearing down of detour routes. Sections of SR 99 to the north and south of the tunnel that drivers use today are actually temporary detour roads that will need to come down before the tunnel opens.
After those detours are removed, ramps that were buried need to be unburied.
“Years ago, Seattle Tunnel Partners built the on and off-ramps to the tunnel,” said WSDOT Deputy Administrator David Sowers, in a recent video breaking down the construction. “But those ramps were located in the footprint of where the detour now is — now that the detour is coming out, they will take all that material out, open those ramps up, and then make those connections into the tunnel.”
January 11, 2019
The Viadoom arrives. This is when the large-scale closures kick in, lasting approximately three weeks, and encompassing the following, starting at 10 p.m. on Jan. 11.
- The Alaskan Way Viaduct closes, as the six-month demolition process begins at the Columbia Street on-ramp, extending north of Pike Street.
- SR 99 closes in both directions from South Spokane street to the end of the Battery Street Tunnel.
- Battery Street Tunnel remains open with one lane in each direction.
- Ramps to and from Western Avenue remain open.
- West Seattle Bridge and off-ramps to 1st Avenue and 4th Avenue remain open.
“We know this is going to be rough,” WSDOT admitted in a recent blog post. This will end up being the longest highway closure the Puget Sound region has ever seen, affecting the nearly 90,000 vehicles that travel the viaduct every day.
What can you do to avoid getting stuck once the 2019 closure hits? According to WSDOT, the answer is “don’t drive.”
“If you plan on traveling anywhere near Seattle during the three-week closure, consider changing how you get around,” WSDOT advised. According to them, that includes adjusting to a work-from-home schedule, taking public transit, walking, or investing in a bicycle.
February 1, 2019
At 10 p.m. on Feb. 1, the Battery Street Tunnel closes. All southbound SR 99 traffic must exit at Valley Street. Northbound SR 99 traffic joins the highway at Valley Street.
Early February, 2019
WSDOT doesn’t have a hard and fast date for the opening of the new SR 99 tunnel yet, but most estimates peg it for sometime at the beginning of February. Once the new tunnel opens, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Battery Street Tunnel will remain closed for good.
Mid-to-late February, 2019
“Approximately two weeks later,” the new SR 99 northbound off-ramp to downtown and Alaskan Way just south of the tunnel will open.
How will the new tunnel benefit drivers directly? WSDOT noted recently that “the tunnel will be a more direct route for drivers who want to get through downtown.” While the current viaduct features ramps downtown at Seneca St., Columbia St., and Western Ave., the tunnel will streamline down to a pair of entrances and exits in South Lake Union and SoDo.
Life after the Viaduct closure
Once the tunnel is open and the viaduct is closed, there’s still work to be done along the waterfront and downtown.
- South access surface street connections: Scheduled to begin in 2019, this contract will complete surface street improvements near the tunnel’s south portal. This will run approximately into late 2020.
- SR 99 viaduct demolition, decommissioning and surface street project: Scheduled to begin in early 2019, this contract will demolish the viaduct, decommission the Battery Street Tunnel, and reconnect Aurora Avenue North intersections near the tunnel’s north portal. This will wrap up by late 2020 as well.
- Waterfront Seattle construction: To be built by the City of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront beginning in 2019, this project will build the new Alaskan Way street along the waterfront after the viaduct is demolished. This is a much more long-term project, finishing by early 2023.
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