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Traffic hack: How to beat congestion at the Sea-Tac Airport cell phone lot

I’m not sure if you have used the cell phone lot at Sea-Tac Airport lately, but it can be a challenge to get out of, especially when the airport is busy, which is nearly all of the time.

KIRO listener Neil Enns told me, via Twitter, last week that he was stuck in the airport cell phone lot and couldn’t move.

“It took me 10 minutes to get backed out of my spot and another five minutes to move one car length — 22 minutes and counting, and I’m still in the lot,” he said.

Enns asked me to check with the Port of Seattle to see what it’s doing to improve conditions.

Jeff Hoevet is the senior manager landside operations at Sea-Tac Airport, which means he’s in charge of everything in front of the terminal, including roads and parking. He said the cell phone lot congestion is tied directly to the crush of cars driving into the arrivals and departures decks at the terminal.

“It really is a product of the traffic that we have on the multi-lanes we have coming into the airport,” he said.

Traffic hack: Sea-Tac Airport cell phone lot

When those main access roads are solid, there is no room for cars to move out of the lot and into the queue. They have nowhere to go. That’s what Enns experienced last Thursday. Hoevet said when it gets that bad, port police move in to direct traffic, though that didn’t happen the day Enns was there.

“Our police officers will go out and they will use traffic mitigation efforts,” he said. “They’ll hold traffic at the cell lot and have them turn to the right to go out to International Boulevard, and it clears up pretty quickly.”

That’s the key to getting out of the lot when it is slammed like it was last Thursday. Take a right out of the lot, not a left. You will go on a three-mile detour, but you will likely get to the terminal much faster.

Go right out of the lot to International Boulevard. Take a right there to the south entrance to the airport at 182nd. Drive like you’re heading to I-5 and catch the return to terminal flyover ramp.

“It is counter intuitive because you can see everything to your left,” Hoevet said.

That’s the a pro “hack” to getting out of the lot, but Hoevet said there are plans to add some lane capacity for those who want to turn left and directly into the traffic flow.

“Today, we have a single lane left-turn out of the cell phone lot and then a single lane right turn into Air Cargo Road that gets you onto the multi-lanes into the terminal,” he said. “The project that we have underway will create two lanes out of the cell phone lot to the left and then two lanes at Air Cargo Road to the right, so it will give us more capacity.”

Construction will begin next year and the extra capacity should be ready by the end of 2019. In the meantime, you might want to consider paying for the garage while waiting. You will pay $4 for an hour, but what’s your time worth?

One more thing. Hoevet said there won’t be any spaces added at the cell lot. They’ve squeezed every inch out of that lot.

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