Today marks the first Monday commute during what's expected to be a two-week closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Check here for updates on buses, water taxis, lane and signal adjustments, and more.
Today marks the first Monday commute during the two-week Alaskan Way Viaduct closure. Friday, the first day of the shutdown, was a slow go, but not so bad overall, as people hit the highways earlier than usual in both the morning and afternoon. The same pattern appears to have emerged today: congestion in the usual places, but starting earlier.
“Drivers need to have their A game on for Monday,” Travis Phelps, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), warned last week.
Don’t worry, dear reader: We’re here to help you bring that A game. Here’s a user’s guide to not using the viaduct. If you still need inspiration, here’s what others are doing to adjust their workdays and avoid the traffic — mostly, starting shifts earlier or working from home. And be sure to let economy columnist Jon Talton know how the viaduct closure is affecting your work or your business.
Some highway trips are now actually running faster than usual, WSDOT says, though officials warned on Twitter not to be overconfident. Conditions vary from one mile to the next, and change quickly.
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“People are still in flux right now, figuring out the best way to go,” said state traffic engineer Morgan Balogh. Officials still worry that by Wednesday and Thursday, usually the most crowded traffic days, that commuters will go back to usual habits and the highways will be a mess.
Tunnel-boring machine Bertha, whose journey under the elevated structure at Yesler Way is the reason for the shutdown, pushed slowly to the west edge of the viaduct on Sunday. By mid-afternoon that day, the drill had gone 39 of the required 385 feet before the viaduct can reopen — a decidedly gradual pace.
A light sprinkling of fine dirt fell from the conveyors onto Terminal 46 at 4 p.m., to be trucked away to a landfill, which Seattle Tunnel Partners does with dirt that is laced with concrete or grout. Later in the dig, Bertha will reach clean soil, to be barged across Puget Sound to a quarry near Port Ludlow.
It’s not just grownups who are delayed by the viaduct closure.
Twenty-four Seattle school-bus routes are running 10-20 minutes earlier to account for the shutdown. The district individually notified families of the nearly 600 students affected, the district says.
The other 1,866 routes were altered by no more than five minutes, said Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard. But the traffic across the region will affect every route to some extent, she said.
Things worked according to plan Monday, she said.
On Friday, students made it to class on time, but some buses were delayed in the afternoon, she said.
Traffic within Seattle
“We’ve had no significant stalls or collisions so far,” SDOT Transportation Operations Director Mark Bandy said at about 7 a.m. But: “When you take a major street like Highway 99 out of the system, the rest of the streets can get busy in a hurry.”
Buses and light rail: Twelve King County Metro Transit bus routes that usually run on the viaduct are being rerouted through Sodo: routes 21E, 37, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125 and the RapidRide C Line.
Buses were delayed by about 15 minutes each rolling through Sodo because of heavy traffic on Fourth Avenue South.
Ahmad White, who lives in Capitol Hill and commutes to downtown, takes light rail to downtown from the new Capitol Hill station. “It (the Highway 99 closure) is not affecting me in any way,” he said. “A quick little jaunt and I’m done.” He said it takes him about 15 minutes to get to work.
West Seattle: Water King County Water Taxi service began at 6:15 a.m., with extra park-and-ride spaces just south of the dock. Ridership is setting records — it more than tripled for Friday through Sunday, according to a news release from the county. The West Seattle route recorded 3,018 riders on Friday, compared to 963 a year ago.
The county has added another water taxi boat, the 147-rider Spirit of Kingston, into rotation to help service stay on time. The boat became available after finishing its final trip on the Vashon-Seattle water taxi route.
Traffic was heavy on the West Seattle bridge early, but now it appears to have cleared up. Sun glare is a factor there, as usual, so be careful.
Sodo: The Seattle Department of Transportation started adjusting signal timing on Friday, giving north- and southbound drivers more “green time” at lights along popular routes such as Fourth Avenue South and First Avenue South.
SDOT has also added green left-turn arrows to signals on First Avenue South at Holgate, Hanford and Horton streets, where traffic is more dense than usual. Among other benefits, that should reduce delays when left-turning cars creep across oncoming traffic, said Jon Layzer, director of interagency programs for SDOT. Signal timing has also been changed on Fourth Avenue South.
“We’re making little tweaks and changes as the day goes on, continuing as the week goes on,” Layzer said.
Some parking along Fourth Avenue South has been removed to make more room for drivers between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Some passengers report their buses are saving time by going curbside, but that space is narrower than a bus in some places, said King County Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer. Overall, travel is easier than on Friday, he said.
“We’re still bracing for worse congestion than this,” by midweek, he said.
Doug Stanesa, commuting from lower Queen Anne to Starbucks Center in Sodo, said he usually takes Uber, but that would likely be as slow as a bus. So this time, he walked to Seattle Center and rode the monorail to catch light rail, rather than take a packed bus off the hill, he said. The same trip Friday took him 45 minutes overall. “I’m a little wary with surface streets,” he said.
Aurora Avenue North: The northern portion of Highway 99 has flowed easily again today, as drivers who would normally be continuing past downtown are no longer present in the South Lake Union area.
Drivers should remember that the Battery Street Tunnel is open for one lane, until the Western Avenue/Belltown exit, so it is possible to commute by car on Aurora Avenue. And the E Line bus has been running easily on Aurora, as well.
“Compared to Friday, it’s been a bit better,” Bandy said at about 7:30 a.m. “We haven’t had the rain or incidents. … But it’s still very early.”
Traffic south of Seattle
Roads: If you’re driving into Seattle, try taking Highway 599 to the First Avenue South bridge and using boulevards in the Sodo/Duwamish area. Traffic is flowing freely — or at least at arterial speed — all the way to the stadiums.
South-end commutes began around 5 a.m., or a half-hour earlier than normal, Phelps said.
Traffic jams were worse than usual at I-405 around Renton, where traffic is bypassing Seattle, where earlier today I-5 clogged all the way from the Tukwila city limit into downtown.
Transit: Transit delays this morning affected detoured King County Metro bus lines, including the C Line and Route 120. Some of the 11 standby buses have been used on Route 120, which goes from White Center and Delridge Way Southwest into the city, to keep passenger pickups on schedule, said Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer.
On the south-end Sounder commuter line, no more railcars can be added to the seven-car trains because of the limited size of train platforms, said Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.
Traffic north of Seattle
Freeways: Congestion came and went earlier than usual at Lynnwood, in the same areas as Friday. Southbound I-5 was slow past Lynnwood just after 6 a.m., but “it looks a little bit lighter than Friday,” Phelps said at the time.
Transit: Sound Transit is adding two railcars to its north-end Sounder commuter trains, which serve downtown Everett, Mukilteo and Edmonds with four round trips per day into Seattle’s King Street Station. That means all trips will be on three-car trains, instead of half having only two-car trains.Each railcar adds 140 seats.
The north line, which has been chronically underused, is filling nearly all its seats this week as commuters seek an alternative to I-5. But so far, north-line riders haven’t needed to stand, said spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.
It helps that weather is dry, since heavy rain often causes mudslides that close the tracks.
Traffic east of Seattle
Highway 520 ran at or near highway speeds some of the morning.
Kelly Ehrlich said it took 90 minutes door-to-door — a half-hour longer than usual — to go from Eastgate to downtown Seattle on bus Route 212. “Normally it’s a straight shot in. We were stop-and-go after the Mount Baker Tunnel.” She said she took the bus to avoid driving, but the slow commute “suggests I have to take one of the Sound Transit buses,” which use the downtown tunnel instead of surface streets in Seattle.
Ordinarily, the Eastgate park-and-ride is full by 7:40 a.m., says Ehrlich, who sometimes drives and sometimes takes transit. But she said she expects she’ll need to arrive much earlier the rest of the week.