Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What we saw on the first day of SR 99 closures

By Andrea Flatley

I was talking to a friend of mine about the North Aurora lane closures that began Monday, Jan. 18 on SR 99. He said that old habits are hard to break.

No doubt, that's true, but whether people adjusted their schedules, tried alternate forms of transportation or a different route, the first full commute during the lane closures went fairly smoothly.

Give yourself a round of applause, but don't change what you're doing.

There was a lot of build-up leading toward the Tuesday, Jan 19 commute. It was the first big test of the North Aurora lane closures, happening now until mid-February.

A reminder of what's happening
Between Jan. 18 and mid-February we're closing the middle lanes of SR 99 between the south side of the Aurora Bridge and just north of Mercer Street around the clock. An additional lane will close at night and during several weekends. This closure is happening so crews can install foundations for new overhead traffic signs. WSDOT picked this time of year to do the work because traffic volumes are at their lowest on this stretch of roadway.
Work crews are making the most of this extended closure. Since the lane reduction started, they have put new striping in place to help drivers maintain lane safety. They've also moved in work equipment and started cutting and breaking pavement.

How did the first day go?
During the morning commute, there was a southbound backup over the Aurora Bridge as drivers merged for the lane closure. In the afternoon, the northbound backup stretched down the Viaduct to Seneca Street as drivers merged into the construction area. Past the merge point, traffic was flowing.

Photos courtesy: Seattle DOT on Jan. 19.
Left image shows the heaviest backup on SB SR 99 at 7:15 a.m.
Right image shows heaviest NB SR 99 backup on the Viaduct on Jan. 19 at 5:15 p.m.

Alternate routes into Seattle were a little heavier than normal. It appeared that many drivers chose to use 15th Avenue Northwest to get across the Lake Washington Ship Canal while others went south down Greenwood Avenue North.

As expected, drivers also used I-5 as an alternate, and while traffic was a little heavier than a normal Tuesday, it was a bit more congested than average everywhere due to the rain. For those who don't normally take I-5, the express lanes are southbound in the morning and northbound by the afternoon commute.

We are working closely with King County Metro Transit during this closure. The southbound bus lane south of the Aurora Bridge is open to all traffic, and Metro has buses on stand-by to plug in as needed to maintain schedules. Metro reports that transit times looked normal given the rainy conditions overall. The Seattle Police Department also is working to ensure that bus lanes remain clear in areas that are not open to all traffic.

Let's keep it going
While drivers did a great job taking alternate routes, alternating their commute times and/or getting to work in a different way, we all need to maintain this level of diligence during this closure.  Your willingness to alter your route and help spread the message is going to make the next few weeks manageable.

You can check traffic conditions on SR 99 by viewing the Live Traffic Video on Seattle Department of Transportation's Travelers Information Map.
  • On the lower right of the page click on Live Traffic Video
  • Open the neighborhood drop down menu
  • Select Magnolia/Queen Anne
  • Click on the street cameras you'd like to see.
  • The south end of the Aurora lane closures start at Valley Street and end just north of Raye Street before the Aurora Avenue Bridge.
SDOT's Aurora Avenue North and Aloha Street cameras will give you a look at traffic on the south end of the closure.  You can also use Twitter for help with your commute each day.

We know these closures are a challenge and that extra traffic adds stress to your life. We appreciate your effort to help us with this closure as WSDOT, and our partners, work as quickly as we safely can.