Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct: We’re ready. Are you?

For many years, the main questions surrounding the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement were – what will be built and when will construction start? We began answering these questions earlier this summer, as crews broke ground on a project to replace the southern mile of the aging structure with a new side-by-side roadway. Now that construction has begun, the question becomes – how will people get around during this work? Luckily for those who depend on the viaduct and State Route 99 today, we’ve been planning this work for a long time. And the pieces to help keep things moving are falling into place.

In February 2008, we, along with the King County and the City of Seattle announced a package of transit service and capital investments to minimize travel delays and disruptions during construction to replace the viaduct’s south end. Our contribution totaled approximately $125 million. During the last two and a half years, we worked with our partners to add these improvements and bolster a system that already includes new Link light rail, upcoming RapidRide bus routes, West Seattle ferry service and repaved downtown streets.

We are doing everything we can to keep lanes open on SR 99 during the viaduct replacement. Through the south end construction area, at least two lanes will remain open in each direction at most times, but reduced speeds in this area mean people will need options for getting around. So, what improvements did we put in place, and how will they help you? Let’s look at the list:
SR 519 Project
  • This spring we completed the SR 519 project, which included a new I-5/I-90 westbound off-ramp to S. Atlantic Street/ Edgar Martinez Drive S. Drivers now have a new connection that provides better access from I-5 and I-90 to the waterfront.
  • Earlier this year, King County Metro, with funding from us, added 31 new bus trips on four routes to and from southwest Seattle. Strategies to encourage the use of transit, teleworking and ridesharing will kick into high gear next year. To see how transit can help your commute to downtown, check out Metro’s Trip Planner.
  • We also provided funding so Metro could expand its bus monitoring system. Completed this summer, the expanded system will help Metro monitor when travel times along transit routes are affected by construction, so they know when and where additional service is needed to help you reach your destination.
  • This month we activated new overhead electronic signs on northbound I-5 between Boeing Access Road and I-90 that alert drivers to reduce speeds or change lanes when there are backups on the road ahead. We’ve also added new travel time signs on I-5. These tools provide real-time information to help drivers make their commute more manageable. 
  • The City of Seattle has opened its new Spokane Street Viaduct off-ramp to Fourth Avenue S. The eastbound off-ramp provides a new route into downtown for West Seattle commuters. Our contribution of $50 million completed full funding of the City’s $168 million Spokane Street project, allowing it to move into construction.
  • We funded City projects to add and upgrade traffic signals and add new driver information signs in the Elliott Avenue/15th Avenue NW, West Seattle and south of downtown corridors. These improvements will help keep buses and traffic moving.
  • Smart Highway signs
  • Later this year crews will finish installing and testing new electronic message signs on SR 99 and other major routes leading to downtown. The signs will provide real-time information to drivers so they can choose less congested routes.
With improvements in place, our focus now is giving you the information you need to reach your destination, whether by hopping on a bus or choosing a different route. Getting around during construction provides resources for checking current traffic conditions, current construction lane closures, bike route changes, and much more. We also created an interactive simulation that lets you see different views of the construction stages for the south end replacement. This is a good way to see roughly when SR 99 and city streets near Seattle’s stadiums will be affected by construction.

And if you have questions, we’re just an e-mail or a phone call away. You can reach us at viaduct@wsdot.wa.gov and 1-888-AWV-LINE (298-5463).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Walking tour will highlight past, future of Alaskan Way Viaduct

By Ron Paananen, P.E., Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program Administrator

It’s easy to miss driving by at 40 miles per hour, but there it stands, at the north end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a red-brick reminder that it doesn’t pay to cut corners.

In fact, engineers building the viaduct in the 1950s found that cutting corners can be pretty expensive – about $50,000, actually.

A bit of historical explanation is in order. 

Back in the 1950s, as the viaduct began to take shape along the downtown Seattle waterfront, engineers discovered a problem: the corner of Belltown’s Empire Laundry Building stood directly in the structure’s path. Rather than shave off the building’s corner – which would have cost the hefty sum of $50,000 – engineers improvised by incorporating the building into the guardrail. The results are still visible today to the south of the Battery Street Tunnel, with the corner of the building – now home to condominiums – protruding through the rail. 

It’s one of the few times you’ll see a building in the right of way, and one of many tidbits from the viaduct’s past that we’ll be exploring at a historical walking tour on Saturday, Aug. 21. I’ll be leading the tour, along with historical preservationist Mimi Sheridan and other viaduct experts.

We’ll depart from the Washington Street Boat Landing (Alaskan Way S. and S. Washington Street) at 10 a.m. Over the course of two hours, my colleagues and I will dust off stories from the viaduct’s past – like that of the Empire Laundry Building – to bring to life the people and places that helped define the structure and the downtown waterfront. We’ll make stops at various points of interest along the waterfront before wrapping up near the Pike Street Hillclimb. Topics include the changing transportation needs of Seattle, the important role of the viaduct in the growth of downtown, and our plans to replace the vulnerable structure.

The event is part of the Museum of History and Industry’s (MOHAI) “Summer History Tours” series.  Tickets are $15 for MOHAI members or $20 for the general public, and can be purchased in advance at www.brownpapertickets.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the beginning of the tour, provided it doesn’t sell out in advance. The neighborhood is well served by transit, and parking is available nearby under the viaduct.

This will be a fun way to take a look back, but it’s worth noting that we’ve come a long way since the 1950s. As we begin replacing the viaduct, we’re taking every precaution to protect the public’s investment and make sure we build something that people will be proud of 50 years from now. 

Which means no improvising. And, of course, no cutting corners. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Smarter Highways now active on I-5

From guest blogger Pam Wrenn

Have you driven northbound I-5 in south Seattle lately? If you have, you’ve probably seen the new electronic signs light up. We officially turned them on at 11 a.m. yesterday August 10th. The signs come on when traffic slows ahead, to let drivers know to reduce speed. They also direct traffic out of lanes where accidents or construction are blocking ahead.

You can see them in action on the I-5 at Albro Place webcam, and on the I-5 at South Rose St webcam

So what do you think? Are Smarter Highways making you feel more confident about what’s on the road ahead?

Side note: some of you have asked whether these speed limits are enforceable. The answer is yes, here is more from the State Patrol.