SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle commuters braced on Friday for an expected traffic nightmare they have come to know as “Viadoom” — the nine-day closure of one of the city’s two north-south arteries.
From Friday night to early Halloween morning, thousands of Seattle drivers will be forced to find a way around the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a 1950s-era elevated highway being replaced by a tunnel.
More than 100,000 vehicles take Route 99 over the viaduct along Puget Sound every day. During the closure, crews will demolish its southern end, near the city’s football and baseball stadiums.
The 1.7-mile tunnel is scheduled to open between late 2015 and early 2016. The entire project will cost $3.1 billion, according to state transportation officials.
For weeks, authorities have been encouraging Seattle commuters to consider public transit — bus, light rail, ferry, bicycling, traveling at off-peak times or working from home.
But inevitably, the closure will take a major toll on the city’s other north-south artery: I-5, a highway prone to congestion even on a good day.
Supporters have cheered the controversial viaduct replacement proposal as a way to both rid the city of an aging, seismically vulnerable roadway and open up the waterfront.
But even they wince at the inevitable traffic jams the closure will cause, for commuters and football fans alike.
City officials from West Seattle, an isolated neighborhood that relies on Route 99 access to downtown, experimented with a “viarace” Thursday morning to see if water taxi, bus or bike routes would be fastest for the 7-mile journey.
Cyclist and City Councilman Tom Rasmussen won, pedaling in just under a half hour, followed by the ferry and bus a few minutes later.
The contest was organized by Bill LaBorde, legislative aide to Rasmussen, in hopes it would raise awareness about alternative commuting options during the closure.
“We want people to take this seriously,” he said. “The only way we’ll avoid real problems and disruption is if everyone can take transit, bike, water taxi or works from home, or goes into the office or comes home at off-peak hours.
Microsoft Corp, which employs about 40,000 people in the Seattle region, has added pick-up and drop-off times to the 23 shuttle bus routes it runs for its workers.
Jamie Cheney, executive director of the nonprofit organization Commute Seattle, which encourages alternatives to single-occupancy car trips, has been working to prepare Seattle-ites for an “unpredictable” commute.
“Some people are more sensitive to speed of getting to downtown, others to cost. Some want to meet their workout goals, others want to be able to read. Every commuter has a different decision to make,” she said
Cheney commutes daily from her neighborhood home to downtown, a 3.5-mile trip. She doesn’t normally take Route 99, but expects it will impact her because the rest of the region will have more traffic.
“Be adaptable,” she advised. “My plan is to leave earlier, wear my walking shoes and carry an umbrella. I may want to get off the bus early and walk, if we’re stuck in traffic.”
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton