CHOKEPOINTS

The new SR 99 tunnel is opening: So, now what?

Jan 30, 2019, 5:44 AM | Updated: 4:59 pm

The new SR 99 tunnel is likely opening in just a few days, and drivers need to be ready for this new route, and perhaps develop some new habits. This won’t be like the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

RELATED: Workers race against the clock to finish new SR 99 tunnel

Whether the tunnel opens on Monday as expected or not, you’re going to be able to drive through it in a matter of days. I cannot repeat this enough: There are no downtown exits in the tunnel. Once you are in, you are in for the entire two miles under downtown Seattle that the tunnel spans.

“If you use the Seneca or Western off-ramps, you’re going to need to find another way because those aren’t a thing anymore,” Seattle’s director of mobility Heather Marx said.

Drivers should expect this new tunnel to change our traffic patterns significantly.

“It’s hard to predict what is going to happen,” Marx said. “We have some theories and some hypotheses about what’s going to happen, and we’re ready for those. When things don’t turn out quite the way we expect them to, we’re also ready to  make changes in real time.”

Possible changes include tweaking the signals to make sure the tunnel off-ramps don’t back up into the tunnel. A lot of KIRO Radio listeners have asked me about this, because they are expecting drivers — who are used to get off in downtown — to be turning around on surface streets after using the tunnel.

That’s something the Washington Department of Transportation’s Dave Sowers is concerned about, especially at the north portal in South Lake Union.

“We’re going to be working closely with SDOT on the signal timing of that intersection at Republican and Dexter,” he said. “We’re certainly trying to avoid backups in the tunnel.”

What should drivers expect?

Sowers said “confusion,” at least early on, as drivers get used to the new tunnel.

“They’re going to be a lot of brake lights,” he predicted.

But Sowers expects most drivers to get it after just a few trips.

“We’re hard-wired to use the viaduct, and this is a new route into and out of downtown, it’s going to be different for people,” he said.

Drivers should also prepare for the elevation changes inside the tunnel — the first few times it might feel like a roller coaster.

Be sure to check out the videos to see how you can access and exit the tunnel. There is a new intersection at Dearborn on the south end, there is new access at Harrison on the north end, and Alaskan Way will now go straight through from the waterfront to East Marginal Way.

RELATED: WSDOT lays out new routes for SR 99 tunnel

There is a lot to take in, so be sure to do your homework.

Chokepoints

I-405...

Chris Sullivan

Full I-405 closure coming this weekend

This is not the weekend to hit the Eastside because Interstate 405 (I-405), south of Bellevue, will be closed the entire time.

1 day ago

Image: SR 99 north in Seattle was closed due to a massive fire on Tuesday, July 9, 2024....

Steve Coogan

SR 99 north in Seattle reopens after major brush fire closed it for hours

All lanes on State Route 99 north end at the 1st Ave Bridge in Seattle were blocked Tuesday due to a fire. It reopened Wednesday morning.

3 days ago

sr 11 buckles heat...

Frank Sumrall

Stretch of SR 11 Highway buckles under extreme heat

WSDOT had to shut down State Route 11 to just one lane after concrete panels under the asphalt had buckled due to the region's recent extreme heat.

3 days ago

Image: The Good To Go Flex Pass sticks to a car windshield with small Velcro tabs and can be switch...

Chris Sullivan

‘Convincing’ Good To Go! toll scam rears its ugly head

Scammers are at it again, trying to get your personal information with bogus scam text messages posing as Good To Go! toll reminders.

4 days ago

Photo: Washington State Patrol troopers responded to a semitruck crash on I-5 north just before Sou...

Julia Dallas

Weekend I-5 delays: Semitruck driver suffers serious injuries after crash

Washington State Patrol troopers responded to a semitruck crash on I-5 north just before Southcenter on Sunday.

5 days ago

first avenue bridge...

Frank Sumrall

Southbound SR 99 closed over First Avenue Bridge for several hours

The First Avenue bridge on State Route 99 (SR 99) has been closed for multiple hours Saturday due to police activity.

6 days ago

The new SR 99 tunnel is opening: So, now what?