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WSDOT expects tens of thousands of drivers to avoid SR 99 tunnel and use Seattle streets

Editors note: This story has been updated to provide additional information on the source of data provided by transportation officials to Q13 News. The original unedited story is at the bottom of this post.

SEATTLE -- State transportation officials say recent studies suggest that “roughly a third” of drivers who currently use the viaduct will find other ways to get around the State Route 99 tunnel once construction is complete. Q13 News asked whether WSDOT has any information on how many cars drive the viaduct every day, WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn said “Yes, the data comes from 2015. Roughly 90,000 cars per day.” Based on the data provided, that would suggest that roughly 30,000 drivers would choose to use alternatives, meaning already busy Seattle streets would fill up.

State Transportation officials say they do not have updated projections yet on the traffic impact. WSDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson told Q13 News that they are “still in the process of studying what would happen based on Transportation Commission's new toll rate options which were just announced a few weeks ago.”

Sometime this fall, there will be a three-week closure of the route during the time the Viaduct is permanently closed, and the new tunnel is opened. That means those roughly 90,000 cars will be looking for alternative ways around Seattle.

“I’m wondering how they will reroute all the traffic,” said James Heugas, who uses the road to commute to work.

Q13 News asked transportation officials that question and were told that there are no set plans on how to address that additional traffic on already-busy Seattle roads.

“We absolutely want people to know what their alternatives could be, but a lot of this information is currently being developed,” said Laura Newborn with WSDOT. Newborn says WSDOT is working with multiple agencies to create several plans to help people deal with the effects of the viaduct closing. One of those agencies is the Seattle Department of Transportation who told Q13 News that “SDOT is working on a mobility initiative that would help residents navigate city streets over the next five years as the city braces for impeding construction and development stemming from economic and residential growth.”

Unlike the viaduct, the new tunnel system won't have any exits into downtown Seattle which will force some drivers, like Heugas, to find a new route to work. “It`s undoubtedly going to have an impact, then it`s a question of how authorities are going to manage that impact.”

At this point, WSDOT officials say they don’t have an updated prediction on how far reaching the traffic impact will be on side streets. WSDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson told Q13 News that “The tunnel will be a major change for how people get around Seattle. It will offer a faster and more reliable direct route underneath downtown that does not exist today. On the one hand, some drivers who currently take the viaduct will choose not to use the tunnel. On the other hand, there will also be many people who don’t use the viaduct today who will decide that the tunnel makes more sense for them than their current route. Both of these factors need to be considered in order to make a prediction about shifting traffic patterns. ”

Q13 News has asked state transportation officials for updated projections and estimates on the total traffic impact and will update this story as we learn more.

 

Editors note: Original story posted on 6/6/2018

SEATTLE -- State transportation officials say they expect about 30,000 people to avoid the SR 99 tunnel once the construction is complete, leading to tens of thousands of cars using already busy Seattle streets.

On average, about 90,000 cars drive along the Alaskan Way Viaduct every day, WSDOT officials say.

Officials say sometime this fall, there will be a three-week closure of the route during the time the Viaduct is permanently closed, and the new tunnel is opened. That means 90,000 cars will be looking for alternative ways around Seattle.

“I’m wondering how they will reroute all the traffic,” said James Heugas, who uses the road to commute to work.

Unlike the Viaduct, the new tunnel system won't have any exits into downtown Seattle. Heugas says that because of that, he’ll have to find a new route to work.

Washington State Department of Transportation officials say like Heugas, they expect about 30,000 people currently using the Viaduct to find alternative ways around town.

However, there are no set plans on how to address that additional traffic on already-busy Seattle roads.

“We absolutely want people to know what their alternatives could be, but a lot of this information is currently being developed,” said Laura Newborn with WSDOT.

Newborn says WSDOT is working with multiple agencies to create several plans to help people deal with the effects of the Viaduct closing.