A look back in The Seattle Times' archives shows the huge amount of change that its construction brought to the city's waterfront.
In early 2019, demolition crews using excavators with giant, concrete-munching, crab-like claws will begin tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
It will be an all-out $40 million sprint — working six days a week until 10 p.m. — to excise the double-decker highway that for more than six decades has severed Seattle from its waterfront.
Seattle has long had a love-hate relationship with the downtown stretch of Highway 99. It’s a noisy, polluting concrete barrier between the heart of the city and the waterfront. It’s also a vital artery through the city, with views that rival any urban highway around the world.
A look back in The Seattle Times’ archives shows the huge amount of change that its construction brought to the city’s waterfront.
Work on the viaduct began on Feb. 6, 1950 — a decade before Interstate 5 — with excavation at the north end at Battery Street and Western Avenue.
The project was divided into five parts — the Battery Street Tunnel (then called the Battery Street Subway); the single-deck side-by-side section from Battery Street to Pike Street; the double-deck stretch from Pike to King Street; the south-end ramps at First Avenue South, and finishing touches like lighting and signs.
Crews built stubs for future ramps at Columbia, Seneca, Spring and University streets.
The viaduct opened on April 4, 1953, a Saturday, with drivers first allowed to drive northbound, before turning around and heading back south.
After the ribbon cutting, construction continued on auxiliary pieces of the viaduct, with staggered openings continuing for more than a decade.
The Battery Street Tunnel opened July 24, 1954, connecting the viaduct to Aurora Avenue. A southern extension of the viaduct opened in 1959. The Seneca Street offramp opened in 1961. The Columbia Street onramp opened in 1966.
On Feb. 28, 2001, the Nisqually Earthquake closed the viaduct, requiring $14.5 million in emergency repairs, and revealed its fundamental seismic vulnerability. Everyone agreed the aging monolith had reached the end of its useful life. Its fate was sealed. But nothing moves quickly around here. It took a decade of arguing and planning to figure out what to do with the structure.
Come next year, when the mechanized crab-claws come for the 65-year-old viaduct, the 18-year replacement project will finally be complete.