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Alaskan Way Viaduct
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Prepare now for life without the Alaskan Way Viaduct

Alaskan Way Viaduct. (File)

First responders are prepping for a major emergency inside the new Seattle tunnel Thursday with a large scale and realistic drill, but they aren’t the only ones who need to prep for the tunnel opening. All drivers need to have a plan for getting around.

RELATED: All hands on deck for Highway 99 drill

I don’t think we can emphasize enough just how tough it is going to be getting around Seattle when the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes January 11, 2019. That will knock out the entire Highway 99 corridor from South Lake Union to the stadiums for three weeks.

“There is no doubt about it,” said Heather Marx, the Seattle Department of Transportation’s downtown mobility director. “It is going to be tough. Don’t be confused about that at all.”

I asked Marx if she’s losing sleep thinking about how the city will move during those weeks.

“I wouldn’t say that it keeps me up at night, but I just hope that folks really understand that this is not a drill,” she said. “This is a real three-week closure, and they should take the opportunity now to identify the alternate ways that they might get to work.”

Find a bus route that works. Find a buddy to carpool with. Ask your company if you can flex your hours. If everyone acts like it’s business as usual, she said, it is going to be a nightmare.

“I think that it’s important that people start practicing that stuff right now,” Marx said. “You don’t want the first time you ride the bus to be that first day of the viaduct closure.”

You have three months to figure out your plans, and more importantly, your backup plans. We are squeezed by our geography, and there just aren’t a lot of options for life without Highway 99. You can use I-5, or use surface streets through downtown. Those are your only real options into and through downtown Seattle. Marx said the city is ready to handle the pressure and keep traffic moving during that initial three weeks, but how bad it gets will really depend on what the public does. The city will be tweaking light timing in real time to help ease the flow, and will be looking for other ways to keep you moving as well.

You should also start thinking about life once the tunnel opens. It’s going to be free for a few months, but eventually tolls will be implemented. That’s expected to cause a significant amount of traffic diversion to I-5 and surface streets. Marx said the city is preparing for that too.

“People are going to find their way,” she said. “It’s going to take some time for people to understand what works best for them. We’re hoping that people take the three-week opportunity to find a new way to get to work, and that they continue to employ that.”

For example, if you find a good bus route during the Highway 99 closure in January, you might consider sticking with it once the tunnel opens.

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