SEATTLE (AP) — A major thoroughfare for commuters along downtown Seattle’s waterfront is set to shut down for good Friday, ushering in what officials say will be one of the most painful traffic periods in the history of the booming Pacific Northwest city.
The aging, double-decker, 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) Alaskan Way Viaduct, which carries about 90,000 vehicles each day, will be replaced by a new four-lane tunnel. Officials say tearing down the viaduct, damaged in a 2001 earthquake, will allow Seattle to reimagine its waterfront with new parks, paths and other amenities.
But the tunnel replacement won’t open until about three weeks after the viaduct closes as workers realign the highway into it. A mélange of other construction projects will further constrain traffic in the hilly city surrounded by water, already known for its population growth and traffic woes.
Washington’s transportation agency on its website has a clock counting down to the viaduct closure , which it says will be the longest major highway closure the Puget Sound region has ever seen.
The weekslong period between the viaduct’s closure, scheduled for 10 p.m. Friday, and the state Route 99 tunnel opening is already being dubbed the “Seattle Squeeze.”
“It is dramatic,” said Heather Marx, director of Downtown Mobility for the Seattle Department of Transportation. “Everyone traveling in the region will be impacted,” she said, referring to people going to and through the Seattle metropolitan area.
City, King County and state officials have been working to mitigate the headaches sure to plague anyone caught unprepared.
Seattle school bus drivers will start their days earlier, and officials are advising commuters to work from home or adjust their work hours if they can. Those who can’t are being asked to walk, bike, join a carpool or use transit including buses, light rail or water taxis — all to avoid driving solo into downtown during peak commute times.