seattle traffic-compressed

Photo: Oran Viriyincy/Flickr

Starting today, the Washington State Department of Transportation will close the Alaskan Way Viaduct for two weeks as tunnel-boring machine Bertha drills below ground. Bertha is carving out the next 385 feet of the future Highway 99 tunnel under the viaduct. The tunnel is set to replace the viaduct by 2018.

The viaduct was closed for an extended period once before in 2011, when it was shut down for nine days. Much like Carmageddon in Los Angeles, Seattle’s Viadoom drove the city into previously unknown depths of disorder and frustration, including a 10-mile traffic jam on the I-5 freeway on day six of the shutdown. 

Seattle has added 45,000 new residents since the last closure, so a few businesses are taking extra measures to prepare. Eight downtown office buildings, including the 76-story Columbia Tower, will run their heating and ventilation two hours longer during the shutdown to make the workday more flexible for as many as 15,000 employees and clients, reports The Seattle Times. Some employees will rejoice at the opportunity to sleep in, while others will bemoan the imposition of staying late at the office.

Water taxis, temporary park-and-ride parking spaces and light rail cars will be added to provide alternative modes of transportation at different points in the city. But will that really make a difference for the 90,000 vehicles and 30,000 transit riders who use the viaduct at its busiest point every day?

Rush hour traffic is expected to begin as early as 4:30am as passengers attempt to circumvent the chaos. One Seattleite tried to run to work back in 2011, but was hit by a semi-truck on the way. Another possible hazard to consider are sinkholes. Sinkholes are a common risk in tunnel construction, and are especially possible on this project because the 57-foot-diameter tunnel will run close to downtown buildings and the viaduct.

Despite these risks, we have high hopes for your safe and sound — though aggravating — commute. Best of luck out on the open road!

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