Q13 FOX Season of Giving

Viaduct closure: Finding alternatives is challenging for certain businesses, neighborhoods

This rendering of the future south portal of the SR 99 tunnel shows the location of the South Dearborn Street Off-Ramp Bridge Project. Courtesy: WSDOT

SEATTLE — With only 42 days until the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes, many people are bracing themselves for epic traffic problems during what will be the longest and biggest highway closure in Seattle history. While options are growing for ways to handle the roughly three weeks between viaduct closure and new 99 tunnel opening, these options don’t work equally well for everyone in every neighborhood.

“I think it’s going to be a real twisted knot of cars on the road,” said Liz Latham.

She’s lived in West Seattle for about eight years and loves the casual neighborhood feeling of running into friends and acquaintances at the grocery store.

She’s getting worried about the coming ‘Seattle Squeeze’.

“We’re talking about 90,000 vehicles not on the viaduct on a daily basis,” Latham said.

Her area, like many neighborhoods in West Seattle, pose some unique challenges when it comes to the viaduct closing on January 11.

Most people who live on the somewhat isolated peninsula of land take the West Seattle Bridge to connect to the rest of the city. But that runs directly into traffic on SR 99 and I-5 too, so this area could feel the squeeze like no other.

Latham has another problem on top of that. Her business relies on getting around.

Since 2003, her business, called Seattle Cleaning Service, has clients all over the city.

“I’ve been squeezed for awhile,” she said about Seattle growing traffic woes.

Transit and local governments are stepping up options for people to get around during the expected three weeks when SR 99 is shut down.

King County is adding a second boat to the Seattle Water Taxi fleet. It’s also adding busses, too — but those will be fighting for space on the roads with other cars.

However, taking mass transit for folks like Latham just isn’t really an option for her or her 10 cleaners.

“You’ve got your vacuum, your caddy, your mops, your buckets, sometimes a streamer, ladders,” Latham said.

She joked about riding on the bus with all her work gear.

“Sorry about that mop handle in your eye,” Latham said.

But, that’s not stopping her from looking at other solutions to keep the Seattle “squeeze” from crushing her established, reputable small business.

Latham is thinking of hiring cleaners who can service far away, existing clients on Capitol Hill and Fremont. For one Fremont client right now, she heads out at first light on the a weekend morning to beat the traffic to and from their location.

“It’s just not worth it if it takes me two hours to get there and back, but I’m only getting paid for the hour that I’m there,” she said.

But, she’s also doing some more out of the box thinking too.

“For the clients I absolutely want to retain who are at a distance,” Latham said, ” I could make sure their closets are fully housed with all the materials we need, so all we need is to get ourselves to the location.”

Latham still has a lot of unanswered questions about downtown construction on north-south routes through the downtown core that don't seem to be wrapping up in time for the closure.

"So, they gotta keep one north-south route, like 4th Avenue clear," said Latham. "Completely clear until this is all done, or we are in for even a worse mess."

Still, she's ready to do her part -- and hopes everyone else does too.

"I'm just trying to figure out as many creative ways as I can to work," she said.

The good news is, for many people, alternate routes and alternate modes of transportation can work effectively, and there's plenty of time to get informed and do some trial runs before the big day on January 11.

Here are links to Commute Seattle, the City of Seattle's new traffic website,  here's the schedule of what closes when from WSDOT, and a really helpful PDF from WSDOT on alternatives for commuters.