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The nearly two-decade-long effort to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct will soon hit a major milestone, as the viaduct is set to close on January 11th, 2019 as it is replaced by the Highway 99 tunnel spanning Sodo to South Lake Union. The closure has undoubtedly caused concern and confusion for commuters and Seattleites alike, especially given that there will be an approximate three-week gap between the closure of the viaduct and the tunnel’s opening. Using research obtained by Seattle Times, let’s take a look at answers to some of the biggest questions surrounding the project.


According to Dave Sowers, the deputy Highway 99 administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the tunnel is scheduled to open “sometime during the week of Feb. 3-9” because “contractors need time to pave new ramp connections from Aurora Avenue to the north tunnel portal, and from Sodo Highway 99 to the south portal. This work crosses highway lanes, forcing a full closure, along with traffic snarls entering central Seattle.”


The viaduct demolition is slated to begin in January or February and will take—at minimum—four months to complete. This is due to the tight spaces surrounding the current viaduct, with as little as 10 feet between sidewalks and buildings.



As the Times outlines, there will be two southbound lanes on the upper level and two northbound lanes on the lower level, each measuring 11-feet wide. There will be an 8-foot shoulder on the waterfront side for emergency use, with a smaller 2-foot shoulder on the inner sides of the tunnel. “The posted speed limit is 45 mph, to be reduced by electronic lane signs when traffic is heavy,” the Times adds.

There will not be any direct downtown exits as there were on the viaduct, but there will be South Lake Union and Sodo interchange exits providing access to downtown Seattle.

Details for the $2.2 billion Alaskan Way (SR 99) tunnel’s smart features (5 miles of electrical wiring; 21 miles of sprinkler pipes; 15 miles of lights; 13 miles of fiber optic cable and eight miles of linear heat detectors…)

How will the tolls work? Will they affect usage?

In order to give drivers time to adjust to the new tunnel, no tolls will be imposed until mid-2019. Once tolls go into effect, rates will vary by time of day, ranging from $1 during non-peak hours to $2.25 at the afternoon peak. In order to avoid the $2 surcharge per trip billed by mail, motorists will need to obtain a Good to Go pass for their windshield.

WSDOT research indicates that without tolls, the tunnel could serve 97,400 vehicles per day, a larger number than the 91,000 motorists that use the Alaskan Way Viaduct at its busiest point. Once tolls are charged, however, WSDOT says an estimated 44,000 drivers could elect to take alternate routes to avoid the fee.


The Times outlines a few alternate trip options for those that either don’t want to pay tolls or simply do not wish to drive in the tunnel, which include using the four-lane roadway on Alaskan Way along the waterfront or First and Fourth avenues. Each of these areas will see more traffic during the transition, without much relief expected “until waterfront bus lanes and increased Sound Transit light-rail capacity arrive in 2021.”

In celebration of the upcoming opening of the Highway 99 Tunnel, GeekWire  shared a time lapse video that spans six years and shows both the work on the tunnel and the evolving city skyline. In the background of the years-long SR 99 tunnel project work, “crane city is also hard at work and an evolving skyline takes shape. Specifically in the center of the frame, where Amazon HQ towers rise out of nowhere, starting in 2012,” GeekWire writes.


Though we are decidedly looking forward to an Alaskan Way Viaduct-free future, the Times  also took a moment to share the history of the viaduct, which opened to drivers on April 4, 1953.

The curving entrance, at left, to the viaduct from Battery Street is flanked by ramps from Elliott and Western Avenues on April 22, 1951. (Seattle Times archive)

The curving entrance, at left, to the viaduct from Battery Street is flanked by ramps from Elliott and Western Avenues on April 22, 1951. (Seattle Times archive)

As the Times outlines, “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 five-part project culminated with a Saturday afternoon opening in which drivers traveled northbound, then turned around to head south once more.



New on-street parking rates are coming to Seattle neighborhoods. Here’s what you’ll pay

The adjustments are being made throughout Seattle’s 34 paid parking areas, after an annual analysis of city parking data.

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Street parking rates are changing again in Seattle, with some going up and some going down.

The rate adjustments are being made throughout Seattle’s 34 paid parking areas, after an annual analysis of city parking data.

These areas, which contain about 12,000 on-street paid parking spaces, were evaluated for how full they were during morning, afternoon and evening hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in mostly March and April of this year.

 Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

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The city aims to keep parking occupancy — the percentage of spots filled with cars — in a target range of 70 to 85 percent, leaving one to two open spaces available per block.

The city then makes pricing changes based on supply and demand: If rates are too high, not enough people are parking and spaces sit empty; if rates are too low, too many people try to park and it becomes harder for those who need a space to find one.

Areas above or below target are adjusted by 50-cent increments up to a maximum of $5 per hour. Areas within 5 percent of target are placed on a “watch list,” with rate changes deferred for one year.

All rate changes will be implemented this fall, according to the analysis. SDOT plans to collect data in spring 2019 to inform rate changes for fall 2019.

The highest rates will be in the downtown core and Pioneer Square, where prices will increase to $5 per hour between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Seattle is expected to collect $39.4 million in street-parking revenue this year, said SDOT spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.

Here are a few of the changes being planned.

Evening parking

Based on 2017 data, SDOT extended paid parking hours from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. in Capitol Hill and the Pike-Pine paid parking zones.

This year, SDOT will increase rates to $3.50 an hour in the evening in the southern portion of Capitol Hill and the Pike-Pine area.

“Charging for parking during the late evening is intended to improve access and provide more reliable parking availability for people visiting Capitol Hill for restaurants, retail, and night life,” according to a city report on the parking analysis.

SDOT will also increase rates to $3 from $2.50 in the Ballard core in the evening and consider extending paid parking to 10 p.m.

First and Cherry Hill

The analysis spotlighted First Hill and the Cherry Hill hospital district, which were identified as having “high rates of vehicles not subject to payment.”

In Cherry Hill, many drivers display state-issued disabled parking permits in their vehicle windows.

Under Washington state law, vehicles with a valid disabled permit can park on the street for free and for longer than the posted time limits.

Raising rates is unlikely to improve parking availability, the analysis found. Instead, SDOT is considering creating two new sections of paid on-street parking near medical offices, adding new designated spaces for vehicles with disabled permits, and restricting all on-street paid parking spaces in the Cherry Hill area to 4-hour parking.

On First Hill, many vehicles also display disabled parking permits or use SDOT-issued Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) permits.

Vehicles with RPZ permits for the area can park on certain blocks in First Hill at no cost and for up to 72 hours.

Parking occupancy in these areas was at times measured above 100 percent — meaning more cars were parked than space was supposed to allow. Vehicles with RPZ permits occupied most spaces.

The agency will reassess blocks that allow RPZ parking, create designated spaces for people with disabled permits, add a 4-hour time limit, and study ways to improve access near hospitals.

Columbia City

In late 2017, SDOT implemented paid parking, load zones, disabled parking, unpaid time limits and RPZ spaces in Columbia City.

Prior to implementation, “parking on commercial streets in Columbia City was completely full for much of the day. Following implementation, “drivers are much more likely to find a space,” the report found. Rates will increase from $1 an hour to $1.50 an hour between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.