Viaduct Crunch: First big commute goes smoothly for most

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by KING 5 and Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on October 24, 2011 at 5:15 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 24 at 1:07 PM

SEATTLE -- Commuters traveling north into Seattle from the southern suburbs and West Seattle saw some heavy traffic Monday morning, but by and large the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct did not lead to major gridlock.

Transportation officials reported heavier than usual traffic on arterial streets in Seattle and other freeways in the region as commuters sought alternative routes.

"When you take a north-south corridor out of commission, you throw a lot of traffic on different highways," Department of Transportation spokesman Travis Phelps said. "We expected a regional impact and we did see that."

Larger-than-usual numbers of people took the water taxi from West Seattle to downtown. West Seattle Blog reported that the 7:15 a.m. Water Taxi run was completely full, with boarding halted with at least 20 people left in line. Sailings at 7:45 and 8:15 were also full, but by the 8:45 run no one was being left behind on the dock. The boat's capacity is 150, and usually only about 50 ride the 7:15 sailing.

And the West Seattle Bridge was extremely busy, though a larger-than-normal police presence was keeping traffic moving. Drivers who tried to use the bus-only lane were being pulled over by Seattle Police. Between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., Seattle Police said 22 drivers were issued citations for a bus-lane violation.

Some regular commuters reported faster-than-normal trips -- a sign that many people heeded transportation authorities' advice to ride mass transit or work from home.

The Sound Transit station in Kent saw all its parking spots full by 7:24 a.m. Parking at train and ligh-rail stations was expected to be maxed out all week.

KING 5's Jake Whittenberg (@jakewhittenberg) took Metro Route 120 from Burien Transit Center to 3rd and Pine in Seattle on an early morning run, with the trip taking about the same amount of time as usual.

Later, Whittenberg tried the 122 line and experienced gridlock on 4th Ave. S. -- one of the thoroughfares recommended to commuters as an alternate route. But overall, Whittenberg reported that King County Metro buses were largely unaffected by the closure during the Monday morning commute.

At around 7 a.m., KING 5's Teresa Yuan (@TeresaYuan) reported that the lower bridge to and from West Seattle was moving much faster than the high bridge. The main West Seattle Bridge had about a 25-minute backup heading toward the city.

A heavy rain storm passed over Seattle between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., causing several serious accidents on both sides of Interstate 5 near the Mercer Street exit. but lanes were cleared quickly.

Commuters coming from the north were experiencing delays on southbound 99, as traffic was diverted from the Battery Street tunnel.

Few major traffic backups were reported over the weekend during the first two days of the 9-day closure. Monday will be the first test for weekday commuters who use the viaduct, one of Seattle's two north-south highways.

Washington transportation officials closed the southern stretch Friday and began demolishing portions of the road. It is part of a $3.2 billion project to replace the aging elevated highway with a waterfront tunnel.

About 110,000 vehicles use State Route 99 over the viaduct on a typical weekday, and transit officials say commuters need to alter their driving habits to avoid a major traffic mess.

Transit officials warned motorists not to become complacent this week.

"Motorists shouldn't have a false sense of security based on this one morning," said Rick Sheridan, spokesman with the Seattle Department of Transportation. "One commute, we all managed to survive. But we need to anticipate significant backups due to this closure."

Meanwhile, WSDOT said Monday that shortly after noon on Monday demolition crews completed knocking the first top-to-bottom "hole" all the way through the viaduct.  Once this "hole" is big enough, crews can start working on building the surface-level road for the temporary lanes of SR99 north and southbound, which will curve through the area where this part of the viaduct once stood.
 

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