This Road Closure Is About to Wreck Your Commute

January's shutdown of State Route 99 will be the longest in Seattle history.

By Jaime Archer December 13, 2018 Published in the January/February 2019 issue of Seattle Met

After more than 65 years in service, the viaduct will be torn down in early 2019.

Remember when the viaduct closed in 2016 while Bertha tunneled beneath it? City streets, I-90, I-5, and SR 520 all backed up. Now we’re due for another round. Though the viaduct replacement program won’t conclude until 2020, the new tunnel is almost ready to open. Before it does, the viaduct will close permanently so crews can realign SR 99 to the tunnel over three weeks. With additional ramp closures, traffic could be impacted for up to six weeks.

"We know that this is a really big ask of people to really change their habits for three weeks. It’s a tremendous ask…. We’re doing all kinds of outreach to make sure people know that this is not a period to mess with.”
—Laura Newborn, communications manager, Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program

SR 99's three-week closure will begin January 11. 

What's a Seattleite to Do?

  • Take public transportation. King County Metro will deploy standby coaches as needed and will bring in another water taxi during the road realignment.
  • Commutes will start earlier and last longer, so consider shifting travel times to avoid rush hour.
  • Start or join a carpool or vanpool.
  • Drive to a Park and Ride location, then bus, bike, or walk the last mile of your commute downtown.
  • Work from home one or more days a week, or take time off. (Yes, this is real advice from WSDOT.)

What About Tolls?

The tunnel won’t be tolled until summer 2019 at the earliest, and tolls will range from $1 to $2.25 for commuters depending on the time of day.

SR 99 by the Numbers

90,000 Daily average number of cars that will be forced to seek new routes while the viaduct and tunnel are closed.

2 miles Length of the road tunnel, making it nearly the longest in the U.S.

122,000 tons Amount of concrete that will be removed during the viaduct demolition.

3.3 billion Total cost of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program.

41,700 Average number of cars that will use the tunnel during peak times every day before tolling.

27,000 Average number of cars that will use the tunnel during peak times every day when tolling first begins.

The new tunnel’s southbound exit.

Timeline of the Viaduct

1953: First section of the viaduct opens with great fanfare: e.g., Seafair Queen Iris Adams arriving by wheeled dog sled.

2001: 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake causes some sections of the viaduct to sink; WSDOT repairs and begins frequent inspections.

2009: The Washington State Legislature votes to construct a bored tunnel to replace the viaduct.

2011: Crews demolish and replace the southern mile of the viaduct.

2013: Bertha, a machine built specially for the project, starts tunneling.

2017: Bertha breaks through the tunnel’s north end.

January 11, 2019: WSDOT will permanently close the viaduct and realign SR 99 to connect it to the tunnel.

February 2 & 3, 2019: Seattleites can walk, bike, and run on the viaduct and in the tunnel during a grand opening party.

Soon after the party: The tunnel will open and the viaduct demolition will begin.

Editor's Note: This story was updated December 14 at 10am to reflect that the new tunnel is 2 miles, not 1.7 miles as previously stated.

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