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Seattle’s transportation new normal is just around the corner.

ID/Chinatown Downtown Transit Tunnel. Image by J. Clark.

We’re getting ready for the Maximum Constraint.

Starting January 11, 2019, As early as this fall the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will move forward with the permanent closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This construction project is one of countless private and public construction projects taking place in the right of way in and around downtown.

In fact, over the next five years, Seattle’s downtown will be in a state of transition to meet the needs of our growing city. Transportation engineers have dubbed this transitional phase:




And while it sounds like it could be the name of a summer action blockbuster starring Will Smith, it’s not quite that dramatic, but a big deal nonetheless. During this period, folks who travel in and around downtown will be impacted by increased construction, which will lead to more congestion with additional street closures and ongoing delays.


Yes, ironically, things will get tougher before they get better.

Alaskan Way Viaduct as it looks today. Image by J. Clark.

Seattle is entering a new era of tough traffic and we continue to work with our partner agencies, businesses, commuters, and community members to prepare.

Together with our partnering agencies, we’re working to reduce congestion during this challenging period and limit the impact on commuters and businesses.

Throwback movie clip from 2011 AWV demolition via SDOT Flickr.

The impending demolition of WSDOT’s 1950s vintage Alaskan Way Viaduct and the opening of the new SR 99 Tunnel will forever change the Seattle transportation landscape. In addition, there are more than more than 60 construction cranes currently dotting the skyline for megaprojects like the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center. And work is expected to intensify over the coming months.


Getting around downtown.

Pioneer Square Transit Station. Image by J. Clark.

We’re working to ensure these travel woes are not detrimental to your commute, especially those who rely on transit. We’re working closely with local and regional transit partners, like King County Metro, Sound Transit, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Downtown Seattle Association (just to name a few) on ways to help you get around downtown as safely and efficiently as possible during this transition.


To prepare, we’ve prioritized 5 key areas:

We’re working around the clock to help you prepare and navigate around the construction impacts while keeping you informed of what’s happening so that you can plan your commute accordingly.


Here’s what we’re doing right now to prepare:


  • Added more public transit service on our busiest bus routes to help you avoid sitting in your car in traffic, and in a moving vehicle with priority service.
  • 3rd Ave transit priority is already in place to increase public transit flow and consistent travel time reliability.
  • New signal timing on 2nd and 4th Avenue downtown to improve transit speed and reduce conflicts between turning vehicles, pedestrians, and buses.
  • Distributed ORCA Opportunity cards to all Seattle high school students.
  • Adding more traffic cameras and travel time detectors so we’ll have more real-time data about how traffic is moving.


Here’s a snapshot of what you can expect in the coming weeks and months:

  • A new regional transportation digital platform that gives real-time traffic and construction updates as well as weekly traffic forecast reports for the work week.
  • Pilot load zone projects for urban goods delivery by e-cargo bike and rideshare priority areas for Lyft and Uber. We’ll test out new strategies to see how they work before expanding them to other parts of downtown.
  • Outreach to businesses working on major projects to reduce construction impacts on our busiest downtown streets during our busiest times.
  • New 24/7 real-time traffic monitoring at SDOT’s Transportation Operations Center and social media updates to help you time your commute.
  • Off-board fare payment and all-door boarding on 3rd Avenue for all bus riders – not just those on the RapidRide routes. This will help to speed up travel times for the over 100,000 people who ride a bus on 3rd Avenue every weekday.
  • A new pathway for northbound buses on 5th and 6th Avenues to maintain transit travel times through downtown once the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel becomes light-rail only in Spring 2019.
  • Improvements at major transit stations (like the Montlake Triangle, International District/Chinatown Station and at Westlake) that make it easier to find and wait for your bus and train or connect to a bike share, car share or rideshare vehicle
  • Sound Transit is on track to open extensions to Seattle’s University District, Roosevelt and Northgate neighborhoods in 2021, with service to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake area opening in 2023. Additional extensions to Kent/Des Moines, Federal Way, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, and Downtown Redmond will open in 2024. Thereafter, light rail extensions are scheduled to reach Tacoma and West Seattle in 2030; Ballard in 2035; Everett in 2036; and South Kirkland and Issaquah in 2041.


Timeline of downtown major construction impacts.  


WA State Convention Center (WSCC) Construction

Summer of 2018 | WSCC has launched a transformative project that will provide economic and public benefits, including affordable housing, cycling, and pedestrian improvements, and a study of lidding more of I-5 – as part of its $92 million expansion. Construction is expected to be complete in 2021.


Rainer Tower 2 Construction

Currently in Construction | At the corner of 5th Ave and Union St, Rainier Tower 2 is a new building being built in Rainier Square and will become an iconic new skyscraper on Seattle’s horizon. It will house a new space for offices, retail stores, a hotel, residential units, and parking. Construction is set to continue into 2021.


Viaduct Closes

January 11, 2019 | WSDOT will close SR 99 through downtown Seattle for approximately three weeks to build roadway and ramp connections, realign SR 99 and open the new SR 99 tunnel.


Tunnel Opens

Early 2019 | The new 2-mile stretch of SR 99 tunnel opens to traffic.


Viaduct Demolition

2019 | After the tunnel opens, AWV demolition begins by the waterfront, the tunnel will be decommissioned, and Aurora Ave N connected.


Waterfront Construction

2019 | Built by the City of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront, the new Alaskan Way street will be transformed along the waterfront.


Bus Service Ends in Transit Tunnel

Spring 2019 | King County Metro bus routes 41, 74, 101, 102, 150, 255 and Sound Transit Express Route 550 buses will no longer use the transit tunnel and will operate on surface streets.


SR 99 Tunnel Tolling

2019 | The SR 99 tunnel will be free to use when it opens for a period of time before tolling starts.


Exciting changes abound.

Pioneer Square Light Rail, Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Image by J. Clark.

From the anticipated grandeur of a Pike-Pine Renaissance to breathtaking views from a reinvigorated Seattle waterfront, people will be connected to and through a re-imagined downtown.


Please stay tuned.
There’s more to come.


This is just a sample of projects and information. And now that we have it, it’s crucial that you can start thinking about how these impacts may affect you.


Don’t fret!

Seattle?. Image by J. Clark.

We’re in this together. In the coming weeks, we’ll make some additional announcements that will help you plan and prepare for future travel to help you navigate during this period, including to be among the first to sign up for downtown traffic reports, news and information.


Together, along with our local and regional partners will help you successfully navigate this period to make daily connections that keep you moving.