Why did it take 9 hours to open SR 99 in Seattle after truck crash? Blame the fish

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SEATTLE — It took just one overturned semi loaded with fish to shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and paralyze southbound traffic in Seattle.

Frustrated drivers say Tuesday evening’s gridlock was unbelievable.

City leaders on Wednesday said they sympathize but that they were up against a complicated cleanup.

“People were cutting lanes and cutting in front of each other,” driver Hemant Kawale said of the traffic nightmare.

“It was crazy madness,” driver Alexandra Greenwald agreed.

The gridlock caused Greenwald to give up on getting home.

“Yes, I went back to work for like three hours,” Greenwald said.

The snarled traffic delayed the start of the Seattle Sounders game. Goalie Stefan Frei ditched his car midway and ran to CenturyLink Field.

“I got from my house to the Westin Hotel -- 5 blocks in 45 minutes of driving; I had to park the car,” Frei said.

People abandoned Metro buses and started walking down the viaduct. It took city workers more than nine hours to open the southbound lanes of State Route 99 despite two tow trucks arriving within two hours of the accident.

“It’s ridiculous,” Greenwald said.

What took the city so long?

“Sometimes you have to balance moving quickly and moving safely,” Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly said Wednesday.

But why not just drag the semi to the side of the roadway? An overhead image showed there was space.

It "would risk causing the container to rupture, spilling all the fish all over SR 99, which would have taken us into today to clean up,” Kubly said.

Officials say dragging the semi could have also damaged the roadway.

“If there is a quicker, faster way to do it next time, we will find it, but last night we did the best job we could with the resources available,” Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said.

Mayor Ed Murray is asking for $900 million to improve transportation in Seattle.
But even that kind of money isn’t a guarantee that another traffic nightmare will be avoided in the future.

Murray said, “$900 million will not change human nature when people get into accidents for whatever reason.”

Murray is hoping the Lander Street expansion and possibly changing signal times will help with future accidents.

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7 comments

  • Wallus

    Its a good illustration of the future of traffic in Seattle. There are numerous projections of how many more people are going to move here and the developers and their outside investors are having a field day building large amounts of housing that only one fifth of the workforce can afford. But in a long narrow city punctuated with water and other obstacles just how much traffic do you think can be supported? Rail? Buses? London England has a very developed subway and buses and they have had to resort to assigning drivers days they are allowed to drive into the central areas of the city due to the sheer number of people living there. We are not going to see the huge influx because what we would have is what happened to traffic yesterday.

    • Truthbug

      Sadly, some people in Seattle said: “If we don’t build good roads people won’t move here.” Now we know how that works. There are influences in Seattle which will keep the whole place messed up far into the future.

  • annie

    I am curious why another towing company that had more ability and experience was not called. From previous reports on news and in local media, Bill’s Towing in Tacoma has vast experience in these roll overs and can handle pretty much anything in a quick and professional manner. Seattle would not have experienced this gridlock in traffic for so many hours.

    • BearTex3

      Nice way to advertise for someone probably know. But lets think about this, if it was taking 2 hours for local tow trucks, then how long would it take for a truck from Tacoma take. Might still be waiting. Here is a little advertising, all you people out there with a smart phone, download the WSDOT app and check the roads before you get out there and see where the wrecks are and how bad the backups are and you can also look at traffic cams. Can very well keep traffic going in another direction if you know that there is a wreck or a backup. Also use your GPS when you are out on the road and it will find you an alternate route if there is a backup.

  • beelzeblog

    Someone over the radio must have said the cargo was “fish on ice” and the other person must have thought they said “this is Isis”, LOL.

  • sheila

    The tow truck arrived within 2 hours of the accident? If I had been in charge I would have looked for an alternate company or way to deal with the problem and not just accept the ‘wait time’. What a mess, glad I don’t have to deal with that area’s traffic issues.

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