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.



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