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Alaskan Way Viaduct 1952
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A final farewell to the Alaskan Way Viaduct

The Alaskan Way Viaduct back in 1952 (Seattle Municipal Archives, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Alaskan Way Viaduct closes for good Friday night, so get your final drives in while you still can. In the meantime, let’s take a look back on some of the finer (and not so fine) aspects of the structure that’s graced Seattle’s waterfront for the better part of over half a century.

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The Viaduct was first opened to traffic piecemeal between 1953 and 1959, originally spanning 4.7 miles, and costing over $16 million to build (adjusted for inflation, that’s roughly $136 million today).

Fast-forward all the way to 2001, and you’ll hear about damage sustained in the Nisqually earthquake. Damage assessments not long after that found the viaduct to be an extreme risk in the case of another major earthquake.

A 2009 video from the Washington State Department of Transportation confirmed as much, painting a vivid fire and brimstone picture of what exactly would happen to the structure in another earthquake.

In that same year, plans were drawn up to replace the viaduct with a two-mile tunnel — bored by a drill affectionately named Bertha — under downtown Seattle, after the city considered over 90 different ideas.

The project was slated to finish in 2014, but numerous delays, malfunctions, and even a sinkhole, set things back considerably, and now here we are today.

Over the next three weeks in the greater Seattle area, traffic is going to be tough. The tens of thousands of cars that drove over the viaduct every day will be pushed on to downtown surface streets and I-5, kicking off what the city is calling a “period of maximum constraint.”

“By opening the tunnel and removing the viaduct, we’re setting the stage for a historic transformation in our state’s largest city and throughout the region,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a Friday news release. “The end of the viaduct marks the beginning of an exciting new era in our state’s transportation history.”

After the three-week closure of SR 99 kicks off Friday night, no commuters will be spared.

“It’s going to affect everybody driving into [the city], riding buses, however you get in and through the city of Seattle,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a Thursday press conference.

The hope for all of this is two-fold, in providing a freeway route through downtown Seattle that won’t cause untold death and destruction in the event of an earthquake, and opening up the city’s scenic waterfront neighborhood.

In the meantime, let’s all say goodbye to the viaduct once and for all: At the end, it was an extreme hazard to the safety of anyone who drove over it, but it was our hazard, and one with a place in Seattle’s history.

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