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Alaskan Way, viaduct
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Dire warning about downtown Seattle traffic once tunnel opens

(KIRO Radio file)

Traffic flow into Downtown Seattle will inevitably change when the new tunnel opens. It has been suggested that drivers accessing downtown will use the new Alaskan Way surface streets. There’s a problem with that, however, as construction on the expanded surface streets won’t begin until after the viaduct is demolished in 2019 and won’t be finished until after the tunnel opens.

Former state representative Larry Seaquist issued this warning during a Washington State Transportation Commission meeting:

“The impact of actually opening the tunnel without the surface network fully in place, and the other considerations around it, are almost certain to create several years of transportation chaos.”

According to a recent analysis, approximately 14,000 vehicles could divert to Seattle’s surface streets once the viaduct is demolished, KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan reports. That is not solely because the tunnel will be tolled. The new tunnel will have no downtown exits or on-ramps.

RELATED: Tolls or not, drivers will divert from tunnel

Steve Abendschein, a project manager for the Santec consulting firm, told the commission that the tunnel’s design will be the primary reason people will avoid it. He says a $1 or $2.50 toll will not push thousands of drivers out of the tunnel.

The final toll rates won’t be set until at least September 2018. The most popular tolling option right now is charging drivers $1 for overnight use; $1.50 during off-peak daytime hours; $1.75 for peak morning use; and $2.50 for peak time in the afternoon and evening.

The new tunnel will be “substantially” complete by the end of October 2018 with a target open date of January 2019 — a recently revised date. The demolition of the viaduct could begin in early 2019.

“We anticipate right now with that schedule, to start substantial demolition in early 2019,” Joe Hedges, Alaskan Way Viaduct administrator with the Washington State Department of Transportation, recently said. “We might do some selective demo to help ourselves out a bit (before 2019).”

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