“Viadoom” not as apocalyptic as expected, so far

A closure of a major Seattle highway creates some commuting snarls, but no real catastrophes in the first few days

Transportation Management News Bloomberg BusinessWeek November 01, 2011
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Los Angeles survived “Carmageddon” this summer, but Seattle residents were afraid the real transportation apocalypse would belong to them, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

In what has been dubbed “Viadoom,” one of Seattle's two north-south highways is closed for nine days through downtown so crews can demolish the southern end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the aging, earthquake-vulnerable elevated highway. The highway, which normally carried 110,000 vehicles a day, is part of a $3.2 billion project to replace it with a waterfront tunnel under downtown Seattle.

Commuters were prepped with a chorus of warnings about the shutdown. Monday marked the first workday of the closure and Seattle residents seemed to take things in stride. Workers hopped buses, climbed aboard water taxis and started their day early to make their first weekday commutes following the closure.

Transportation officials reported heavier-than-usual traffic during the Monday morning and evening commutes on some arterial streets and other major highways as commuters dealt with the new reality.

Morning and evening sailings on a water taxi linking West Seattle and downtown were packed. Afternoon commuters began lining up for seats at 3 p.m. Buses were reported full as well.

Some passengers said they had fairly smooth commutes despite the closures, but transportation officials warned against complacency.

"Drivers did a good job of adjusting their commutes, taking the bus, leaving earlier or working from home," said Matt Preedy, Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement program deputy administrator for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). "We need drivers to continue finding alternate ways to reach their destination through next Monday to keep regional traffic moving."

Demolition crews completed knocking a giant top-to-bottom "hole" all the way through the viaduct Monday, SDOT officials said. Once the hole is large enough, crews can start work on a surface-level road that will curve through the area where that part of the viaduct once stood.

The Monday morning commute started off with heavy rains and two collisions on I-5, the only other north-south highway through Seattle. But some drivers appeared to have delayed their commute into the 8 o'clock hour, said Kris Olsen, a SDOT spokeswoman.

"When you take a north-south corridor out of commission, you throw a lot of traffic on different highways," SDOT spokesman Travis Phelps said. "We expected a regional impact and we did see that."

Backups in the city's West Seattle neighborhood were especially noticeable for drivers, who saw a long line of taillights when they pulled onto the West Seattle Bridge in the 7 a.m. hour.

Transit officials added extra spaces at park-and-ride lots near public transit, put more buses on the streets and encouraged people to stagger their work day or work from home.


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