Viadoom: Replacement of aging Seattle viaduct gets underway


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In Los Angeles, the I-405 closure in July was called ‘Carmageddon.’ Now, Seattle’s long-feared downtown freeway fiasco is underway, and it’s known as ‘Viadoom.’

But the dreaded Monday morning commute, although it was a slog for many, wasn’t that bad.

Ever since a magnitude-6.8 earthquake in 2001 made it clear that the aging double-decker freeway viaduct, which routes 110,000 cars a day through downtown, was going to have to be replaced, Seattle commuters have dreaded the day it was actually going to happen.


The day arrived Friday night -- at least for the initial portion of the project -- when the state Department of Transportation shut down and began demolishing a one-mile stretch of the viaduct along the heavily traveled route near Starbucks Corp. headquarters and the city’s major-league football and baseball stadiums.

‘Let the clogging begin,’ the Seattle Times pronounced.

The initial Monday morning commute saw long lines of cars trying to snake into downtown from West Seattle, and things weren’t helped much by several collisions on Interstate 5, the other north-south freeway through the city.

But transportation agencies deployed extra buses and water taxis. Some downtown hotels offered discounts (‘the Viaduct Deal’) for commuters who wanted to avoid the drive entirely during the nine-day closure. And a rest station was set up near the West Seattle Bridge, offering coffee and snacks for bicyclists.

Bottom line: Traffic was miserable for a while, especially on surface streets that snake confusingly around the harbor and railroad tracks under the viaduct, but then it smoothed out -- and everybody got to work in more or less good order.

‘We could definitely see a ho-hum commute because everyone was scared and stayed home,’ Washington Department of Transportation spokesman Travis Phelps told the Associated Press. ‘Even if the commute is congestion-free, that doesn’t mean that they should take to the streets. If you see a ho-hum commute, that means people are doing their part.’


The initial viaduct diversion affects only the southern mile of the structure, which is scheduled to be replaced by Oct. 31 with a new four-lane bypass and two new side-by-side bridges that are already built and ready to tie in. Sometime in 2013, the state will begin boring a tunnel below the central downtown waterfront, the granddaddy of the $3.1-billion viaduct replacement project.

When that gets under way, someone may have to think up a name scarier than Viadoom.


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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Video: Heavy equipment begins the demolition. Credit: Washington Department of Transportation