The Alaskan Way Viaduct, completed on April 4, 1953, is an elevated section of State Route 99 that runs along the Elliott Bay waterfront in Seattle's Industrial District and downtown Seattle. It is the smaller of the two major north-south traffic corridors through Seattle, carrying up to 110,000 vehicles per day. The viaduct runs above the surface street, Alaskan Way, from S. Nevada Street in the south to the entrance of Belltown's Battery Street Tunnel in the north, following previously existing railroad lines.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed the similarly designed Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland, California with considerable loss of life. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake damaged the viaduct and its supporting Alaskan Way Seawall and required the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to invest $14.5 million U.S. in emergency repairs. Experts give a 1-in-20 chance that the viaduct could be shut down by an earthquake within the next decade. Since the Nisqually Earthquake occurred, semi-annual inspections have discovered continuing settlement damage.
Due to damage from continuing settlement, a group of researchers and faculty from the University of Washington urged the mayor of Seattle (in 2007) to close the viaduct within a four-year timeframe. Whether to remove, replace, or rebuild the viaduct is a politically charged issue. Proponents of removing the viaduct cite successful examples of this such as The Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, in which the demolition of the viaduct and routing of traffic along surface streets enhanced the city's waterfront. Proponents of rebuilding the viaduct claim that surface streets might not be able to handle the traffic that the viaduct currently supports without extensive improvements. Proponents of replacing the viaduct with a large tunnel argue that, while the tunnel is the more expensive option, it would maintain traffic capacity and also create new opportunities for downtown city redevelopment, with potential benefits of low-income housing, new park space, and new retail and office space.
Many Seattle leaders, including Mayor Greg Nickels and state and city transportation officials, favor building a tunnel. Plans for a six-lane double-decker tunnel were developed. The tunnel was envisioned as a solution to not only the viaduct's traffic limitations and safety problems, but also to allow better uses for the waterfront real estate, including parks, housing, and retail developments. While future development of the Alaskan Way real estate corridor may provide tax revenue for the city, many state lawmakers claimed the originally proposed six-lane tunnel project was too costly. In response to concerns about the cost of the originally proposed tunnel construction, the city council created a scaled-down four-lane hybrid tunnel option.
In mid-December 2006, Governor Gregoire stated the decision was at a stalemate and called for an advisory ballot on March 13th for Seattle residents.
In January 2008, Governor Gregoire stated the State of Washington will take down the viaduct in 2012, regardless of the city government or lack of an alternative.
On February 13th, 2007, Governor Christine Gregoire rejected the scaled-down four-lane tunnel hybrid option, saying that the recent WSDOT review showed the tunnel proposal "does not meet state and federal safety standards." Of particular concern is that the use of shoulders as traffic lanes during peak traffic times would leave no additional lanes for emergency access.
Many prominent leaders and organizations are against an elevated structure and believe this is a unique opportunity to remove the viaduct and connect downtown Seattle to the waterfront. Former Governors Dan Evans and Gary Locke, former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, and the American Institute of Architects recommend against rebuilding the viaduct.
Proponents offer examples of successes in other cities and outline the plan and its potential benefits as follows:
Due to removal, construction, or earthquake, there will be a multi-year period when the viaduct is closed. During this time, the city of Seattle could move forward with improvements to the downtown traffic grid and public transportation, while collecting information on whether additional transit capacity is needed. This approach would allow Seattle to determine whether it can replicate the success of The Embarcadero in San Francisco.
However, due to the costs and scope of the project, the other options are still being discussed in the local media. Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck notes that "While the mayor's first choice is the tunnel, he supports the City Council's resolution that designates a surface and transit alternative as a backup.
Mayor Greg Nickels is attempting to attract $1 billion of funding from the federal government; his department has also outlined a financial plan which adds additional sources of funding which potentially total $2.6 billion. With the termination of the Seattle Monorail Project, the Downtown Seattle Association is arguing for funding source used for the monorail project be used to replace the viaduct. The source for the monorail project was an excise tax based on tables approximating the value of vehicles registered within Seattle. The valuation tables have generated their own controversy, which resulted in the state wide tax vehicle excise being repealed.
It was unclear what it would have meant if voters approved both options. Rejecting both options would have indicated a preference to earthquake-proof the existing viaduct or removal of the viaduct without replacing it.
|28.91||southbound||northbound||Spokane Street - West Seattle|
|28.91||northbound||southbound||West Seattle Bridge/Harbor Island|
|30.75||northbound||southbound||1st Avenue S./Safeco Field/Qwest Field/Colman Dock|
|31.95||northbound and southbound||northbound and southbound||Western Avenue/Belltown|
|32.44||northbound||southbound||Denny Way/South Lake Union|