Friday, April 29, 2016

West Seattle to downtown Seattle: A tale of two commutes

By Steve Peer

In a world of hour-by-hour schedules, deadlines, and last-minute modifications, changing my commute was the last thing I wanted to do when I heard about the viaduct closure. We were told to prepare for two weeks of gnarly commutes, and since I work for WSDOT, I thought I better heed the warnings of my colleagues on the Alaskan Way Viaduct team, especially because I commute to downtown from West Seattle.

Many commuters were accompanied by their bikes as they waited to board the West Seattle Water Taxi Friday morning.
Competitive by nature, I decided the best way to determine the quickest way to work was to organize a side-by-side race. I asked a woman on my 21 express bus, Carrie Richards, to record her trip while I took the King County water taxi. I chose Carrie because I see her on my bus, morning after morning, trekking to downtown from West Seattle. And she doesn’t mess around. She’s often the first person off the bus once we hit downtown and once off, she race walks to her downtown destination. My thoughts: game on – this will be fun. The race: 35th Avenue SW and SW Trenton in West Seattle to Third and Seneca downtown.

There was plenty of room on the West Seattle Water Taxi – the MV Doc Maynard. The 7:15 a.m. sailing
had 183 passengers – far below the capacity of 278.

Here’s what happened on our first morning commute, Friday, April 29:
6:45 a.m.: We both left 35th and Trenton at the same time. I travelled behind her bus in my car.
6:48 a.m.: I passed her bus as it stopped to pick up passengers.
6:55 a.m.: I arrived at the Seacrest Dock. There was plenty of parking on Beach Drive*. I was 26th in line for the 7:15 a.m. water taxi.
7:05 a.m.: Carrie was on the West Seattle bridge; she said it was crowded.
7:15 a.m.: Carrie reached Fourth Avenue.
7:17 a.m.: My taxi left West Seattle carrying 183 passengers. This turned out to be the first of two back-to-back trips with the most riders of the morning, more than tripling the regular ridership, according to King County, but still with plenty of room.
7:20 a.m.: As I raced across Elliott Bay, Carrie was at Third and Cherry.
7:24 a.m.: Carrie arrived at Third and Seneca. She’d won!
7:27 a.m.: My taxi arrived at Pier 50 in downtown Seattle.
7:37 a.m.: After practically running up the hill, I arrived at Third and Seneca.

Carrie’s commute time: 39 minutes
My commute time: 52 minutes

Notes from Carrie: The biggest choke point in the commute was definitely Fourth Avenue, in the areas where there is no bus lane. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to catch my second bus (from downtown to First Hill) at the usual time after leaving home only about 15 minutes earlier. I'm a little anxious about next week though, since my impression is that a number of people took today (Friday) off from work.

My notes: Just for the record, I could have left 10 minutes later and almost beat Carrie’s time by arriving at Seacrest Dock in West Seattle closer to the 7:15 a.m. departure time. I was 26th in line and everybody that was in line got on the boat. The Water Taxi is a well-oiled machine. They shuffled people on and off the water taxi with military efficiency and precision. But next week, will it hit its capacity? The boat can handle 278 passengers. We had only 183 aboard my boat. I understand there’s also room for 26 bikes on each sailing. Stay tuned for a rematch on Monday.

*Parking Note from WSDOT
Additional parking is available for Water Taxi commuters during the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure.
Harbor Ave SW will have overnight parking restrictions south of Seacrest Park on the southeast (water) side to allow open morning parking for approximately 120 cars.

SW Bronson Way is an unpaved parking area south of Salty’s restaurant. It is unmarked, but holds about 40 cars.
The Pier 2 parking lot is a secured parking facility holding more than 200 cars. It will be staffed Monday through Friday, in the morning from 5:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and in the afternoon between 4 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Cars will not be accessible outside of these hours. King County suggests you park here 20 minutes before sailing time. The shuttle will run the .6 mile route continuously between Pier 2 and Seacrest Park.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Getting you ready for the #99closure

by Taylor Hodges

Seattle-area roadways will be a major challenge starting this Friday, April 29, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes for approximately two weeks. The closure will give our contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, the time they needs to tunnel beneath the viaduct. It will give drivers a reminder of what its like to live without one of three major north-south highways through Seattle.

We put together a series of short videos to help you get ready for the closure. The videos cover a variety of topics ranging from alternative commute methods to tools that will help you stay informed. Theres no easy solution for getting around during the closure, but planning ahead is your best bet for avoiding the worst congestion.

We hope the videos will help jumpstart your planning. We also encourage you to share tips and tricks with fellow commuters. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #99closure on social media.

Know before you go
This is your "survival guide" for getting around during the #99closure. Learn about the tools that are available at Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and consider downloading the WSDOT and SDOT apps.

Learning from the 2011 closure
Does the #99closure feel like Déjà vu? If so, it may be because we closed the viaduct in 2011 for one week as crews tore down the southern mile of the structure. You might also remember the heavy congestion that occurred while the viaduct was closed. Expect more of the same this time around. Why? Since 2011, weve seen tremendous population growth in the area. That means more cars on the road. The good news is that transportation infrastructure has improved some since then. The City of Seattle opened a new streetcar line, WSDOT opened the Atlantic Street Overpass by the stadiums and Sound Transit last month opened University Link.

Adjusting your commute
Its not too late to adjust the way you commute. Vanpools, biking, taking a ferry and riding the bus are just a handful of options available for those able to do so. Weve teamed up with our partner agencies to help move people during the #99closure:


City Streets
  • Seattle Police Department will direct traffic at key intersections.
  • Temporary parking restrictions along key routes will facilitate transit and general purpose travel.
  • SDOT is expediting planned intersection markings along East Marginal Way South to assist bicycle and pedestrian routes.
  • Traffic flow and temporary parking changes will help get vehicles on and off Aurora at Denny Way, Wall Street and Battery Street.
  • SDOT is restricting lane closure requests by third parties on city streets.

  • I-5 express lanes will remain open in the northbound direction overnight.
  • Southbound I-5 HOV lane between Mercer Street and Corson Avenue will be "open to all" during the closure.

Stay plugged in
Cant avoid driving during the #99closure? Make sure to plan ahead before hitting the streets. Here are some tools you can use to make your commute as painless as possible.

Avoiding traffic
Peak commute times will likely be longer than usual during the #99closure. We expect congestion to start earlier and end later in the day. For those who can, nows a great time to consider working from home, taking a vacation or changing your work hours. Many employers allow it, and the earlier you ask the better. Itll save you time, plus fewer cars on the road is better for everyone.

We understand the major inconveniences caused by closing a portion of SR 99. Like you, we're looking forward to completing this part of the project so the viaduct can reopen and the tunnel team can continue on its way beneath downtown. Until then, thanks for your patience and assistance in helping your fellow travelers through the closure.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#405 ETL By the Numbers: Six months of operations

By Kate Elliott

It's been more than six months since we opened the I-405 express toll lanes, and we have some new information to share. While we've always said it will take up to a year for traffic to adjust, here's what we've seen after six months and how express toll lanes are measuring up so far:

Providing a reliable trip: Speeds at 45 mph or faster 90 percent of the time during peak periods
  • 92 percent of the peak period traffic (3-7 p.m.) that sees speeds in the northbound express toll lanes at 45 mph or faster. This is compared to 44 percent for 2015 before express toll lanes opened.
  • 90 percent: of the peak period traffic (5-9 a.m.) that sees speeds in the southbound express toll lanes at 45 mph or faster. This is compared to 78 percent for 2015 before the express toll lanes opened.

Daily trips
  • 34,000: Average weekday number of tolled trips in the express toll lanes.
  • 14,000: Average weekday HOV trips, representing 29 percent of all trips in the express toll lanes.

Transit benefits
  • 10 percent: Increase in King County Metro ridership on I-405 routes.

Moving more vehicles
  • Express toll lanes are now moving more vehicles throughout the entire corridor than the previous HOV lanes were last year.
  • 40 percent: More vehicles in the northbound express toll lanes near SR 522 are moving during the peak hour than the same time last year.

What drivers are paying
  • 84 percent of drivers continue to pay $4 or less per toll.
  • 78 percent of weekday express toll lane users have a Good To Go! pass.

Local streets
  • 30: Locations on arterial routes parallel to I-405 that WSDOT has been monitoring for increased volumes and travel times. Interim data collected in February 2016 showed very similar trends compared to before tolling. Most agencies have reported no noticeable local changes.

While the numbers are encouraging, we know that some drivers have been impacted negatively. There are drivers whose trips, especially between SR 522 and SR 527, have seen slower speeds since express toll lanes opened. We are working to expedite several adjustments, especially those to the northern section of the corridor, so that travelers will see improvement as soon as possible. This includes adding capacity through hard shoulder running.

Since opening the express toll lanes, we've made some system adjustments to improve trips on I-405 in the express toll lanes and the general purpose lanes (full list).

Recent improvements include:
  • Changing the express toll lanes hours of operation from 24/7 to Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Since changing the hours of operation we've seen less congestion on the weekends.
  • At the SR 520 interchange, lengthened access point and changed from weave lane to skip stripe to provide more open access to the express toll lanes. This lessened general purpose lane congestion in the SR 520 interchange area during afternoon commutes and weekends.
  • Last weekend, crews completed work at NE 160th Street, which included:
    • NB I-405 added additional signage to clarify the access point to provide drivers more time to exit to SR 522.
    • SB I-405 lengthened the access point to allow drivers to enter the express toll lane sooner.

What's next?
Our next quarterly financial report is due out next month. We'll also be out on the road making additional adjustments northbound at NE 85th Street. We will continue reporting out on express toll lanes performance, and we always welcome your feedback.

Monday, April 18, 2016

After more than 50 years, I-5 getting a facelift and more

By Tom Pearce

Wear and tear are natural parts of aging for people, like an achy joint or skin that isn't as smooth as it once was. It's the same with our roads. Some sections of I-5 are more than 50 years old, and it shows. Some expansion joints and concrete panels are getting creaky and need replacing; ruts in the pavement need to be smoothed.

Worn lanes and rough seams are just a few of the issues on I-5.

Just like aging issues for people, on I-5 some of these concerns can be fixed without a lot of disruption, while others may require a surgical approach that takes more time. A short visit to the doctor for some Botox can help smooth the skin; nighttime lane closures for grinding can smooth ruts in the freeway. Getting a knee replacement involves a lot of work; so does replacing a bridge expansion joint.

When it comes to southbound I-5, we've already started a project to rejuvenate the freeway between the Duwamish River and South 320th Street in Federal Way. Work on this 13-mile section will take about 18 months to complete. Most of it will be fairly painless, with work occurring during overnight lane reductions.

Other parts will be a challenge. We need to reduce sections of southbound I-5 to two lanes on five weekends this summer, from 11 p.m. Fridays to 5 a.m. Mondays. The weekends are July 8-11, 15-18 and 22-25, and Aug. 12-15 and 19-22.

The weekend lane reductions are weather-dependent. They'll allow crews to:
  • Repave a section between SeaTac and Des Moines during the scheduled July weekends.
  • Replace expansion joints on the Duwamish River Bridge during the scheduled August weekends.

Replacing expansion joints, like this one between Everett and Marysville, requires a weekend to chip out the old concrete,
remove the old joint, put in the new joint and new concrete, which then needs about half a day to cure.

About 86,000 vehicles use this section of southbound I-5 daily in July and August. I'm not going to sugarcoat it – we're going to see southbound traffic backups on these weekends, starting in the morning, lasting throughout the day and into the evening. How big will they be? A lot of that is up to you, the drivers.

To keep things manageable, we need about half of the vehicles that use southbound I-5 to do something else. You'll still be able to get to your destinations, but think about doing it differently:
  • Use an alternate route like I-405, SR 167, SR 99 or SR 509.
  • Ride transit – King County Metro, Sound Transit or Link light rail.
  • Carpool.
  • Travel outside of peak hours.

We're working with south King County cities that will see increased traffic, as well as Sea-Tac Airport and Westfield Southcenter, to help spread the word to limit the delays. We'll also work with local media and use our project web page, the King County construction page, our blog, Twitter and Facebook to keep you informed. You can also download our mobile traffic app for the latest information on traffic.

This project is one of many that you'll see in the next several years to rehabilitate both directions of I-5 in the Seattle/King County area. We're committed to restoring I-5 and keeping our region moving. It's going to take a lot of effort and patience, but together we'll make it work.

Just like taking care of your body can keep you fit for a long life, restoring I-5 will keep our region's main highway healthy for decades to come.

Friday, April 15, 2016

#99closure prep: Analyzing traffic patterns on the Alaskan Way Viaduct

Measuring traffic on the SR 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct isn't as simple as you might think. Traffic volumes vary along the structure. For example, more vehicles drive the section south of downtown than the section near the Battery Street Tunnel.

But no matter how you add things up, the end result is the same: thousands of vehicles will be forced to find other routes when the viaduct temporarily closes on April 29. And that will equal congestion and frustration, especially for drivers who don't plan ahead.

As we collectively prepare for the #99closure, we're hearing lots of questions from the media and public about the current traffic patterns on State Route 99. More specifically, folks are trying to understand how those patterns will change during the closure.

There's only so much you can do to predict how travelers will react when one of the two main north-south highways through the city shuts down. The only certainty is that traffic will be a major challenge. Here are a few numbers to help you understand what all of us will be dealing with.

The big picture
Let's start at the top. According to a 2014 survey by Commute Seattle, approximately 228,000 people commute into downtown each day. Of those commuters, about 45 percent take transit and 31 percent drive alone. The remaining commuters walk, bike, telework or find some other way to get to their job each day.

Those numbers account for people, but the easiest way to understand the effect of closing the viaduct is to look at vehicles. According to our annual traffic count, the viaduct carries approximately 91,000 vehicles per weekday between the midtown ramps and the stadiums. By comparison, the Aurora Bridge carries about 74,000 vehicles on the average weekday.

Learning from the past
We've closed the viaduct enough times to know how it typically affects traffic. The structure shuts down twice a year for routine inspections. But those closures are intentionally scheduled on weekends, outside of weekday commutes.

A better comparison occurred in 2011, when we closed the viaduct for a week to demolish the structure's southern mile. Back then approximately 110,000 vehicles used the viaduct each day, a number that has decreased due to a number of factors, including the curvy detour that was built to carry SR 99 traffic until the new tunnel opens.

Much has changed since then. For one thing, Seattle has grown. According to the Commute Seattle survey, downtown has added 26,000 jobs since 2010. To go along with that, the city added roughly 6,000 new residential units to the downtown area between 2012 and 2014.

Infrastructure has changed too. Back in 2011 the South Atlantic Street Overpass – which was built by the viaduct program and now allows trucks and other traffic to bypass a busy railroad track near the Port of Seattle's busiest freight terminal – didn't exist. We've also invested in changeable message signs throughout the city that alert drivers to traffic conditions, allowing them to make choices and more easily avoid congestion.

Getting ready There are a number of things you can do to prepare for the upcoming closure. Our dedicated web page,, is the best place to start. It contains a wealth of tips, maps and other resources designed to help you modify your commute.

We're getting ready too. WSDOT and its partner agencies have developed an extensive plan to help keep people moving during the closure. Efforts include, but are not limited to:
  • Up to 22 additional King County Metro buses on standby to help maintain transit schedules. 
  • Installation of traffic cameras and license plate readers to more accurately measure travel times, along with electronic message signs to report travel times
  • Additional WSDOT Incident Response Teams on I-5 during peak commute hours to assist with accidents and vehicle breakdowns. 
  • Signal timing adjustments to handle the anticipated changes in local traffic patterns. 
  • Uniformed police officers conducting manual traffic control in key intersections as needed. 
We put together a detailed list of mitigation efforts, WSDOT funding for mitigation, and other highlights of the traffic control plan.

Pack patience
While there's much you can do to help reduce congestion, there's no getting around the fact that this closure will challenge even the most patient commuter. Even a quick glance at the numbers proves that closing a major highway is never easy, no matter how much you plan ahead.

Hopefully it helps to remember that this is vital work. Replacing the viaduct is an important safety priority, and we're looking forward to completing a project that will transform the city and the SR 99 corridor. In the meantime, thanks for your patience. Please know that we're doing everything we can to keep traffic moving during this closure, and we appreciate you pitching in to do your part.