Alaskan Way Viaduct
A map of Downtown Seattle with the Alaskan Way Viaduct highlighted in red and older demolished sections highlighted in pink
|Maintained by WSDOT|
|Length||2.2 mi (3.5 km)|
|Existed||April 4, 1953–January 11, 2019|
|South end||SR 99 (Marginal Way) in Industrial District|
|North end||SR 99 (Battery Street Tunnel) in Belltown|
The Alaskan Way Viaduct ("the viaduct" for short) was an elevated freeway in Seattle, Washington, United States, that carried a section of State Route 99 (SR 99). The double-decked freeway ran north–south along the city's waterfront for 2.2 miles (3.5 km), east of Alaskan Way and Elliott Bay, and traveled between the West Seattle Freeway in SoDo and the Battery Street Tunnel in Belltown.
The viaduct was built in three phases from 1949 through 1959, with the first section opening on April 4, 1953. It was the smaller of the two major north–south traffic corridors through Seattle (the other being Interstate 5), carrying up to 91,000 vehicles per day in 2016. The viaduct ran above Alaskan Way, a surface street, from S. Nevada Street in the south to the entrance of Belltown's Battery Street Tunnel in the north, following previously existing railroad lines.
The viaduct had long been viewed as a barrier between downtown and the city's waterfront, with proposals to replace it as early as the 1960s. Questions of the structure's seismic vulnerability were raised after several earthquakes damaged similar freeways in other cities, including some with the same design as the viaduct. During the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the Alaskan Way Viaduct suffered minor damage but later inspections found it to be vulnerable to total collapse in the event of another major earthquake, necessitating its replacement.
The state and city governments considered several options, including a rebuilt elevated structure, a surface boulevard, and cut-and-cover tunnel, but could not compromise on a final choice. A deep-bored tunnel was selected in 2009 and the southern section of the viaduct was demolished in 2011 and replaced with a six-lane, single-deck freeway that travels through the SoDo industrial area. Excavation of the downtown bored tunnel by the tunnel boring machine "Bertha" began in 2013 and was completed in 2017 after two years of delays. The viaduct was closed permanently on January 11, 2019, and the new tunnel opened three weeks later on February 4. Demolition of the viaduct began weeks later, and was complete by late 2019.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct was a double-decker freeway that traveled through Downtown Seattle and SoDo along the western waterfront facing Elliott Bay. The two highway decks each carried two to four lanes measuring as narrow as 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m) wide, with northbound traffic on the upper deck and southbound traffic using the lower deck with a vertical clearance of 14 feet (4.3 m). The viaduct was 60 feet (18 m) tall, had 3-foot (0.91 m) concrete railings, and was supported by 400 columns spaced approximately every 51 feet (16 m).
SR 99 formerly transitioned from a surface freeway to the double-decker elevated viaduct near South Holgate Street in SoDo, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) north of the First Avenue South Bridge and beyond an interchange with the West Seattle Freeway near Harbor Island. The freeway then ran between the Port of Seattle's Terminal 46 and the Seattle Coast Guard Station to the west and the BNSF Railway container yard to the east. It passed a set of ghost ramps near Safeco Field that were originally planned to accommodate a freeway connection to Interstate 90 that was never built. Near CenturyLink Field, SR 99 reached the terminus of the original (and post-2011) viaduct and the south portal of the future downtown bored tunnel, using a set of diagonal ramps parallel to Railroad Way to reach the central section of the viaduct.
The viaduct expanded from four lanes to six lanes and turned northwest as it followed Alaskan Way and the city's waterfront on the west side of Pioneer Square; the area underneath the viaduct was used for street parking between construction periods. It passed east of the state ferry terminal at Colman Dock and reached a set of ramps serving downtown traffic: the Columbia Street onramp to the southbound lanes and the Seneca Street offramp from the northbound lanes. The waterfront section of the viaduct was noted for its scenic views, which include Elliott Bay, the distant Olympic Mountains, and the city's skyline. Between the Seattle Aquarium and Pike Place Market, the double-decker viaduct ended as SR 99 split into a pair of side-by-side elevated lanes that traveled over the north portal of the Great Northern railroad tunnel and under Victor Steinbrueck Park. SR 99 then came to an interchange with Elliott and Western avenues, which marked the north end of the viaduct and the south end of the four-lane Battery Street Tunnel. The Western Avenue crossing included a notch in the southbound railing of the viaduct, which was cut out to pass around a column of the .
The Alaskan Way Viaduct was one of two north–south freeways traversing Downtown Seattle, the other being Interstate 5 to the east. Traffic volumes on the viaduct, measured by WSDOT in terms of average annual daily traffic in 2015, averaged approximately 91,000 vehicles south of Columbia Street and 71,000 vehicles between Columbia Street and Western Avenue. The viaduct formerly carried an average daily volume of 110,000 vehicles until the start of demolition in 2011. The viaduct and other sections of SR 99 were designated as part of the National Highway System by the federal government and as Highway of Statewide Significance by the state legislature.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2018)
The Alaskan Way Viaduct was originally built to carry a section of U.S. Route 99, the main north–south highway in Washington and along the U.S. West Coast. The highway previously used downtown streets, but rising automobile congestion in the 1920s sparked proposals for a limited-access bypass of Seattle. An elevated roadway, placed along the waterfront's Railroad Avenue (later renamed Alaskan Way), was recommended by several city engineers in the latter part of the decade. Plans for an elevated highway gained public support in the late 1930s and was approved for construction in 1947 using funds from the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944.
Construction on the viaduct began in February 1950 and was completed in stages between 1953 and 1959. The central portion, from Railroad Way to Elliott Avenue, opened on April 4, 1953. It was connected to the Battery Street Tunnel the following year and a series of offramps and onramps to downtown in the 1960s. Additional ramps to University and Spring streets were included in design plans, but never built. The southern section of the viaduct, linking to the Spokane Street Bridge, was opened in September 1959.
The viaduct officially closed on January 11, 2019, attracting spectators and drivers who caused it to miss the 10 p.m. deadline. Demolition of the northbound ramp on Railroad Way began the following day in preparation for the excavation of pre-constructed ramps into the new tunnel. Demolition was completed in stages between February and November 2019, using a section-by-section approach to avoid major disruptions. The last section to remain standing was near Pike Place Market.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed the similarly designed Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland, California, with the loss of 42 lives. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake damaged the viaduct and its supporting Alaskan Way Seawall and required the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to invest US$14.5 million in emergency repairs. Experts gave a 1-in-20 chance that the viaduct could be shut down by an earthquake within the next decade. Since the Nisqually earthquake occurred, semi-annual inspections have discovered continuing settlement damage.
Due to damage from continuing settlement, a group of researchers and faculty from the University of Washington urged the mayor of Seattle (in 2007) to close the viaduct within a four-year timeframe.
Tunnel planning and construction
On January 12, 2009, the governments of Washington, King County, the city of Seattle, and the Port of Seattle announced that they had agreed to replace the viaduct with a four-lane, 2-mile (3.2 km) long tunnel. The tunnel would have a south portal in SoDo, near CenturyLink Field, and a north portal near Thomas Street, north of the Battery Street Tunnel.
The project was estimated to cost $4.25 billion, with state, city, and county promised funding well short of the estimate. The state would fund boring of the tunnels, while the city and county would fund surface street improvements and repairs to the Alaskan Way Seawall, which itself was damaged in the Nisqually earthquake. The announcement did little to quell the long and heated debate over the viaduct's replacement, with several factions expressing their criticism over the tunnel decision.
Boring of the tunnel by the tunnel boring machine "Bertha" began on July 30, 2013, with the roadway initially scheduled to open in December 2015. Tunneling stopped on December 6, 2013, after the boring machine struck a steel pipe, which obstructed its path 1,083 feet (330 m) into the route. Investigations revealed that the machine had struck a pipe which had been installed in 2002 as a part of an exploratory well used to measure groundwater as part of the planning phases for the project. Boring resumed briefly on January 28–29, 2014, stopping again due to damage to the seal system which protects the machine's main bearing and damage to several of the cutting blades. This caused a two-year delay as it was necessary to dig a 120-foot (37 m) vertical shaft recovery pit from the surface in order to access and lift the cutterhead for repair and partial replacement.
Work was initially expected to resume by March 2015, it was December 2015 before tunnelling recommenced. Boring was halted again 23 days later after a sinkhole developed on the ground in front of the machine, but resumed a month later.
In July 2016, a citywide ballot measure attempted to build an elevated park along the waterfront after the demolition of the viaduct, utilizing a portion of the existing structure. The attempt failed, with more than 80 percent of voters in Seattle rejecting the measure. By this time, the tunnel was not expected to be completed until 2019, and had incurred $223 million in cost overruns.
Opening of new tunnel
In March 2018, construction of the replacement tunnel was expected to be completed in August 2018, with a planned opening date of October 2018. Cost overruns had reached about $600 million due to the delays in tunnel boring. WSDOT reverted to the tunnel's original opening date of early 2019 to accommodate a longer preparation period and avoid potential work delays due to winter weather. On January 11, 2019, the Alaskan Way Viaduct was permanently closed in preparation for the opening of the new tunnel, which required the excavation of several buried ramps at the south portal and other road realignments.
The viaduct was reopened for pedestrian traffic on February 2, 2019, and bicycle traffic the day after, as part of a planned festival to celebrate the freeway's history. Over 100,000 people attended the two events, which also included tours of the new tunnel. The replacement tunnel was opened to traffic on February 4, 2019, following an opening celebration for pedestrians and cyclists over the preceding two days.
Demolition and replacement
Demolition of the viaduct began on February 15, 2019, after being delayed by several days due to a severe snowstorm. Contractors began with the upper deck and its columns, followed by the lower deck in a section-by-section process. It was originally scheduled to be completed by June 2019, but a compressed schedule caused by the tunnel's delayed opening caused demolition to take longer than expected and conflict with the summer tourism season. Demolition work reached the 50 percent milestone on June 11, with the Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market sections left for the final stages. The final double-deck section of the viaduct, including the Marion Street pedestrian bridge at Colman Dock, was demolished in late September 2019. The final section of the viaduct, removed in November 2019, was over the northern portal of the Great Northern Tunnel near the Pike Place Market.
Demolition work was completed on November 21, 2019, with 240 million pounds (110,000,000 kg) of concrete recycled and 15 million pounds (6,800,000 kg) of steel rebar reclaimed. Some of the concrete from the demolition was pulverized and used to fill the Battery Street Tunnel. New development along the waterfront in downtown Seattle, including a park promenade, is planned to be completed by 2021.
|Industrial District||22.65||36.45||SR 99 south (Marginal Way)||Continuation south|
|Spokane Street – West Seattle||Northbound exit and southbound entrance|
|22.74||36.60||West Seattle Bridge – Harbor Island||Southbound exit and northbound entrance|
|24.24||39.01||SR 519 south (South Atlantic Street) to I-90 / I-5||Southbound exit and northbound entrance|
|Pioneer Square||25.03||40.28||Columbia Street||Southbound entrance only|
|Downtown||25.04||40.30||Seneca Street||Northbound exit only|
|SR 99 north (Battery Street Tunnel)||Continuation north|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi|
- Embarcadero Freeway, a former elevated freeway along the waterfront in San Francisco that was demolished.
- John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, a former elevated freeway in Boston (Interstate 93) that was rerouted into a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) tunnel.
- West Side Highway, a former elevated freeway along the West Side waterfront in Manhattan that was partially replaced with an at-grade boulevard.
- WSDOT Projects: Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement
- Gutierrez, Scott (October 22, 2011). "Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, demolition begin". seattlepi.com. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
- "Alaskan Way Viaduct - Tunneling". Washington State Department of Transportation. 2018. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
- Lindblom, Mike (September 17, 2018). "Permanent closure of Alaskan Way Viaduct delayed until January". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on September 17, 2018. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
- Yardley, William (May 20, 2012). "Drive, They Said: Washington, Highway 99". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Ott, Jennifer (December 19, 2011). "First section of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct opens on April 4, 1953". HistoryLink. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Lindblom, Mike (November 28, 2001). "Proposed 11-foot lanes not new for commuters". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Lindblom, Mike (April 29, 2015). "Lesson learned? Faster cleanup as truck loses load on Hwy. 99". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Westneat, Danny (June 23, 2004). "Viaduct: vroom with a view". The Seattle Times. p. B1.
- Heilman, Robert (April 12, 1953). "Engineers Find Viaduct Railings Safe, So Relax—But Be Careful". The Seattle Times. p. 60.
- Lindblom, Mike (March 5, 2007). "Why a bigger viaduct?". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Johnson, Kirk (December 21, 2018). "In Seattle, Remembering Ugly Highway As End Nears". The New York Times. p. A12. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- DeMay, Daniel (October 6, 2018). "65 years of the Alaskan Way Viaduct". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Kelly, Tom (February 19, 1984). "Did voters kill solution to snarls?". The Seattle Times. p. D8.
- "Replacing the viaduct's south end" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. April 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Google (December 30, 2018). "Alaskan Way Viaduct" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- "Go west, young road: Alaskan Way shifts west this weekend". Washington State Department of Transportation. October 10, 2018. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Banel, Feliks (December 14, 2018). "Sound familiar? Original Seattle viaduct had no ramps". KIRO Radio. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Kroman, David (September 27, 2018). "Local Native leaders want Pike Place totem poles removed". Crosscut.com. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Lindblom, Mike (December 2, 2018). "Highway 99 tunnel FAQ: More questions and answers about the viaduct closing and tunnel opening". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- "SR 99: Junction Western Avenue/Elliott Avenue" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. November 7, 2017. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Ott, Jennifer (December 3, 2011). "Alaskan Way Viaduct, Part 3: Building the Viaduct". HistoryLink. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- "#99closure prep: Analyzing traffic patterns on the Alaskan Way Viaduct". Washington State Department of Transportation. April 15, 2016. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
- "State Highway National Highway System Routes in Washington" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
- "Transportation Commission List of Highways of Statewide Significance" (PDF). Washington State Transportation Commission. July 26, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
- Sheridan, Mimi (January 2008). "HAER WA-184: Alaskan Way Viaduct and Battery Street Tunnel, Seattle, King County, Washington" (PDF). Historic American Engineering Record. Library of Congress. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
- Ott, Jennifer (October 27, 2011). "Alaskan Way Viaduct, Part 2: Planning and Design". HistoryLink. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
- "Alaskan Way By-Pass Asked". The Seattle Times. June 30, 1938. p. 36.
- "Alaskan Way Viaduct Opened To Traffic". The Seattle Times. April 5, 1953. p. 1.
- "Viaduct Extension Opened Officially". The Seattle Times. September 3, 1959. p. 1.
- Lindblom, Mike (January 11, 2019). "Goodbye, viaduct: The highway closes for good after 66 years on Seattle's waterfront". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
- "Seattle viaduct closure morphs into traffic party". KING 5 News. January 11, 2019. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
- Crowe, Michael (January 12, 2019). "Crews demolish ramp to Seattle viaduct to prepare for future construction". KING 5 News. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
- Bushman, Sammi (November 19, 2019). "How to get your free piece of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct". KING 5 News. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- Lindblom, Mike (December 5, 2018). "Seattle's big demolition spectacle: How crews plan to pulverize the Alaskan Way Viaduct". The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- "Cypress Viaduct Freeway". Archived from the original on July 7, 2009.
- Miles, Scott; Montgomery, David R.; Beyers, Bill (March 2, 2006). "Shut down the viaduct". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Garber, Andrew (January 13, 2009). "Tunnel in place of viaduct: A deal, but how to pay?". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
- Lindblom, Mike (July 30, 2013). "Bertha's excavation mission beginning under downtown". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- "Feb. 7 update: Two factors contributed to tunnel stoppage". Washington State Department of Transportation. February 7, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Lindblom, Mike (January 30, 2015). "Bertha's repair pit reaches full depth of 120 feet". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Cohen, Aubrey (April 21, 2014). "State: Bertha to get back to work by next March". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Lindblom, Mike (December 22, 2015). "Bertha back on the move after 2 years of delays". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Lindblom, Mike (January 14, 2016). "Inslee orders tunnel dig halted as soil sinks above Bertha". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Lindblom, Mike (February 23, 2016). "She's ba-ack! Yes, Bertha's on the move once again". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Madej, Patricia (August 2, 2016). "Voters soundly reject elevated waterfront park for downtown Seattle". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
- Lindblom, Mike (July 21, 2016). "Bertha's woes grind on: more delay, higher cost for Highway 99 tunnel". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- Lindblom, Mike (March 27, 2018). "Seattle's Highway 99 tunnel could open to traffic in October". The Seattle Times. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
- Gutman, David (February 2, 2019). "'A huge achievement': Pedestrians swarm Seattle as viaduct comes down, tunnel set to open". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
- Lindblom, Mike; Baruchman, Michelle (January 31, 2019). "Highway 99 tunnel opens next week. Here are answers to your questions about the project". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
- "SR 99 tunnel now open to traffic". Washington State Department of Transportation. February 4, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
- "Seattle tunnel opening celebration set for February 2–3". KING 5 News. November 1, 2018. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
- Lindblom, Mike (April 22, 2019). "Tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct is taking longer than once thought". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
- Farley, Glenn (May 31, 2019). "Viaduct demolition delays thrill tourists, worry Seattle waterfront businesses". KING 5. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
- Janavel, AJ (June 11, 2019). "Viaduct demolition hits the halfway mark, officials say". Q13 Fox News. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
- Lindblom, Mike (August 5, 2019). "Viaduct demolition reaches dramatic phase just feet from Pioneer Square buildings". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
- Mutasa, Tammy (September 21, 2019). "'End of an era': Viaduct's double decker section reduced to rubble". KOMO 4 News. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
- "All done! Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct is history" (Press release). Washington State Department of Transportation. November 21, 2019. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
- Lindblom, Mike (February 14, 2019). "Crews will begin to crunch the Alaskan Way Viaduct into 3-inch chunks this week". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
- Lindblom, Mike (May 16, 2018). "Cost to demolish Alaskan Way Viaduct pegged at $93.7M". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
- "Alaskan Way Viaduct - Demolition". Washington State Department of Transportation. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
- Gilmore, Susan (September 8, 2006). "Two views of the viaduct" (article links to videos which require RealPlayer 10.5). Seattle Times. Retrieved September 10, 2006.
- Gilmore, Susan (August 9, 2006). "State offers 3 decidedly different designs for viaduct". Seattle Times. Retrieved August 15, 2006.
- Gilmore, Susan (August 2, 2006). "Idea of fixing viaduct seen as having merit but problems as well". Seattle Times. Retrieved August 2, 2006.
- Gilmore, Susan (July 25, 2006). "What will happen if viaduct closes? Study takes a look". Seattle Times. Retrieved July 25, 2006.
- Lange, Larry (May 3, 2006). "A Longer shelf life for the viaduct". Seattle P.I. Retrieved June 24, 2006.
- "Seattle's Little Dig". Seattle Weekly. April 19, 2006. Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2006.
- "MorePerfect.org collected news stories". MorePerfect.org. Archived from the original on August 14, 2009.
- "Viaduct Open to Cars Today." Viaduct Open to Cars Today [Seattle] April 5, 1953: n. pag. 1 Rpt. in The Seattle Post Intelligencer. Seattle: n.p., 1953.
- "Alaska Way VIaduct and Battery Street Tunnel HAER WA-184" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alaskan Way Viaduct.|
- SR 99 – Alaskan Way Viaduct & Seawall Replacement Project
- HistoryLink Alaskan Way Viaduct essays by Jennifer Ott:
- Alaskan Way Viaduct, Part 1: Early Transportation Planning (September 13, 2011)
- Alaskan Way Viaduct, Part 2: Planning and Design (October 27, 2011)
- Alaskan Way Viaduct, Part 3: Building the Viaduct (December 3, 2011)
- Alaskan Way Viaduct, Part 4: Replacing the Viaduct (December 19, 2011)
- Seattle's Columbia Street on-ramp to the Alaskan Way Viaduct opens to traffic on February 1, 1966 (December 26, 2011)
- Alaskan Way Viaduct and Battery Street Tunnel (Historic American Engineering Record)