Would Seattle’s viaduct survive an earthquake today?
SEATTLE – If there was an earthquake in Seattle today, the Alaskan Way viaduct might have the most damage. It already sunk and showed cracks after the last big quake.
Charles Green remembers the Nisqually quake of 2001.
“I was at the Renton library, which had a glass ceiling. Dust was coming down, everyone was trying to duck. We were bumping heads, because it was shaking pretty dramatically.”
Today’s quake in Napa is a reminder that we could have shaking like that again in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s the kind of earthquake we have up here too. The whole Puget Sound and I-5 corridor has these kinds of faults,” says state seismologist John Vidale. “They don’t go that often but when they do, it looks like this.”
City and state leaders say we learned from the Nisqually quake, and we are safer than we were then. Fire stations have been retrofitted, reservoirs have been reinforced. But the Seattle waterfront and the Alaskan Way viaduct could still be vulnerable. That’s why construction is underway on a tunnel to replace the viaduct.
“The tunnel are structures that we’re designing, they’re all for earthquake in the 1000-2500 year recurrence interval,” says David Sowers of WSDOT. “So this will be the safest structure to be in in the event of an earthquake.”
But the project is taking longer than originally expected.
“Coming to a consensus on huge municipal projects that take a lot of money takes a lot of time,” says Barb Graff, the director of Seattle’s office of emergency management. “I’m delighted we are making progress on it now.”
It could be 2016 before the tunnel is completed. Green isn’t sure what sure what would happen to the viaduct if a quake happened before then.
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want to be on it.”
Graff says we don’t have enough first responders if there was a catastrophic quake. That’s why she says it’s important for families to have their own emergency kits and to know where the nearest community shelter is. For more information on how to be prepared, go to seattle.gov/emergency