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Seattle’s new SR99 tunnel finally faces full traffic with 4 mile backup

A two mile backup forms inside Seattle's new SR99 tunnel Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (WSDOT)

Full use of Seattle’s new SR99 tunnel under downtown was delayed this week after snow kept many drivers off the road. Wednesday proved to be the test as commuters returned, and the result — a four-mile backup.

WATCH: A test drive through Seattle’s new tunnel

“The northbound SR99 backup nearly reaches the West Seattle Bridge,” KIRO Radio Traffic Reporter Chris Sullivan said. “Two miles above ground, and two miles below ground. The reason? Drivers are trying to exit at Republican in South Lake Union. The Dearborn off ramp is not open yet.”

“This is the first real commute with the 99 tunnel, I don’t count the last two days because of all the snow,” he said. “This appears to be people trying to use the one-and-only exit into downtown, which is at Republican. The northbound ramp to Dearborn, which will get you off at Pioneer Square, is not yet open. So I’m hoping this is an anomaly. It’s too early to make a judgment. Either way, our first real commute in the SR99 tunnel has been a suck fest. It’s not been great. You drivers are sucking the exhaust from the cars in front of you.”

As Sullivan noted, one exit in the northbound direction is not open yet — the ramp to Dearborn Street. That could be causing some strain on traffic. It is unknown if the exit can relieve congestion once opened. As for Wednesday, however, the backup extended the entire length of the tunnel, and beyond.

“It turns out that everybody going through the tunnel, they are trying to get off at Republican, go to Dexter, then you have to peel off and go back into downtown,” Sullivan said. “That was one of the main concerns. This tunnel is a bypass with no exits, and some were worried that Republican ramp would not be able to handle the pressure. And today, it doesn’t look like it can.”

When the tunnel opened on Monday, traffic ran smoothly. Sullivan took a couple drives through the tunnel and had plenty of positive things to say. Of course, that was when snow prevented commuters from using the passage.

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