When the new SR 99 tunnel opens the gridlock is not over

SEATTLE - When the new SR 99 tunnel opens next week get ready to leave the past behind.

“It’s not back to normal when the tunnel opens, everything is going to be really different,” SDOT Heather Marx said.

With the tunnel comes many new traffic patterns on surface streets.

“Be prepared for a new signalized intersection at Harrison and Aurora,” Marx said.

For the first time in 60 years Harrison will be opened up in a way, allowing drivers to go directly from the Space Needle to South Lake Union. As the new route begins another closes for good this Friday.

“We will close the Battery Street tunnel, that will be the last time it will be open to traffic,” David Sowers of WSDOT said.

And if you are coming from West Seattle you cannot access the Northbound off ramp to Dearborn for at least a week after the tunnel opens.

“That’s because there is still work to build that ramp,” Sowers said.

If all of this sounds confusing, it is.

“I just don’t know what everything is going to look like. I don’t think I am the only person who feels that way either,” Bothell resident Shane Buller said.

That’s one reason why WSDOT says they are advertising the new tunnel on billboards, TV and radio.

“I think there is always a hesitation from the public,” Sowers said.

Sowers says the public may also have some safety concerns. He also says it is important for people to know that the tunnel will be tolled sometime this summer.

The attempts to educate the public is costing a sizable amount, more than $4 million. A TV ad that's running shows actors using their hands to describe the tunnel going up and down.

So are we going to feel a noticeable dip while driving through the tunnel?

“It’s not really a dip it’s gradually going to go down,” Sowers said.

The deepest point of the tunnel is 200 feet underground so the height of a 20 story building. WSDOT says the 2 mile structure is very safe.

“I am going to say: this I am not going to be there for the ribbon cutting ceremony. I am going to wait for people to go through it and tell me what’s going on,” Buller said.

Buller says he plans to avoid Seattle traffic as much as he can. Others who live in Seattle hope the tunnel will lighten their commute.

“This seems like progress. This seems like more progress than the Mercer mess,” Seattle resident Alicia Moriarty said.

After the tunnel is up and running, the Seattle Squeeze begins.

“This is just the beginning of the whole Seattle squeeze which is 5 years of tough traffic,” Marx said.

Seattle Squeeze includes major infrastructure and construction projects including the redevelopment of Key Arena, the construction of the Washington State Convention and the work on the new waterfront.

“Those are big projects that will have big impact,” Marx said.

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