Alaskan Way Viaduct closure could impact Eastside traffic

October 19, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 4 p.m. Oct. 19, 2011

The impending Alaskan Way Viaduct shutdown could cause traffic congestion to ripple far from the Seattle waterfront, transportation officials said days before the aging structure closes.

The state Department of Transportation plans to close the viaduct from 7:30 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Oct. 31 as crews demolish viaduct sections, build a bypass at the southern end and construct a southbound off ramp.

The planned closure is the longest ever for a Seattle-area highway. The viaduct serves almost 110,000 motorists each day — and roads throughout the region could clog as commuters seek alternate routes.

Major congestion is all but certain on Interstate 5 during the shutdown. The gridlock could spill over onto Interstate 405 and along Interstate 90 toward Issaquah during peak commutes.

“The moral of the story is, check traffic before you leave the house,” Department of Transportation spokesman Travis Phelps said. “Don’t just think, ‘Oh, I’m going to drive,’ and then get out there and find that everyone else had the same idea, too.”

The state transportation agency plans to alert motorists to traffic conditions and construction updates on a road-conditions blog and through the a Twitter account dedicated to Seattle-area traffic.

“There may be days when you can drive,” Phelps said. “There may be days when that’s the dumbest idea ever.”

The transportation agency steered some funding to King County Metro Transit to add 92 additional trips to existing routes.

“Still, it will be very important that you allow for extra travel time no matter how you are getting around, and consider traveling outside of the peak commute times,” Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond said in a statement.

Sound Transit also urged riders to consider mass transit options to commute during the nine-day shutdown.

“The Seattle area has never before seen a highway closure of this magnitude,” Sound Transit Deputy CEO Celia Kupersmith said in a statement. “Every day, 110,000 vehicles drive cross the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Nobody knows how bad the traffic will get as those vehicles look for other alternatives. What we do know is that taking transit and other alternatives to driving are the best survival strategy.”

Road conditions hinge on the number of motorists opting to board a bus or deciding to work from home during the closure.

“That depends a lot on driver behavior, though,” Phelps said. “If everyone takes the bus, you could see a very crystal-clear, awesome commute.”

Transportation planners learned from other large-scale road closures in recent years.

In August 2007, the Department of Transportation closed lanes expansion joint repairs on I-5, feared 10-mile backups did not materialize because commuters adapted. The transportation agency shut down the I-90 floating bridge express and westbound lanes in 2009 to repair cracked expansion joints.

“With that one, granted, we were just shutting down the express lanes, so it wasn’t completely closed,” Phelps said. “But you had some good days and some bad days.”

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