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Chris Sullivan: Viadoom could be ‘worst gridlock we’ve ever seen’

(WSDOT)

While it’s being referred to as #Viadoom, KIRO Radio transportation reporter Chris Sullivan told Dori’s listeners that the upcoming Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, starting Jan. 11, may not necessarily be the stuff of apocalypse movies. But it’s likely that every Seattle commuter will feel the impact, regardless of where they’re coming from.

“What we have is three weeks of Highway 99 through downtown Seattle out of commission — 90,000 vehicles a day are going to have to go somewhere else,” he explained.

Sullivan sees those 90,000 State Route 99 commuters making a variety of different plans, such as taking I-5 to get into the city instead, staying on 99 until the point at which it closes, and then making the rest of the commute via smaller downtown streets, or adjusting their work schedules by way of shift changes, telecommuting, or vacation days so that they don’t have to be on the road during rush hour.

RELATED: Chris Sullivan on Everett-Seattle commute during Viadoom

“Until this actually happens, it’s all kind of tabletop until we realize what it’s going to be,” Sullivan said.

For those coming into Seattle on I-5 from northern suburbs, the backup could go past Northgate, Sullivan warned. But it’s not just the north and southbound commuters who could be affected by the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure; the Eastside could feel the pinch as well.

“If you think about it, the lake bridges going westbound are going to drive right into that extra I-5 congestion, which has the potential to back that up,” he said.

As a worst case scenario, Sullivan compared it to a Seafair day with one Blue Angels closure on I-90.

“How you plan to get around those kinds of closures every summer during Seafair is what you have to plan to think about during these three weeks,” he advised drivers.

The three-week closure could shape up to be “one of the worst couple of weeks of gridlock that we’ve ever seen here,” according to Sullivan — but it’s still all up in the air.

“It could be a challenge, but we won’t know until the first couple of days,” he said.

With a laugh, he predicted that people will stay away from downtown for the first couple of days, causing news to circulate that the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure does not have a heavy impact on traffic after all. Then for the days after that, the traffic will get worse as people get comfortable and head into the city.

“Don’t do that this time,” Sullivan told listeners. “If you’ve got a plan, stick with it and see what happens.”

The new State Route 99 tunnel is slated to open the first weekend of February, but WSDOT Good2Go tolling won’t start until late spring or early summer according to Sullivan.

“They’ll get us hooked, and then they’ll start tolling us,” he joked.

Dori pointed out that Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien had suggested tolling downtown streets after the tunnel opens, so that drivers pay to enter Seattle’s core no matter which route they take. Other major cities around the world such as London have this type of system, known as congestion pricing.

However, Sullivan said that London’s massive underground rail network, known as the London Tube, is what makes congestion pricing feasible. Cities without efficient, far-reaching public transit systems should not adopt congestion pricing.

“Everybody who compares this to a place like London that has this — it’s apples and oranges to our region, because we don’t have a mature mass transit system, where you have an alternate to getting downtown other than your car … we don’t have a mature mass transit system where someone from Monroe can get into downtown Seattle [via public transit],” he said.

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