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Seattle tunnel will force many drivers to re-think their commute

The Seattle tunnel could open as early as this fall. (WSDOT)

With the Seattle tunnel expected to open to traffic sometime this fall, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to use it and what the changes will mean for your commute.

A commuter recently asked me if I could help her understand where she can get in and out of the tunnel so she can start planning for her commute from Queen Anne to SoDo.

The first and most important thing to remember is that there are no exits or entrances in the tunnel.

Tolls or not, tunnel will push vehicles onto surface streets

“I’m not sure how many people really know that the Seneca Street exit, the Columbia Street on-ramp, the downtown exits and the Western Avenue exit are all going away,” said Laura Newborn, spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation. “The tunnel is a straight shot, and it’s a bypass underneath Seattle.”

If you use those exits today, you are going to have to find a new way to your destination. That’s where a lot of our expected diversion from the tunnel is going to come from.

If you’re already on SR 99, accessing the tunnel is going to be a no-brainer, just stay in your lane. Drivers coming from surface streets wanting to access the tunnel will have far fewer options.

“People will be able to access the tunnel at the north end near Seattle Center, just south of Mercer Street,” Newborn said. “At the south end going north, drivers will enter at a new street that doesn’t exist yet.”

That non-existent street will extend from the stadiums west to the tunnel opening.

The current schedule has the tunnel opening to traffic some time in the fall, more than three years behind schedule.

Newborn said now is the time to start thinking about your new commute.

“It will be different, and it will be a challenge to get used to,” she said.

I’ve also been asked about tolling. The rate has not yet been set. It’s expected to be around $1-2 each way, but that won’t be final until the fall. You will not need a Good to Go pass to use the tunnel, but it will save you the $2 pay-by-mail transaction fee.

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Revenue from the Seattle tunnel toll is an important piece of its funding. At least $200 million of the project’s budget must come from tolling.

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